Tolley v Fry & Sons Ltd [1931] AC 333

Defamation; caricature; capable of defamatory meaning

(268 words)


The defendants were owners a chocolate manufacturing company. They advertised their products with a caricature of the claimant, who was a prominent amateur golfer, showing him with the defendants’ chocolate in his pocket while playing golf. The advertisement compared the excellence of the chocolate to the excellence of the claimant’s drive. The claimant did not consent to or knew about the advertisement.


The claimant alleged that the advertisement suggested that he agreed to his portrait being used for commercial purposes and for financial gain. He further claimed that the use of his image made him look like someone who prostituted his reputation for advertising purposes and was thus unworthy of his status. At trial, several golfers gave evidence to the effect that if an amateur sold himself for advertisement, he no longer maintained his amateur status and might be asked to resign from his respective club. Furthermore, there was evidence that the possible adverse effects of the caricature on the claimant’s reputation were brought to the defendants’ attention. The trial judge found that the caricature could have a defamatory meaning. The jury then found in favour of the claimant. The defendants appealed. The Court of Appeal was of the view that the case should never have gone to the jury. This time the claimant appealed.


The House of Lords held that in the circumstances of this case – as explained by the facts – the caricature was capable of constituting defamation. In other words, the publication could have the meaning alleged by the claimant. The Lords also ordered a new trial limited to the assessment of damages.