Les Tanner Remembers

I first met Bill when I was a seventeen year old copy boy in the artist room at the Sydney Daily Telegraph in 1944. He had just returned from New Guinea and I was greatly in awe of him. I had seen his work long before (my father had worked in the publishing rooms of various papers and always brought copies home – the Telegraph, Smith’s Weekly, Women’s Weekly, etc) so I was familiar with his comic illustrations. What I now discovered was his immense versatility in the war paintings he did.

He was probably the first adult I was encouraged to call by his first name. At his insistence he was either Bill or Billy Wep or Bill Pidge. Everyone else was Mr. or Sir. He was very warm, friendly, encouraging and funny.

He had a reputation for heavy drinking being among those that appeared in the pub when they opened at 10a.m.. What very few knew was that he’d already worked six hours, rising at 4a.m.. Newspapers were pretty boozy places anyway so the reputation did him no harm.

I didn’t know Jess at all as she was very sick but I heard a lot about her from his friends and colleagues. I know he adored her and that she was strikingly good looking and that he adored her not only for that but for her spirit and all the qualities she had and shared with others. He nursed her until her tragic death.

He used to come to the Artist’s room to get pencils, ink, white poster colour and paper but would always look at what I was drawing and say things like ‘that’s very funny, do more like that’ or show me the books of the old masters. I remember him showing me a book of Hokusai the Japanese 18th century print maker and telling me that he signed his work ‘An old man mad about drawing’. Bill thought that was marvelous.

Bill would appear always wearing a pork pie hat, always well dressed in a casual way. He had a soft voice, workman like hands with solid blunt fingers (as I well remember, from having one of them down my throat to make me up-chuck some of the excess liquor I’d consumed at the Artists’ Ball so I’d be sober enough to drive home.)

He was great encourager of young talent, Brett Whiteley, Peter Harrigan and me. He even set up a travelling scholarship which I was told later he meant for me but I was in the Army in Japan and madly in love with an American girl and didn’t enter. Peter Harrigan did and deservedly won a year in London. I think he was so in love with drawing and painting and just creating with his hands that when he saw talent in others he couldn’t help but foster and encourage. I remember him showing me a short flight of concrete steps at Northwood. He was so proud of having made them that he signed them Wep.

His friends Geoff Turton, George Finey, Bill Mahony and others told me stories about him shocking a posh dinner party with an oyster stuck in his nostril waggling about. About him taking Lennie Lower away to the Snowy Mountains with instructions not to give Lower any more money than two shillings (20c). Lower went to Cooma with his two shillings and came back rotten drunk with seven and sixpence change. He’d gone into Cooma, told everyone who he was and that he was there with Wep so no-one would let him pay for a drink and actually pressed money on him thus defeating the other instruction ‘sober him up and keep him sober’.

I saw a lot of your father when he was cartooning for the ‘Sunday Tele’ as I was rostered on on Saturdays. We used to drink in the Windsor hotel in Castlereagh St. He had his paper on the bar marking stories that might give him an idea for a cartoon. We’d go back to the canteen for a cold pork sandwich and he’d buy a bottle of dry sherry to share with the women in the Social dept. next door to our rooms.

Ure Smith the publisher got me to design the cover for ‘They’re A Weird Mob’ which I did but came down with appendicitis. Ure Smith asked Bill to illustrate it which was a bit much as he was trying to break away from illustration for serious portraiture and in fact had won his first Archibald [not at that time – 1957]. I think it was when he and your mother were either courting or had just married. I know he visited me in hospital to tell me he would do it. I only mention it because when the book launch was held, the author John O’Grady, a XXXX man at best, made his speech he hoped “You all made enough out of my talents to buy a new suit of clothes.” This was greeted by us all in stunned silence until someone announced that Bill had won his second [actually his first] Archibald. O’Grady was lost in the cheers that went up. O’Grady was very put out.

I met your mother several times both before and after marriage and have fond memories of her.

– Les Tanner, Feb. 2000


Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 – 1954), Sunday 10 January 1937, page 20

“Spots” At Florentino and Auto. Club


Wep and Jess in his green 1928 Chrysler 72 Roadster which he purchased September 1930 and sold December 1937

‘WEP,’ otherwise William Edwin Pidgeon, 27, the well-known black-and-white artist, suffered his second conviction since October for driving a car while he was under the influence of liquor, when he appeared before Mr. Gibson, C.S.M., at the Central Police Court last week.

