Every motoring enthusiast has a favourite Brockbank cartoon. Usually, only after long and careful consideration: how do you choose between the dozens of his wonderfully simple yet astute sketches that so often provoke open laughter?
Born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, on 13 April in 1913, Brockbank spent his formative years as an amateur artist. He began drawing cars at the age of four. They had oval wheels (well off the ground), a Brockbank trait that continued right through his career. Russell came to England in 1929 and studied for two years at the Chelsea art school, where he developed his passion for drawing cars. His sketch pad was his constant companion, so that when he and girlfriend Eileen went to Brooklands, or travelled around London, a pencil would come out whenever an intriguing car or circumstance appeared. Giving up the security of his safe job, he went freelance, struggling to make ends meet and ‘starved happily for seven years.’
Just before Christmas one year, Brockbank was approached by a racing driver who ask how much he would charge for five different Christmas cards depicting five different racing drivers. “Five pounds,” he replied. “Fine”, said the driver, counting out five, five pounds notes. Brockbank was staggered. He’d meant five pounds for the lot: 25 pounds was a few week’s wages before WW2.
The war over, Brock created the mythical Major Upsett, a short man with a bowler hat and a circa 1946 Austin 8 Tourer, who entranced readers through a continual series of absurd motoring situations. In one example, Major Upsett and a fellow motorist walk towards each other around a blind corner holding small – empty – cans while in search of petro. The Major appeared each week in The Motor, along with another cartoon on any subject that seemed appropriate.
Sometimes it was an aggressive policeman or a haughty Rolls-Royce driver; even minis side-by-side through the last corner of a race; a Chaparral having its wing fall off in the Targa Florio; a car designer looking at his last masterpiece complete with squared-off wheel arches and announcing: “Of course the wheels spoil it.” Brockbank made Wednesdays that much brighter for Pom readers.