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Cartoon website is a mirror of history

IN the annals of Newsnight, it was an unusual request.

Desperate to liven up yet another report on an Anglo-French contretemps, researchers from the BBC's flagship late-night current affairs programme wanted a cartoon of Britain farting on France.

That they succeeded owed everything to an unusual service run by the University of Kent at Canterbury.

The university's Centre for the Study of Cartoons provides a database of pictorial humour down the ages. And it could now prove useful to history teachers as well as journalists after being awarded pound;189,000 to become the country's leading digital reference centre for cartoons.

The centre's web-based database will expand to feature more than 50,000 cartoons following the award from the Higher Education Funding Council. It will thus ofer a fascinating take on social history from the late 18th century onwards.

For example, the Daily Mirror, once a paper for affluent housewives, used to run cartoons covering such pressing subjects as how to ensure the children don't get in the way when they are home from boarding school.

But after 1945, amid post-war austerity, the paper's cartoonists captured the new mood of concern at working-class living standards. More recently, the paper's flat-capped northerner, Andy Capp, has given up smoking and beating his wife, Flo.

Slide-packs on offer from the centre include the fortunes of Labour in opposition from 1951-64, the demise of the British empire and Conservative leaders from Churchill to Thatcher.

The site can be found at: http:libservb.ukc.ac.ukcartoons

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