Haringey schoolboy Zoom Rockman has become renowned for his distinctive cartoon style and astute observational wit. He first garnered the attention of The Beano, which published his first comic strip ‘Skanky Pigeon’ when he was just 12-years-old and at the age of 16 became the youngest cartoonist in Private Eye magazine’s history and remains a frequent contributor.
For almost two centuries Simpson’s in the Strand has been a stalwart on London’s culinary map; the former Chess Club has played host to countless lunches and suppers with illustrious literary, political and artistic patrons including Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the former prime minister, Sir Winston Churchill. Churchill’s favourite table can be found next to the fireplace at the far end of the restaurant; Rockman’s series of illustrations will depict Churchill’s fondness for Simpson’s in the Strand and will be exhibited above his table. Rockman’s anecdotal pieces will fuse the treasures of Simpson’s cultural history with the brightest contemporary talent.
The first illustration depicts a fantasy dinner in the modern-day restaurant between Churchill – recognisably posed with a cigar poised between his lips – and former Prime Ministers, and rivals, Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone. Churchill was a child when Disraeli died but he was one of his political idols, therefore Rockman has chosen to draw the pair engaged in animated conversation while Gladstone looks distractedly out of the frame.
Rockman reverently describes the ruby red seating of the Grand Divan, its dazzling chandeliers and chequerboard plates, as possessing an “out of time atmosphere”. In his first illustration, he pays homage to the antique décor and expertly captures the polished sheen of the domed carving trolley. He also nods to the restaurant’s cinematic past as the politicians are being served by the famous Master Carver, Charlie Brown, who was featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1936 film, Sabotage.
Rockman describes the pleasures of his new role as Artist in Residence at Simpson’s in the Strand:
“'It’s hard to describe how much being Artist in Residence at Simpson’s in the Strand means to me. It is an honour and a privilege to be linked with such a historic setting. Walking in to the Grand Divan for the first time was like stepping into a dream: I had no idea that places like this even existed. It is easy to imagine Churchill sitting at his table, smoking a cigar.”
Zoom Rockman was named by The Evening Standard as one of the most influential Londoners under 25, and his distinctive cartooning has received attention from the likes of British Vogue, The Observer Magazine and The Independent and his solo exhibition at The Hospital Club in Covent Garden was a sell-out event. Described by The Telegraph as “a young comic genius” his work is irreverent and brimming with well-observed social commentary which both exalts and humours the energy of everyday London life. Rockman is also Young Ambassador for the world’s biggest arts charity, The Big Draw, and is passionate about the importance of creativity in education.
NOTES TO THE EDITORS
History of Simpson’s in the Strand
In 1828, Samuel Reiss opened the Grand Cigar Divan on the site of the Fountain Tavern, which had been the home of the famous literary association, the Kit Kat Club.
The establishment soon developed as a coffee house and chess club, where gentlemen smoked cigars with their coffee, browsed over the daily journals and newspapers, indulged in lengthy conversations about the politics of the day and played chess, sitting on comfortable divans or sofas.
In 1848 Mr Reiss was joined by noted caterer John Simpson. Together they enlarged the building and renamed it “Simpson’s Grand Divan Tavern”. Thanks to the quality of the food, wines and beers introduced by John Simpson, the restaurant became a firm favourite with London’s epicureans. John Simpson introduced the practice of wheeling the large joints of meat on silver dinner trolleys to each table and carving them in front of the diners. Chess-players could then be served at their tables, without interrupting the game.
In 1898 Richard D’Oyly Carte, the man behind The Savoy, acquired Simpson’s in the Strand in the as part of a larger Savoy project to expand the hotel on the Strand side. Simpson’s in the Strand was closed in 1903, for redevelopment as part of The Savoy’s East Block, and re-opened in 1904, entirely rebuilt, under the name: Simpson’s in the Strand, Grand Divan Tavern.
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