· Humours of Golf
· How to Live in a Flat
· How to be a Perfect Husband
· How to Make a Garden Grow
· How to be a Motorist
Heath Robinson drew simple contraptions that offered solutions to problems that many people encountered in everyday life. You could say that he mostly found solutions for problems that didn’t really exist and created inventions for needs and wants people didn’t know they had. However, even today, who could argue with the challenges faced by those who live in tiny flats, the problems resulting from garden pests and the difficulties encountered by newly-weds setting up life together? Many of the issues addressed by Heath Robinson are surprisingly still relevant and resonant in the twenty-first century. His inventions designed to leap such lifestyle hurdles as learning to drive, choosing a mate or living in a flat with no soundproofing will strike a chord with many living in the modern world. Heath Robinson is also very concerned with recycling and upcycling everyday items when designing his devices – something very familiar to those who love repurposing vintage items today.
The keep fit and fresh air craze that emerged post World War One (exemplified by the 1933 song Keep Young and Beautiful by Abe Lyman - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TT2FFfzpzY0 ) is also covered by Heath Robinson in his book Humours of Golf. Geoffrey Beare, Trustee of the William Heath Robinson Trust, has kindly written the forewords for our Heath Robinson titles. Of Humours of Golf he writes:
Heath Robinson’s drawings frequently took the sports that interested the upper classes as their subject – hunting, fishing, tennis, winter sports and most often golf. In 1923 the publisher Methuen proposed that Heath Robinson’s golfing subjects should be collected in a separate volume and the book was published as The Humours of Golf in time for the Christmas market, with an introduction by Bernard Darwin, the leading golf writer of the day. Heath Robinson made a number of small line drawings on golfing subjects that were added at intervals through the book. The fact that he did not play the game himself allowed him to see its more ridiculous aspects.
On the other hand, Heath Robinson reflects aspects of the British character that could be regarded as timeless. After all, an obsession with gadgets, inventions created in sheds from collecting ‘things that might be useful one day’ and ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’ solutions have appeared time and again throughout British history. The eccentric inventor crops up frequently in both fiction and fact. Heath Robinson himself said: ‘I really have a secret satisfaction in being considered rather mad’. From Caractacus and Grandpa Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Wallace and Gromit, from ‘Q’ in the Bond films to the bizarre inventions that appeared in the early days of rail and air travel (described beautifully in our titles The Railway Age and The Boys’ Book of Aeroplanes) – we have a proud tradition of ingenuity and problem-solving that, though often apparently potty, is actually widely respected and admired around the world.This is because the drive to invent solutions to problems often does, eventually, produce some impressive and genuinely useful results. Indeed there are many germs of genius in Heath Robinson’s designs. For example, using grey water (i.e. bath water) to water the garden is now incorporated into the design of eco-homes. Other examples include chairs that help you get to your feet, machines for making coffee and contraptions for keeping cats off carefully prepared seed beds. These and many other ideas suggest that, far from being crazy, Heath Robinson was often way ahead of his time!
The reader who has kept his head and reached this point without succumbing to ennui, sleep, or a craving to go to the movies, will have realized, we hope, that the intelligent use of string can do much to improve the appearance and performance of any motor car. Where no string is available, twine, tape, or even plaited bimbo-grass (which grows only on the Patagonian plains in alternate Leap Years) can be utilized instead; but the principle – “a knot here, a knot there, and save what’s left over” – remains the same.
Keen string-fanciers to a man, Mr. Heath Robinson and I hold pretty strong views about this valuable, inexpensive and under-estimated commodity. And if our joint efforts to make Britain thoroughly string conscious meet with only half the success they deserve, we shall feel that we have not half-lived in vain.
I have my own reasons to be thankful for the existence of string. In my early days as a motorist I was the proud owner of a Triumph Toledo. This classic of its kind was named Sybil (because her number plate began SYB and ended with an ‘L’). She served me well as a first car but she did have a distressing tendency to break down at crucial moments. On one occasion the brakes failed as I was approaching a large and busy roundabout, another time the clutch gave out as I was driving along a very icy road, but the most memorable break down occurred on the M5. I was playing a game of tag with a minibus full of rugby players (yes, I was a young and foolish girl!) – they would overtake me with much rowdy glee and then I would overtake them when I could with a cheerful toot on Sybil’s horn. However, all the enthusiastic overtaking was too much for Sybil’s rather matronly workings and the accelerator cable snapped. Luckily I was in the slow lane at the time so I ignominiously limped on to the hard shoulder, much to the amusement of the rugby players who sped past without showing one jot of concern for my plight. At the time I was not a member of the AA or the RAC so I had to walk to the emergency phone and plead with the person on the line to contact a local garage. Luckily someone was willing to come and rescue me and, sometime later, a tow truck arrived.
The garage man started rummaging about in Sybil’s innards and saw immediately that the problem was a broken linkage in the accelerator cable. He popped his head up over the bonnet and asked me if I had a piece of string. Luckily, being a good Girl Guide, I was prepared and I had a piece of string in the glove compartment. I handed it over and a few minutes later the garage man called me over to show me what he had done. Basically, he had used the string to tie the two ends of the accelerator cable together. When I expressed some doubt and concern about his fix, he told me that his solution was good enough to get me off the motorway and the rest of the way home. He was absolutely right – Sybil made it to my parents’ house with no further trouble and Dad and I went to the local junk yard the next day to find a suitable linkage to mend the accelerator cable properly, which we did. So, I had much cause to be thankful for string and I too think it is a much underrated commodity. I like to think that Heath Robinson would have been proud to see string play such an important role in my rescue!