Undercover: behind the scenes of our Tory Special Issue

The evolution of the New Statesman's Blackadder cover.

Roll up, roll up, for the third enthralling instalment of Undercover, behind the scenes of the NS party conference covers. (Read about Martin Rowson and Ben Jennings's covers by clicking their names.)

I've thought for a while that George Osborne has the "English rose" complexion of a rouged Regency fop. Behold:

So when we came to deciding our third illustrated cover for party conference season, I wondered whether David Young could do something based around an image from that time. David has been a freelance illustrator for 18 years, and is a great photo-realist painter. I met him at the Mail, where we needed to illustrate a series of pieces about Downton Abbey in a creative and not-copyright-infringing way. 

For the New Statesman, David has done two great covers already. For last Easter, he did a pastiche of Manet's Le dejeuner Sur L'Herbe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is known in the office as the "green" cover, for obvious reasons.

Anyway, The Economist liked the idea so much they did it themselves a few months later, with Sarkozy and Hollande:

This Easter, David Young did a version of Cameron on horseback, mirroring Van Dyck's famous portrait of Charles I. 

We mucked around with this a fair bit, lightening the background, adding in Rebekah Brooks and so on. For a while I thought that David had drawn the horse's head too small, then I checked back with the original. Were horses' heads smaller in the 1600s? Or was Van Dyck just bad at painting them?

Anyway, I digress. This time, we knew that we wanted to have a pastiche of David Cameron and Boris Johnson in there too (as they were the subject of the cover story) and we found this picture online:

Here's David explaining what he did next:

"My brief here was to base the cover on a photo from Blackadder the Third, but replace the faces of the Blackadder cast with those of Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and Boris Johnson. As I paint directly from photographic reference I first needed to find the right images to use. This is probably the most critical part of the whole process as I needed to find photos of the politicians that not only were at the same angle as the Blackadder image but also with similar expressions. 

David adds:

"Although my paintings are traditional I embrace modern technology so I used Photoshop to blend the new faces onto the reference photo, and then used this as a visual to make sure everyone at the New Statesman was happy with it. I then produced a painted version of this using acrylic paints on board. On this occasion I painted it in a fairly photographic style, where as previous New Statesman covers I've done have been a pastiche on known paintings where I emulated their painting style."

The finished painting is, I hope you'll agree, a work of art. The general consensus on Twitter was that George Osborne might quite like it (cue many jokes about him having "a cunning Plan B". 

My only regret is that there wasn't room for Danny Alexander as MacAdder:

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Steve Garry
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The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism