Merry Christmas from everyone at the World Rugby Museum!
This month’s featured object from our collection is a Christmas card designed for the Rugby Football Union by one of Britain’s best loved cartoonists, Cyril Kenneth Bird CBE (1887-1965).
Cyril Bird, the son of cricketer Arthur Bird, was born in London in 1887. Although he graduated from Kings College with a BSc in Engineering, he also showed promise as an artist, and had attended art classes at the Regent Street Polytechnic and the School of Photo-Engraving.
Bird served in the Royal Engineers during the First World War. Whilst recuperating from injuries sustained at Gallipoli which saw him invalided out of the army, Bird began providing cartoons for the satirical magazine Punch in 1916. He used the pseudonym ‘Fougasse’ – a name for a type of anti-personnel mine noted for its unpredictability – because the signature ‘Bird’ was already in use. Bird was perhaps best known for the propaganda posters he designed for the Ministry of Information during World War II. His informative posters with a characteristic humorous twist included the famous ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ series. In recognition of his contribution to the war effort, he was awarded a CBE in 1946. He became editor of Punch magazine in 1949, the only artist to do so.
The RFU Christmas card, of unknown date, shows Father Christmas diving over the try line with a sack of gifts, his red overcoat flying behind him to reveal rugby shorts and striped socks. He crosses the line between the posts – two festive fir trees. The inner page of the card is attached with a ribbon and reads: “With Every Good Wish for Christmas and the New Year. Rugby Football Union. Twickenham”. The card, measuring 12.5 x 14.5 cm (approximately 5 x 6 inches), is typical of Bird’s distinctive style which captures figures and landscapes with simple, bold lines. The limited colour palette references both traditional festive colours and also the white and red of the RFU and the England kit.
There are several examples of Bird’s work in the museum’s collection, including a publication entitled ‘Why the Whistle Went’, first produced by the RFU in 1948 to explain the laws of the game.