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Britain At Play by W. Heath Robinson

01/11/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Britain At Play in the USA - or Buy Britain At Play in the UK

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pub: Duckworth Overlook. 192 page illustrated hardback. Price: GBP 21.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-7156-3814-9).

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There is something typically British about W. Heath Robinson’s cartoon work. Mostly because it shows our more eccentric side that we tend to thrive with and our ability to laugh at ourselves.

With this second volume from Duckworth, ‘Britain At Play’, we see Heath Robinson’s observations of how we play games, gardening, motoring and other mundane things with an added twist from a bemused on-looker, especially as he didn’t have much use for many things other than to see the funny side of things. His water golf gags are as hilarious as his warnings to avoid quicksand on the beach. There is also a scattering of incredible inventions and some would probably make Charles Addams’ work look equally grim, although he predates him by many years, having died in 1944. The fact that Heath Robinson’s name is still recognised seventy years later is a testimony to how much he got under the skin of people for his quirky inventiveness that would make a current safety inspector worried if any of these things would work. I doubt if even the dangerous sports mob would dare to play cricket the way he shows it. Don’t go leaping for the ball.

I don’t think any of these pictures would do justice on the reproduction scale we use here. Many of them are in black and white although there is also a fair scattering in colour, some using a limited colour scheme to others in full colour depending on who his client was at the time. His attention to detail and how he gets you to study the entire scene for detail is a lesson to us all. The fact that they still work so strongly, even today, shows the timeless magic he exhibits.

If you ever needed a coffee table book to keep your guests occupied while you rescue a burnt dinner, then this one will ensure that they won’t care what they’re eating, mostly because they’ll be still laughing later.

When I was a youngster, I dreamt of owning a Heath Robinson book, as the only sources then was at the library. To have two of them available is good fortune for all of us. Don’t miss it. In the winter to come, this book might be for salvation for a giggle.

GF Willmetts

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This book has 127 votes in the sci-fi charts

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