Heath Robinson's Helpful Solutions At The Cartoon Museum

By Graham Spicer | 05 July 2007
drawing of a garden with pieces of furniture stacked up on each other and a family pretending to mountaineer up it

See the image in its full glory. Courtesy Pollinger Ltd and Estate of JC Robinson © Estate of JC Robinson

Heath Robinson’s drawings of wacky inventions have proved so popular over the years his name has become a byword for, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, ‘any absurdly ingenious and impracticable device’.

His visions appeal to young and old alike and London’s Cartoon Museum has gathered together more than 100 original drawings and sketches in the largest exhibition of his work for 15 years, Heath Robinson's Helpful Solutions.

It displays many of the quirky, absurd and ingenious solutions that Robinson developed to assist his cast of earnest looking characters.

drawing of lots of people on stilts in the sea and an invading army falling jumping out of boats and sinking in the deceptively deep water

Deceiving the invader as to the state of the tide. Enlargement Courtesy Pollinger Ltd and Estate of JC Robinson © Estate of JC Robinson

They range from a new mechanical method of stuffing a turkey to a novel system for testing mattresses or a device for safely carrying pedestrians over a busy road. No matter what the problem, Heath Robinson could come up with a solution.

Robinson (1872-1944) came into his own during World War One when he turned his imagination to devising a whole raft of methods to assist British Tommies. He was deluged by letters of appreciation from men on the front, many requesting solutions to problems of army life; Robinson always did his best to respond.

In the 1920s and 30s he continued to be in great demand by magazines and advertisers and turned his attention to the Home Front in the Second World War, where he boosted morale by showing how British resourcefulness could overcome the Nazi threat.

drawing of a complicated mechanical contraption which is connected to a turkey

Mechanical aids for Christmas: the Chestnut Stuffer. Courtesy Pollinger Ltd and Estate of JC Robinson © Estate of JC Robinson

The inconveniences of blackouts and rationing all prompted ‘Heath Robinsonish’ suggestions for ‘how to make the best of things’ and win the war.

Robinson’s good-hearted Englishness is still bound to delight and fire the imagination.

The exhibition runs until October 7 2007 and visitors to the museum can also see a large variety of the best of British cartoon and comic art from the past and present.

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