Sink or Swim: Catholicism in Sixties Britain through John Ryan's Cartoons

by and , and John Ryan (illustrator)

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Book Details

Rating: ★★★★

Format: Paperback (140 pages)

Publisher: Sacristy Press

Date of Publication:

ISBN: 978-1-78959-138-5

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The Sixties was an iconic decade, conjuring images of marked generational conflict and “sex, drugs and rock-n-roll”, but also of the Second Vatican Council (1962–5), the “permissive” legislation and Britain’s counter-culture, as well as the social transformations of the period encompassing ecumenism, the advent of the women’s movement and the beginning of the Troubles.

Better known as the creator of the BBC television series Captain Pugwash, John Ryan (1921–2009), through his weekly illustrations in the Catholic Herald, offered a topical interrogation of the British Catholic Church’s sometimes adaptive, though often inflexible responses to the changes and challenges of the period. This collection of Ryan’s cartoons provides a personal portrait of the extraordinary ups and downs of religion in the Sixties—encompassing the machinations of popes and cardinals, the testimony of expert witnesses, runaway priests, radical reformists and lay protest movements.

​​Alana Harris is a Senior Lecturer in Modern British History at King’s College London.

Isabel Ryan is the younger daughter of the artist and cartoonist John Ryan.

Ryan was a superb draughtsman, of course, but his work about the church was utterly persuasive because he lived and breathed his subject. … [He] found much to tease about clergy and laity alike, but his cartoons were neither polemical nor biting; they did their work by being kind, funny and poignant. … Sink or Swim presents a selection of Ryan’s work on a range of issues, carefully chosen and set in their proper historical context. It is simultaneously endearing and intellectually rigorous, with much to amuse and to inform.

Serenhedd James, Catholic Herald

Ryan poked fun at pretension both theological and clerical with a kindness and forbearance born of his own personal faith. This is a clever and hugely enjoyable presentation of the ecclesiology of a crucial era. … Ryan’s cartoons offer more than a nostalgic view of a time of bewildering change and challenge in the Church. Above all, when one looks at the sinfully vicious bile with which current culture wars are fought in the toxic swamp that is the Catholic blogosphere, they are a reminder of how critique can be offered with charity, and questions raised without attempting to destroy those questioned. More than a blast from the past, they remain a breath of fresh air.

Gemma Simmonds, The Tablet

This is a delightful and instructive guide to the rollercoaster events and intellectual dilemmas as they were perceived by a layman whose medium of expression allowed him to be wry, nuanced, and ambivalent.

Glyn Paflin, Church Times

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