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By Lyn Collingwood from Bulletin 2/2023, March 2023  

The twelfth site nominated for a Blue Plaque is 12 Reuss Street Glebe which was the childhood home of one of Australia’s best-known Press cartoonists, Les Tanner. Suffering from dysentery, he was not expected to survive longer than six months. His first school was Glebe Public. 

He later recalled I was known as a bit of a show-off. Les’s mother was a cousin of comedian George Wallace and his ‘Uncle Billy’ a props maker for Cinesound.  Aged 12 Les was an extra in the Wallace/Cinesound feature Gone to the Dogs.  He also appeared in Our Gang and Forty Thousand Horsemen.

12 Reuss St Glebe. It’s a semi with No 12 on the left. (Image: Ian Stephenson)

From the age of five he drew caricatures of his parents and visitors.  His parents had no artistic ability but he was encouraged to draw by Uncle Billy and there were always papers and journals in the Tanner household. 

He left school at age 15 and had several odd jobs (including packing at Woolworths and making lavatory seats) before joining the Daily Telegraph as a printer’s devilHe was transferred to the art department and began studying at the Julian Ashton School. – I’d never seen a naked model, but my first life class turned out to be an Indonesian seaman fully dressed’. At age 18 he was sent to Japan to work on the occupation force’s newspaper BCON as a cartoonist.  On returning to Australia, he illustrated for the magazine AM and the Daily and Sunday Telegraph.  He also joined the Communist Party and acted, designed, directed and was a committee member for Sydney New Theatre where ASIO agents recorded his activities. He was a talented actor, particularly in comedy. 

Tanner’s awards included 1960 ‘Cartoonist of the Year’, Walkleys in 1962 and 1965, and a Golden Quill in 1999 for lifetime achievement in the arts. A 60-a-day smoker, he developed throat cancer and had a laryngectomy.

After spending 1960 in London as a ‘joke artist’ on the Daily Sketch, Tanner joined the Bulletin as art director.  In 1967 Sir Frank Packer took umbrage against Tanner’s depiction of Victorian Premier Sir Henry Bolte in an article on capital punishment and pulped the entire issue. Tanner then moved to Melbourne to work as chief political cartoonist on the Age, a position he held until his retirement in 1997. He wrote a popular weekly column ‘Tanner With Words’.  

Read more about Les Tanner in Lyn Collingwood’s 2013 in-depth article.

Les Tanner in character at New Theatre where he gave lessons in stage make-up. (Image: Sydney New Theatre)













Posted on March 29, 2023 by Lyn Collingwood

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