From the 1920s until his death in 1944, William Heath Robinson drew a series of scenes for magazines and books, inspired by the rapid expansion of housing in interwar Britain — In total, 4.5m new homes were built in the 1920s and 1930s, and in London, by the start of the second world war, more flats than houses were being constructed. A period of transformation which provided Heath with ample opportunity for satire.
With a keen eye on the market, he collaborated with writer K.R.G. Browne on a bestselling series of spoof advice books, including How To Live in a Flat, How to Be a Perfect Husband and How to Be a Motorist. His wry yet affectionate pictures suggest he — like many other people in Britain — regarded the workings of this new era with a certain scepticism, yet also with considerable enthusiam. To Heather, as to his many admirers, his was an age of both absurdity and wonder.
Born in London in 1872, Heath’s childhood was happy, even though the family had little money to spare. He spent hours making his own toys, which would plant the seed for his later work. Unlike Aldous Huxley or George Orwell, Heath always gave his characters a kind of dumpy amiability, as they stoically tried to adapt to the brave new world around them.
Who knows how he would have illustrated the quarantine of our time, if he would have had the same skeptical optimism in an era like this, signed by a far more disturbing comfortable fear of everything.