News Release: Comedians from the 1940s to Now

News Release   

22 September 2011


Over 50 photographic portraits of comedians from the 1940s to the present day have gone on display at the National Portrait Gallery until 8 January 2012. On show for the first time are recent acquisitions of portraits of Jimmy Carr and Mitchell and Webb by Barry Marsden, Omid Djalili by Karen Robinson, Matt Lucas by Nadav Kander and Johnny Vegas by Karl J. Kaul.

Charting 70 years of British Comedy the earliest portraits in the display, Comedians: From the 1940s to Now, are of comedians who began their careers while serving in the armed forces during the Second World War, including Kenneth Horne and Eric Sykes. From the 1950s a new captive audience was created with enduring radio shows such as Hancock’s Half Hour staring Tony Hancock and Sid James, and The Goon Show with Spike Milligan. This display goes on to highlight the performers from the satirical Establishment Club in the 1960s including John Fortune, Eleanor Bron, John Bird and Jeremy Geidt. Many of the comedians on show will also be recognised from the television screen, The Morecambe and Wise Show to The Catherine Tate Show amongst others, and those who have also forged film careers, such as Simon Pegg, Russell Brand and Ricky Gervais. The display will also include a video introduction by Paul Merton, discussing the history of British comedy.

Work by celebrated photographers such as Cecil Beaton and Annie Leibovitz will be shown alongside portraits by less well-known photographers such as Bob Collins, who documented the rise of radio and television performers in the 1950s. Also on display will be portraits by Lewis Morley, who became the ‘official’ photographer of the satire boom of the 1960s, and portraits of alternative comedians from the 1990s, taken for Trevor Leighton’s photographic survey of British comedians, The Jokers (1999), displayed at the National Portrait Gallery in 2000.

To coincide with the display, the Gallery’s Portrait of the Month for September 2011 will be a portrait of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon by Rich Hardcastle. This portrait was taken for The Sunday Times Culture magazine in October 2010 to coincide with their co-starring roles in the television comedy, The Trip.

Comedians: From the 1940s to Now began in 2009 as a partnership project between the National Portrait Gallery and three of the Gallery’s Regional Partners: Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, Museums Sheffield and Plymouth Museum & Art Gallery. To see how the exhibition developed please visit The display will run from 17 September 2011 until 2 January 2012 in Rooms 37 and 37a, admission free.

To mark the opening of the Comedians: From the 1940s to Now display we have invited several up and coming comedians from the London comedy circuit to give alternative Gallery talks.
In collaboration with Parachute Productions

  • Thursday 29 September 2011

19.30 Richard Rogers

  • Thursday 27 October 2011

19.30 Thom Tuck (of the Penny Dreadfuls)

  • Thursday 1 December 2011

19.30 Javier Costales

  • Thursday 15 December 2011

19.30  Jessica Knappett

For further Press information and image requests please contact: Eleanor Macnair, Press Office, National Portrait Gallery Tel: 020 7321 6620 (not for publication) Email:
To download Press images

National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE. Opening hours Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday: 10am – 6pm (Gallery closure commences at 5.50pm) Late Opening: Thursday, Friday: 10am – 9pm  (Gallery closure commences at 8.50pm) Nearest Underground: Leicester Square/Charing Cross Recorded information: 020 7312 2463  General information: 020 7306 0055  Website:

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