History Reviewer

Donald Zec, Don’t lose it again! The life and war-time cartoons of Philip Zec, 2005

Philip Zec is now widely regarded as the most important political cartoonist of World War Two. From 1939 to 1945 he produced 1529 cartoons for the Daily Mirror which caught brilliantly the defiance of the British people at war. Some of his finest drawings are reproduced in these pages. Two cartoons made history: the first, the notorious ‘seaman on the raft’ cartoon was astonishingly misinterpreted in Downing Street and led to a furious debate in Parliament: the second, a moving evocation of the folly of war gives the book its title and marks the sixtieth anniversary of VE Day on 8th of May. Written by the cartoonist’ss brother Donald, the award-wining journalist and author, Don’t Lose It Again hallmarks a unique talent which contributed significantly to the British war effort. This book is probably the most incisive biography of a political cartoonist since Sir David Low’s own autobiography 49 years ago

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Review by Dr Bex Lewis (2005-6)

Philip Zec, designer of the poster ‘Women of Britain, Come Into the Factories‘, did not see himself as a propagandist, rather as an observer, although he was happy for his work to be used as propaganda. His brother Donald, well known as a (film) journalist/ biographer, writes this engaging text, not as a brother, but as one who recognised the importance of Zec’s work.

The commissioning of the book was triggered by Dr Tim Benson’s (Political Cartoon Society) purchase of Zec’s iconic cartoon, published in celebration of VE Day: ‘Victory and Peace In Europe: Don’t Lose it Again’.

Despite the fact that Zec destroyed most of his original images because he didn’t think they were good enough, the book is well illustrated, largely in black and white. The images, most from the Second World War (or shortly before), are clearly contextualised. Both the book and the images present the Second World War through the eyes of gifted observers, with Philip Zec clearly contributing to the ‘mythical memory’ of the Second World War through powerful and memorable images.

An enjoyable, highly illustrated read – the book follows Zec’s beginnings on the edges of Bloomsbury, his training at St Martin’s College of Art, his move into advertising illustration, and his friendships with Strube, Low and the columnist Cassandra on the Daily Mirror. As a socialist and a Jew, Zec had strong political and social awareness – he was drawn into political cartooning as it was evident the country was on the brink of war (he could not stay on the sidelines drawing goods for sale). Soon after the war commenced, Zec produced the first of a series of cartoons for the Daily Mirror, poking fun at the Dictators (putting himself on Hitler’s blacklist). Zec was not a ‘funny’ cartoonist, producing strong messages, unafraid to shock, although he found the realities of the German concentration camps too shocking to convert into cartoons. Zec was loved by ‘the boys’ in the Armed Forces, and raised controversy with Churchill (see pp.74-81). Post-war, he threw his support behind the Labour Party, continuing his work as a political cartoonist until his death in 1983.


Philip Zec (b.1910; d.1983)

Philip Zec, of Jewish descent, trained at St Martin’s School of Art. He then worked for an advertising agency, where he met William Connor, who later became Cassandra of the Daily Mirror. Zec left the agency to set up his own commercial art studio, which became a great success. On the outbreak of the Second World War, Zec was commissioned by H.G. Bartholomew, editorial director of the Daily Mirror, to whom he was introduced by Connor, to do a daily cartoon. Zec’s strong anti-Hitlerite cartoons ‘were an immediate success with the readers’, and Hitler recognised their power and added Zec’s name to the Nazi Blacklist (to be executed once Britain was defeated). Zec was also personally commissioned to do work for the Ministry of Information byEdwin Embleton.Zec’s cartoons sometimes also upset the British government, particularly his cartoon ‘Don’t waste petrol. It costs lives’, depicting a soldier clinging to a raft, smeared with oil. Produced on March 5 1942, soon after the government decided to increase the price of petrol, Churchill was offended, and organised for MI5 to investigate Zec. They reported that he was left wing, but there was no evidence that he was involved in subversive activities. The Daily Mirror, which had published the cartoon, was given a severe reprimand. Another noted cartoon by Zec was ‘Here you are! Don’t Lose it Again’, issued on V.E. Day, and used again on the front page of the Daily Mirror when the Labour Party won the 1945 General Election. Zec continued to work for the Daily Mirror post-war, elected to the Board of Directors of the Daily Mirror Group before 1951.

Information taken from: Spartacus Schoolnet, ‘Philip Zec’,, accessed September 21 2003, and Questionnaire submitted by Royall, K. to Embleton, E., Royall, K., ‘Posters of the Second World War: The Fourth Arm of British Defence’, Unpublished M.A.: University of Westminster, 1991, p.123

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Philip Zec Exhibition: “Don’t Lose it again!” The war-time cartoons of Philip Zec (4 May – 8 August 2005)

Philip Zec was the greatest and most controversial cartoonist of the Second World War. He was the political cartoonist for the Daily Mirror between 1939 and 1946. This exhibition will include the originals of his two most famous cartoons, ‘The Price of Petrol’, which almost led to the Daily Mirror being banned by Prime Minister Winston Churchill when it was published in March 1942 and his memorable VE Day cartoon “Here it is, Don’t lose it again”. The latter cartoon being the most iconic cartoon of the Twentieth Century. The exhibition was accompanied by a biography of Zec, written by none other than his brother, Donald, who also worked for the Daily Mirror for many years as a journalist. The book contains one hundred and forty war-time Zec cartoons; the vast majority having not been seen since the day they were published in the paper.

The Political Cartoon Society Gallery is open Monday to Friday 9am – 5.30pm and on Saturdays between 11am – 5.30pm. Phone Dr Tim Benson on 020 7580 1114 for further details or email him at