Let’s Not Knock Knox Jokes

I instantly fell for this photo that Manx artist Alice Quayle posted online recently, to mark the birthday of the most famous Manx artist of all, Archibald Knox.

The picture was taken in 1930 and shows Knox standing in the grounds of the Douglas School of Art, where he had learned his craft decades earlier. Also in the photo are the Headteacher, Peter Chisholm, and a group of students whose identities are unknown to me. If anybody can put names and stories to any of their faces, I’d love to learn more.

I can see the spot where this picture was taken from the front windows of my home. I’m pleased to report that the wall, railings, and houses in the background are only very slightly changed, 91 years later. The joys of living in a conservation area.

The photo is from Knox’s later years (he died in 1933) when he’d retired from his position as a designer at Liberty’s in London, and returned to the Isle of Man. He did some peripatetic teaching of art at various schools around the Island. Years ago, I was delighted to discover that I’m only one degree of separation from Archibald Knox. He taught art to my grandmother, at Park Road School in the 1920s.

Obviously, I asked Nana ‘What was he like?’ Her main recollection was his fondness for a classic teacher wisecrack. Apparently whenever somebody put their hand up and said
‘Please Mr Knox, can I go to the toilet?’

The great man would always reply ‘I don’t know if you CAN – but you may.’

I know, a classic rib-tickler, isn’t it? Perhaps it gives you a flashback to your school days – that particular zinger was still doing the rounds among teachers when I was at school, many years later indeed.

But I love it as an insight into Knox as a real person. He might well be the most revered artist the Isle of Man has yet produced. He might be this extravagantly-bewhiskered patriarch staring out sternly from sepia-tinted photos. But it’s humanising and illuminating to learn that he was also somebody fond of groansome wordplay and lame jokes. While still being one of the most brilliant creatives to have ever applied shoe leather to Manx soil.

If I stand at my window and look at the location of this photo, I can narrow my eyes and imagine the ghosts of Mr Chisholm and the students tittering politely as the Phantom Archibald regales them with ‘And I said “I don’t know if you CAN”…’

Happy 157th birthday, Mr Knox.

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