The Education of Filbert Phelps: Cartoons by Len Norris

May 3 - June 26, 1999
Samuel and Frances Belzberg Library
Harbour Centre Campus, Simon Fraser University
Vanvouver, British Columbia

Legendary editorial cartoonist Len Norris (1913-1997) was called "the greatest in the business" by no less than Walt Kelly, the creator of the immortal Pogo.

For 38 years, Norris illustrated a comic world of gentle social commentary on the editorial pages of The Vancouver Sun . A host of eccentric characters, the harrumphing British colonel Rodney, the indolent lout Henry, the ferocious old lady twirling her knitting needles, and the unruly urchin Filbert Phelps, played out their scenes in the mythical West Vancouver land scapes of Amblesnide and Tiddleycove. Norris considered himself a social commentator rather than a political cartoonist, saying: "I get at the events from the viewpoint of the readers themselves, looking at how the news affects them."

Born in London, England, in 1913, Leonard Matheson Norris immigrated to Port Arthur, Ontario with his family in 1926. He moved to Toronto during the Depression, studied for a year at the Ontario College of Art and then worked as an advertising artist 1938-40. Following army service in World War II, Norris became an art director for Maclean Hunter Ltd., before joining the staff of The Vancouver Sun in January 1950.

For the next four decades, his cartoons became endearing features of the newspaper. He received the Bruce Hutchison award for lifetime achievement in journalism, a national Newspaper Award for best cartoons in Canada, and was elected to the News Hall of Fame in 1978. Norris' last original illustration appeared in The Sun on his retirement in 1988. Len Norris died in Langley, BC on August 12, 1997.

The cartoons of Len Norris continue to be reprinted widely, testament to their timeless appeal and relevance.

The Norris Collection at Simon Fraser University

In 1996, Len Norris donated 1,500 of his original drawings to Simon Fraser University. Appraised at $150,000, but actually priceless, the collection consists of editorial cartoons created by Norris for The Vancouver Sun between 1952 and 1985.

The cartoons are available for research by faculty, students and members of the public in Special Collections and Rare Books at the WAC Bennett Library at SFU Burnaby.

The 23 drawings from the SFU collection in this exhibit were selected to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the opening of Simon Fraser University's Harbour Centre campus.

Featuring the unruly urchin Filbert Phelps, harried teachers and parents, activist students, staid academics and other legendary Norris characters, they take a whimsical look at education, from grade school to university. Highlighted are several images of Simon Fraser University's exciting early years, a glimpse of our origins as the university enters a new century.

Simon Fraser University conferred an honorary degree on Len Norris in 1995 for his lifelong achievement and for having "enriched our lives beyond measure through laughter". We invite you to enjoy the humour and genius of Norris!

Karen Marotz
Head, Belzberg Library
April 1999

Filbert Phelps

Filbert Phelps, "the first of Norris' horrible children" originally appeared in 1951. Bold, mischievous and clever, Filbert is the perpetrator of mayhem in the classroom. He captures the essence of the humour that, as Freud said, allows one to say things which would normally be unacceptable.

 "Isn't that nice. His first day at school and already the Principal would like to have a Consultation with us..." (1966-09-07)
"...and I say your inalienable democratic rights do not include heckling." (1963-03-29)
"Filbert's teacher?... I'm Mrs. Phelps... you poor, poor, girl..." (1955-03-16)
"S... E... C... K... S..?" (1966-04-15)
"Brother principal?... sister Figsby, teacher grade 2, sent me." (1973-09-08)

The School System

From the first day of school to the report card at the end of the year, Norris' teachers, parents and students engage in daily battle with the "botherations" of the school system.

"...but after the second day Mrs. Gathergay, we expect both parents and child to reconcile themselves to the normal school system..." (1953-09-09)
"What's more, I may sit here for weeks. It's one place I can be sure I won't see any of them." (1960-06-24)
"Only one 'A'... and that turns out to be his credit rating." (1960-06-29)
"...how would you like some strong supporting evidence for your contention that they've loused up the school system?" (1975-12-09)
"...Now what about this 'inclined to slovenly and careless attitude'..." (1954-11-12)
"Just think, they've set foot on the path to knowledge, the moulding of their minds, the quest for higher learning... the sit-in... the class boycott... the protest rally...." (1968-09-04)

Higher Learning

Although set for the most part during a more tumultuous time in universities, these cartoons reveal timeless peroccupations of academia. Neither student nor faculty is safe from the pointed social commentary of Len Norris.

"Isn't that wonderful... they're the only things Albert fails in...." (1965-03-12)
"He's now a teaching assistant...and while he doesn't actually RUN the university..." (1967-03-22)
"You must excuse the noise from Hector... He's preparing for a speech he has to listen to at the university tomorrow." (1971-03-09)
"Hold it professor... they came through with it." (1964-04-18)
"So he didn't graduate today... if he gets a job as a provincial employee, he can continue his studies indefinitely." (1980-06-07)
"Simply put, one could say you tenure and sabbaticals are like winning the Olympic lottery... you don't have to worry about getting fired for not going to work." (1975-10-01)

Simon Fraser University

Norris' images of Simon Fraser University focus on its early years. From its oustanding design created as a result of an architectural comptetition, through the turbulence of the late 1960s, to the establishment of a downtown campus in 1989, SFU has achieved a reputation for innovation and unconventional thinking. This spirit is embodied in the with of Norris, and in particular, the character of Filbert Phelps.

"Can't undertand why we didn't win...95% of area for parking, ducking pond, secret entrance for Board of Governors, students' pub, faculty club, electric blackboard wipers..." (1963-08-02)
"Who's my Alma temporary acting Mater today?" (1968-06-05)
"...and why should we continue to put up with overcrowded classes and facilities..." (1968-09-10)
"Miss Figsby... I thought we might offer them the benefit of your experience in dealing with this problem in grade two." (1969-02-18)
"Guess what, we had our first meaningful dialogue today." (1968-09-02)

Norris signature

The Norris Collection Prototype home page
Last updated March 16/2000 by mjordan@sfu.ca