A Detective Cartoon of the 1930s

I received this newspaper clipping in my advent calendar last month, (custom made by my husband – Cadbury’s haven’t started including vintage cartoons in their advent calendars just yet lol). It was given to me due to its obvious parodying of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, a theme which would undoubtedly interest me and in turn I thought it might interest others, so decided to put up a post about.

The cartoon comes from the Evening Advertiser (Not sure if this is the Swindon paper of the same name) and it was published on the 29th April in 1936. Since the caption is in quite small print, I thought I would copy it here:

‘Sherlock Alexander: Why the books? Elementary, my dear Johnston.

There are features in this Lloyds case which interest us.

An independent inquiry into the Budget leakage is being undertaken by ex-Cabinet Ministers of the Labour Party, including Mr. A. V. Alexander and Mr. Tom Johnston).’

The first question I asked myself was what political event happened in April 1936? A little Googling later and here is what I have uncovered about the story behind the cartoon…

The BBC Website provides the general outline:

‘In 1936 Jimmy Thomas, a Cabinet minister, was found guilty by a Tribunal of Inquiry of leaking budget proposals to Sir Alfred Butt, Conservative Member of Parliament for Balham and Tooting. It was also believed that Mr Thomas had divulged budget secrets to a friend and business associate, Alfred ‘Cosher’ Bates, for personal gain. Mr Thomas resigned from Baldwin’s government, and then, shortly afterwards, resigned his Commons seat.’

The Sunday Times mentioned this event in 2019 in Adam Boulton’s article: ‘You leak, you walk — that was the rule. Now you dig in and wait to be Tory leader’ and Boulton adds further details:

‘In 1936, during a game of golf with a City friend called Alfred Bates, Jimmy Thomas revealed an imminent rise in income tax. Bates duly insured against the increase that was subsequently announced in the budget.’

And finally, Wiki Summaries provided much more detail on Thomas’ career but also on the amount of money he and others made through his leaking of the budget:

‘However, two days later, London newspapers accused the government of allowing a leak of the budget, a leak that led to numerous insurance policies being taken out against a rise in taxes. Bates had taken out several insurances policies, worth four thousand pounds, through Thomas’s son, Leslie Thomas, a stockbroker, and Butt had taken out similar policies worth eight thousand pounds. Both men made quick profits. Suspiciously, both Bates and Butt had taken out policies in other people’s names as well. Lloyds Insurance alone lost over £100,000. (At the time, one British pound was worth about five U.S. dollars.)’

It is this last quote which explains why the cartoon refers to the event as the Lloyds case, as it was the Lloyd insurance company who lost out through the leakage. However, it was intriguing that my online research did not mention either A. V. Alexander or Tom Johnston. I presume it is because the focus is upon the wrongdoer Jimmy Thomas. Newspapers in countries as far away as Singapore and Australia also covered the story, in particular the tribunal that followed. A. V. Alexander’s role in the admiralty (ultimately being made First Lord of the Admiralty three times) is indicated in the background of the image perhaps with the military type coat hanging on the door and by the ship picture on the wall.

My attention then turned back to the picture itself. I wonder if the cartoon is more concerned with lampooning the efforts of those looking into the leakage, rather than censuring the person who did the budget leak. A. V. Alexander who is given the role of Sherlock in this image is surrounded by books and the titles are mostly generic: ‘G. Men’ ‘Police Budget’ ‘The Amateur Sleuth’ and ‘Guide to Clues’. They suggest a basic level of research into the art of investigation. Yet there are a few more specific authors and characters mentioned: Sexton Blake, Edgar Wallace and Deadwood Dick. I associate the first two names with thriller mysteries rather than pure detection, so I thought they were an interesting inclusion, but perhaps they were just included as they were well-known. Nevertheless, it did occur to me that in 1936 they would be less contemporary, as both Blake and Wallace’s were no longer at their peak. You might have expected the cartoonist to include a more current author or detective. But then my brain whirled around again and wondered if the older detective fiction references were a reflection on the age of the characters in the image.

Now the name Deadwood Dick was a new one to me and Wikipedia obliging had the answer:

‘Deadwood Dick is a fictional character who appears in a series of stories, or dime novels, published between 1877 and 1897 by Edward Lytton Wheeler (1854/5–1885). The name became so widely known in its time that it was used to advantage by several men who actually resided in Deadwood, South Dakota.’

Deadwood Dick is described as a ‘wild west rascal’ on the author’s Wikipedia page and elsewhere online the stories he appears in are referred to as thrillers. From this limited information it sounds like Deadwood Dick is not a sleuth and may even be a bit of a villain? If anyone has better information do let me know. Nevertheless, he seems like an odd inclusion to the cartoon unless again it is suggesting that the character reading the books is out of touch with the times.

The name of the cartoonist appears to be Middleton, but I could not find out any more about them. I was also a bit puzzled by the unusual spelling in the heading for the cartoon: ‘The Amateur Detective Co-opper’. Any ideas then do share!

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