Norman Thelwell (1923-2004)
Usually known simply as 'Thelwell,' a British cartoonist who is perhaps best known for his cartoons featuring small round and hairy ponies. Although not a pony book author as such, as the books were not stories, the cartoons are so much part of a pony book culture they cannot be omitted from a website devoted to equine fiction. And some of the cartoons did form a loose narrative with the fictional character of Penelope standing in as the archetype of the small determined pony mad girl.
Norman Thelwell was born in Birkenhead, Cheshire in 1923. He began sketching at an early age. A love of the countryside and it's animals was garnered from childhood visits to a farm in Wales. Both these early loves were to coalesce in later years to form his most popular work.
He joined the army in the Second World War and it was here his career as a cartoonist actually began when he started selling cartoons to army newspapers in India. After the war he studied art at the Liverpool College of Art and later taught art and design. His career as a cartoonist began with cartoons published in the magazine Punch. He liked to draw images of the countryside and the animals and people that populated it, and it was when a pony cartoon he had done was published in Punch that his rise to fame became pronounced and the 'Thelwell Pony' was born. The cartoon was based on a pair of hairy round ponies which lived in a field next door and their small equally round little girl owners. He had such a lot of interest and fan mail in the pony picture that he was forced to start doing more pony sketches. These eventually formed the basis for his first book, Angels on Horseback, published in 1957. As his success grew he gave up his teaching job to work as a full time cartoonist. More books followed, as well as a cartoon strip featuring Penelope and the pony Kipper. Shown on the right is the typical 'Thelwell' pony illustration.
His books of pony cartoons have been immensely popular and translated into many languages. Not only were the drawings themselves brilliant but his humour and eye for the absurdities in life make them a pleasure to read. He illustrated some other pony stories and his cartoons also appeared in various pony annuals including Pony Club and Princess Pony Annuals. He also wrote a book on how to draw ponies. Interestingly, for a man so well known for his pony drawings he only ever rode a horse once, when it bolted with him. This no doubt put him off for life!
As well as ponies, Thelwell also published cartoons on a much wider range of subjects from cats to farming to sailing. He was also a serious landscape artist. However the image of the 'Thelwell Pony' is by far his most beloved creation and has become almost iconic.
For those interested in finding out more about Thelwell and his life, there is plenty of information on the internet about him, including a comprehensive Norman Thelwell website. There is also an autobiography.
Sources: www.normanthelwell.org.uk, Telegraph obituary