Nicolas Bentley

Nicolas Bentley

Nicolas Clerihew Bentley (June 14, 1907August 14, 1978) was a British author and illustrator famous for his humorous cartoon drawings in books and magazines in the 1930s and 1940s. He was the son of Edmund Clerihew Bentley (the inventor of the clerihew verse form); he was born with the name Nicholas but opted to change the spelling.

Early career

Bentley was educated at University College School where he left at the age of 17, having decided that his academic abilities would not take him to university. He then enrolled at Heatherley's School of Fine Art, a prestigious private college, but left after a few months. After leaving Heatherley's, Bentley worked without pay as a clown in a circus; when this job ended he was a film extra, and during the General Strike of 1926 he worked on the London Underground.

Professional illustration

It was at this time that Bentley sold his first drawing to his godfather, G. K. Chesterton. He had a commission to draw illustrations for a trade newspaper called Man and his clothes in 1928, and his first regular job as an illustrator was in the publicity department of Shell. Bentley worked for Shell for three years but disliked working in advertising. In 1930, Hilaire Belloc (who was a friend of his father) invited him to illustrate his book New Cautionary Tales. The good critical reception of this book and its illustrations allowed him to go freelance.

Author

During the 1930s Bentley illustrated works ranging from J. B. Morton to Damon Runyon. His most famous drawings were to illustrate T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, but he illustrated more than 70 books in the course of a long career. He traditionally used the byline "Nicolas Bentley drew the pictures". His favourite illustration work was for his own books and he considered himself primarily an author. One of his best-known books, Ready Refusals, or, The White Liar's Engagement Book gives a quotation for every day of the year drawn from a surprisingly wide range of sources together with an appropriate illustration. In October 1934, Bentley married Barbara Hastings, daughter of the well-known Barrister Sir Patrick Hastings; she wrote a series of children's books in the 1940s which he illustrated.

Post-war work

Bentley had enrolled as an auxiliary fireman in 1938 and served in the London Fire Brigade during World War II. After the war he took a few regular cartooning jobs including on Time and Tide (1952-54) and drawing pocket cartoons for the Daily Mail from 1958. He gave this job up in 1962, complaining that it put too much strain on him. In later life he was the illustrator for Auberon Waugh's Diary in Private Eye and contributed other cartoons to the magazine. He moved to Downhead, near Shepton Mallet in Somerset.

His autobiography, A Version of the Truth, was published in 1960. On his death, Auberon Waugh wrote in Private Eye: "Nick was a gentle, modest, humorous man, with none of the usual characteristics of the highly individual genius which inspired his quiet professionalism and supreme technical ability."

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