HE was fined £5 and his license was suspended for three months. The evidence showed that, with his wife, two other artists and others, there had been a spot of dinner at an Italian cafe, a sojourn at the Royal Automobile Club, and then Trouble, with a large capital ‘T.’ Constable Alloway stated that at 12.5 a.m. on December 15 he saw a car driven by Pidgeon stall at the intersection of Albert and Phillip Streets. Told to get out of the car, Pidgeon was ‘unsteady on his feet and his eyes were glassy and staring in appearance. His speech was thick, he smelt strongly of liquor, and he was definitely under the influence of liquor.’ ‘The noise made by the occupants of the car first attracted my attention,’ proceeded Alloway. ‘They were shouting out and there was language used. There were six people in the car — two of them were ladies. With one exception, they were all under the influence of liquor. To Mr. Sweeney, for Pidgeon: There was a dark man among them who was sober. ‘Of the other passengers, Mrs. Pidgeon was under the influence,’ swore Constable Stevenson, the previous witness’s confrere. ‘I first noticed the car when it was alongside the entrance to the R.A.C.A. I saw two ladies and Pidgeon behind the wheel. Two men followed Pidgeon to the police station and one was put out for cheek — after Pidgeon had been taken to be finger printed. It was the little dark chap who was sober. The second lady was not as drunk as the others. They told me they had been in the R.A.C.A., drinking. The big chap who was put out of the station could, perhaps, have been charged with being drunk, but I did not think it right to put the agony on and charge the others!’ ‘Pidgeon was unsteady on his feet, his eyes were shiny, and he appeared not to be able to focus properly,’ recalled Station Constable Hamer. ‘By that I mean,’ he explained, ‘that he would look at you, look past, and then look at you again.’ Defending himself, Pidgeon said he was an artist, living at Bundarra-road, Bellevue Hill. That night, he continued, he and his wife had dinner at the Florentine They met ‘Mr. Finey’ and ‘Mr. Cook’ there and afterwards repaired to the Automobile Club. Pidgeon said he had two ‘schooners’ of beer. ‘It was suggested that Cook and Finey come home to our place for supper,’ went on Pidgeon. ‘My wife got out of the car, and Mr. Finey questioned the advisability of my driving the car, seeing that I had had a few drinks, and it was suggested that it would be better if my wife drove it. The three men got in the back seat, my wife got in the driving seat, and I got in alongside her. The next thing, as we were driving down Albert street, I heard someone shouting, ‘Stop that car!’ ‘Anticipating some trouble, I pushed my wife over the top of me and took the driving seat, as I did not want to set my wife into trouble. The policeman put his face to the back of the hood and said. ‘Who is driving the car?’ and I said, ‘I am.’ He asked for the licence, and as I was looking for it, he asked me if I had been drinking. I said, ‘Yes, I have had a couple.’


To Police Prosecutor Walden: I am not denying that I was slightly under the influence of liquor. You wish his Worship to believe that your wife was driving the car and not you? — She was. Further questioned, Pidgeon denied that that night he had been working He was sure that she did not have five glasses of wine at dinner, nor did she have any liquor at the R.A.C.A. He did not know that there were three empty bottles in the car. Another artist, George Edmond Finey of White-street, Balgowlah said that that night he had been working at ‘The Telegraph.’ ‘I went and tried to get bail.’ he recalled. ‘I was not under the influence. I left with the other lady when Pidgeon was arrested. I did not tell the constable I was getting my wife out of it. She was not my wife. I did not go home till about 6 o’clock the next morning.’ The third artist, Noel Wilfred Cook, of White-street, Manly, also gave evidence for the defence. The testimony of Mrs. Jessie Ann Pidgeon was to the effect that she drove the car, and that when the policeman hailed them her husband took the driving seat. ‘I was not intoxicated,’ she told Prosecutor Walden. ‘I had one wine with my dinner.’ Convicted, Pidgeon was revealed to bear a previous conviction for a similar offence. He was fined £5, or 10 days’ gaol, and his license was suspended for three months. Twenty-one days to pay were allowed.


1937 ‘”WEP” PIDGEON IS WINGED AGAIN’, Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 – 1954), 10 January, p. 20. , viewed 15 Dec 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article169595051


Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 – 1954), Sunday 4 October 1936, page 24

Caricaturist Finds Himself Plucked After Ball

Wep and Jess in his green 1928 Chrysler 72 Roadster which he purchased September 1930 and sold December 1937

WELL KNOWN by the signature ‘Wep’, William Edwin Pidgeon, 27, a black-and-white artist employed by Consolidated Press Ltd., footed the bill at the Central Police Court last week for a little traffic lapse committed as an aftermath to the holding of the Ski Council ball at the Blaxland Galleries on the night of September 25.

