Next week marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of William Heath Robinson, a man so famous for the fantastical drawings that he ended up in the dictionary.
Born in Hornsey, North London, on 31st May 1872 to a family of artists, and started his career illustrating for books, but it was his comic satires during WW1 that started his famous line of ever-increasingly bizarre contraptions.
So popular were his drawings, that the term “Heath Robinson contraption” gained dictionary recognition as it had become a commonplace way to describe unnecessarily complex and implausible gadgets.
Now, in the year that marks his 150th anniversary, the Heath Robinson Museum in northwest London has put on a wide-ranging exhibition of his many illustrations. In these illustrations, he set out to deflate the pompous or the pretentious by exaggerating their folly to the point of absurdity, whether it was individuals or organisations, no one was safe.
He was also a war artist for an American artist, but was arrested on suspicion of being a spy by the French, and once that was sorted out, a special permit he needed was offered and is on display here.
He was also a prolific satirist of that most bureaucratic of industries – the railways, and they were not spared his sense of humour.
Some of the drawings can be repurposed to carry modern messages. One showing people on the beach standing on stilts to fool the Germans as to how deep the tide was, is a good metaphor for rising sea levels. His image of how a dropped toothbrush in one room causing the owner to knock over a bowl of water, that then cascades down the house triggering ever greater accidents — is chaos theory perfectly illustrated.
He even shows an image that, apart from the wires, would be familiar to many today – of a silent disco. Do look above, where a modern wired silent disco has been installed.
As an exhibition of a satirist, it’s amusing as you would expect, although you might struggle to understand some of the jokes depending on how well you know the history of the time he was working.
Even if the subtleties wash over you, the evident humour in the images still stands out and it’s an exhibition that’s going to leave you smiling a lot as you wander around the room.
The museum is in Pinner, where Heath Robinson lived for a while, and about a 10 minute walk from Pinner station on the Metropolitan line. The museum is open 11am-4pm Thur-Sun.
Adults: £6 | Over 65s: £5 | Concessions £4 | Child (18 and under) & Student (24 and under with ID): Free