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Lionel Coventry

Caricature of Ron Boland by Lionel CoventryLionel Coventry has always been best known as a portrait caricaturist, who drawings were exclusively of Adelaide citizens and its visitors, from all walks of life.

His newspaper career started as a copy boy at The News in 1924. After just one year Coventry was made a cadet reporter, but he was sacked by the editor later that year.

In 1926 he applied for an advertised position at The Broadcaster: the South Australian Wireless magazine as a theatrical reporter/cartoonist. With no professional experience as a cartoonist, or a folio of drawings, he signed his application with a self-portrait caricature to get the job.

Ron Boland also started his career in newspapers at this time; when both their fathers worked for The News. Like his father Ted, Boland became a sports reporter and they both became friends of Coventry’s who was from 1928 drawing athletes of all the sports in town for local and interstate publications. Coventry and Boland later became colleagues as journalists at The News.

The position at The Broadcaster lasted for about 2 years: until the weekly folded in 1928. He had built a folio of caricatures of personalities working in Adelaide in theatre, radio, film and business; his job had been to interview these people and draw them. He applied that method of drawing from life rather than photographs throughout his career.

Coventry was still determined to work for a newspaper, but now in the duel jobs of reporter and caricaturist. He went to the editor of The Register, Sid Deamer, and asked for such a position, even though the morning daily had not ever had a black and white artist on staff. Deamer looked at his folio and gave him a trial assignment: to go straight away to the Adelaide Oval, in mid-afternoon, where the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) touring team was practising for a Test against Australia, and draw all the visiting English cricketers; it was early December 1928. Coventry met his deadline that night, around 8 pm, as he always would, and the drawings appeared in print the next morning.

The London Evening Standard asked permission to reproduce these caricatures and, it is a legend often told, that the printing of the drawings on the front page of a London newspaper established his reputation. Certainly, from that time Coventry’s portrait caricatures appeared regularly in numerous publications; most importantly for his reputation, Sydney’s national weekly, The Bulletin; for which he contributed over 500 portraits in the following 30 years.

At sometime in this early period Coventry returned to The News as a reporter and eventually became an A grade journalist. He reported mostly on the South Australian courts. It appears that he was never on the staff as an artist, but was able to work as a freelance artist while he simultaneously was a staff reporter.

Throughout his career he contributed drawings to about a hundred publications, but most appeared in Adelaide newspapers and journals. He was a very regular contributor to The News and The Sunday Mail, as well as being a staff reporter during the period Boland was editor.

Coventry self-published a limited edition book of caricatures of South Australian celebrities for the state’s centenary in 1936. In 1950 he again produced a book of South Australia’s personalities to celebrate the first half of the 20th century.

Coventry’s career in journalism ended sometime in the mid-1960s. He continued to draw hundreds of portrait caricatures for the Adelaide newspapers until the end of the 1970s. Overall he had around 30,000 drawings published. To produce that many drawings for print, Coventry did three drawings from life for each, and from those he developed a working drawing from which he traced the finished drawing which was inked for printing. Added to that total of over 120,000 drawings, he drew commissioned portraits, which were usually much larger and coloured. The commissions often came from people whose portraits had been published, but also from others.

The portrait of Ron Boland presented here is a commissioned large coloured drawing and is almost identical to one published in The News for a series on personalities in 1977. This portrait was presented to Boland on his retirement as Editor-in-Chief of The News and The Mail; and after he had given the eulogy at Coventry’s funeral in 1986, he was given one of the working drawings for that portrait to commemorate their association and friendship.

When Coventry died in mid-1986 he had produced about a quarter of a million drawings in a 60 year career: caricatures, one panel cartoons and comic strip, all done in Adelaide.

Text courtesy Christopher Coventry

Link to sa.gov.au - South Australian Government

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