MR. STEVENSON, S.M., fined ‘Wep’ £2, or four days’ hard labor, for driving a car while he was under the influence of intoxicating liquor. ‘I am satisfied that he was not drunk,’ remarked the bench, ‘but I am satisfied that he was sufficiently under the influence of intoxicating liquor as to render him incapable of driving a car.’ ‘Wep’ pleaded not guilty and was defended by Mr. Taylor. The evidence of Constable Blair was that he saw the car parked at 3.5 a.m. with two wheels on the footpath, and two on the road, while Constable Bullen swore that after that, he saw Pidgeon, two other men and two women, “stagger out of Westminister Hall flats. They were all under the influence. When he asked Pidgeon who had driven the vehicle on to the foot path, added Bullen, Pidgeon replied, “To hell with you!” and started the engine, driving off. When he, Bullen, told ‘Wep’ to stop the car, ‘Wep’ repeated his remark and announced that the constable was coming with him. Of course, as was obvious, Constable Bullen is not the sort of man to stand for that type of cavalier treatment. He stopped the car himself and Mr. Pidgeon was duly conveyed to the police station. There, it further appeared, while the prisoner was in the dock, he rolled a cigarette, possibly nonchalantly, but spoilt the effect, if any, by lighting it half-way along, according to the policeman. “His condition was verging on drunkenness,” recalled Bullen. “I said to him, ‘You have been drinking,’ ” recalled Station Sergeant MacPherson, “and he replied. ‘Yes, I was at the Ski Club Ball at the Blaxland Galleries.’ ” Of Bundarra-road, Bellevue Hill, Pidgeon, in pleading not guilty, maintained that he had not left the greater part of the car on the pavement. They had gone to the flats to have coffee, he swore. He did not remember if he had suggested to one of the constables that one of the latter might explore the nether regions. He had not believed that it was a constable who had spoken to him, the latter being in dis-reputable civilian dress, and he, Pidgeon, had said that he would take the other to the police station to find out about it. “I heard the evidence about asking for a cigarette,” admitted ‘Wep.’ “It is possible I made a bad cigarette — with the treatment I got! I had about three or four lagers at the ball.” To the Prosecutor: I did not light the cigarette in the middle. Another journalist, Richard Bernard Odgers, of the aforesaid flats, was also at the function, it appeared. “I was in Pidgeon’s company, but not for the whole of the evening,” he admitted. “I was all over the place.”


1936 ‘”WEP” PIDGEON FINED FOR DRIVING “UNDER”‘, Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 – 1954), 4 October, p. 24. , viewed 15 Dec 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article169583849

“Wep Goes Over the Top”

Wep Goes Over the Top - The Sun 27 Aug 1933 p28
The Sunday Sun and Guardian, Sunday 27 August 1933, page 28

Wep Goes Over the Top

Wep is married. To the un-initiated let it be said that Wep is one of Sy d n e y’ s brilliant young artists of the most modern school, and on Thursday he took unto himself a Mrs. William Edwin Pidgeon, for that is Wep’s real name. The bride, was Miss Jessie Graham, only child of Mr. and Mrs. Ceorge O. [sic – A.] Graham, of Brighton, while Wep is the youngest son of Mrs. Thirza Pidgeon and the late Frederick Pidgeon. The ceremony was performed quietly at St. Stephen’s Church, by the Rev. R. McCowan, the bride wearing a dainty frock of pink angel’s skin, and she added a white hat. Her father gave her away. A reception lunch was held at Farmer’s, after which Mr. and Mrs. W. E. Pidgeon left by car for Kosciusko for a fortnight’s honeymoon.

1933 ‘Wep Goes Over the Top’, The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), 27 August, p. 28. , viewed 20 Aug 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article231434950


St. Stephen's Church, Phillip Street, Sydney. The church was demolished just after Wep's wedding to make way for the Martin Place extension and a new church built in Macquarie St. [Photo - Sydney Architecture Images- "Gone but not forgotten", St Stephen's Church, http://sydneyarchitecture.com/GON/GON126.htm, viewed 20 Aug 2016]
St. Stephen’s Church, Phillip Street, Sydney. The church was demolished just after Wep’s wedding to make way for the Martin Place extension and a new church built in Macquarie St. [Photo – Sydney Architecture Images- “Gone but not forgotten”, St Stephen’s Church, http://sydneyarchitecture.com/GON/GON126.htm, viewed 20 Aug 2016]
Each motor-vehicle for which a registration certificate is taken out in New South Wales from the beginning of December will be required to carry a visible registration label on the windscreen, or, if a windscreen is not fitted, in an approved container. The label will indicate the date to which the vehicle has been registered, so that after the first 12 months of the plan any vehicle not registered will be readily detected. The plan is similar to that already in operation in Victoria. 1932 'Motors and Motoring.', The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), 22 November, p. 11, viewed 21 August, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4510135 Registration could be paid quarterly with new labels issued explaining why the Chrysler had differing registration months 1932 'Motor Registration Fees.', Singleton Argus (NSW : 1880 - 1954) , 30 November, p. 2, viewed 21 August, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article83438816
Bill and Jess set off for a fortnight’s honeymoon at Mt. Kosciusko in Wep’s Chrysler Roadster; 24 Aug 1933
Jessie Pidgeon with Best Man, Geoff Turton (aka Petrov) and his wife Mollie seeing Bill and Jess off on their honeymoon at Kosciusko, 24 Aug 1933.
Jessie Pidgeon with Best Man, Geoff Turton (aka Petrov) and his wife Mollie seeing Bill and Jess off on their honeymoon at Kosciusko, 24 Aug 1933.
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