In 1941 George Orwell published an essay on Donald McGill, which was published in the literary journal Horizon ( this has been republished by Greaves & Thomas and is available from the museum shop or the via this website. Whilst Orwell is regarded as one of Britain’s great 20th century novelists, he clearly was not as apt at being a journalist, as he makes numerous mistakes, in particular presuming that Donald Mcgill was a trade name with numerous artists contributing.
Clearly George Orwell had not considered it necessary to interview Donald McGill or Constance Publishers. This is surprising as the journal would have made contact so that copyright consent could be sought from Constance to reproduce some of Donald’s cards in the publication. Orwell’s comments later led to Donald writing to the Times newspaper to clarify the mistakes. Nevertheless despite this lapse in Orwells output, the article helped to secure greater acclaim for Donald and his work.
It is also interesting to note that in 1948 when George Orwell wrote his classic 1984, he decided to switch the order of 4 and 8 to make 84 instead of 48.
Orwell who had fought against fascists and no doubt saw the flaws of Stalin’s Russia, deemed that 1984 could well be a fitting time in the future for a Big Brother State watching and controlling your every move. In many ways 1954 might have been a more fitting title for Orwell’s classic, as Donald and his publishers found themselves running foul of the law for using the subtle art of the ‘Double Entendre’ or ‘hidden meaning’.
The beautiful thing about the Double Entendre is that it is designed to pass over the head of those who cannot see the alternative meaning, consequently Donalds cards appear to depict perfectly innocent situations, and also the text that accompanies them is equally innocent. However there are hidden meanings to be found if you already know to what is being alluded.
Consequently in 1954 when Donald and Constance were prosecuted under the 1857 Obscenity Act, they were not being prosecuted for written words or an obscene image. Instead they were being prosecuted for a potential thought. Clearly the Big Brother State had well and truly arrived and the controlling of free thought would now be on the agenda with harsh reprisals for those who dared step out of line.
Interesting to note that when George Orwell wrote his essay on Donald, he was under surveillance by MI5 as a suspected communist.