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Les Tanner

1927 – 2001

Les Tanner was one of Australia’s best-known caricaturists. Born in Glebe, New South Wales, he is said to have taken up drawing portraits as early as age five, and as a teenager contributed cartoons to the school newspaper. Such was his talent that he was accepted into the Julian Ashton Art School at a reduced fee, completing day classes there while working night shifts as a compositor at the Daily Telegraph. He later moved to the Telegraph’s design and illustration department, his first published cartoon appearing in 1944. Immediately after the war, he worked for a newspaper published by the British Occupation Force in Japan and on returning to Sydney in 1948 undertook more study at East Sydney Technical College. A member of the Communist Party, Tanner acted in and designed sets for productions at Sydney’s New Theatre from the late 1940s, and during the 1950s worked as the political cartoonist for the Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, building a considerable following. He then became art director and cartoonist for the Bulletin, working in this role for several years during which he branched into sculpted caricatures in plaster and ceramic. In February 1967, Sir Frank Packer ordered the pulping of a Bulletin issue that included an editorial protesting against the execution of Ronald Ryan and illustrated by a Tanner cartoon depicting Victorian premier Sir Henry Bolte as a hangman. By this time, the Melbourne Age had offered Tanner twice the money to work as the paper’s first editorial cartoonist; by 1973, now with two Walkley Awards under his belt, Tanner was contributing his own weekly column, Tanner with words, in addition to cartoons. He retired from the Age in 1997, having facilitated the donation of many original cartoons to a number of public collections.

Updated 2018