Kelly, Charles Edward (1902–81), cartoonist and civil servant, was born 15 June 1902 in Dublin, the second of the seven children of Daniel Kelly, clerk, and his wife, Mary (née Darley). Educated at Synge Street CBS, Dublin, close to his Harold's Cross home, he passed the civil service examinations at the age of fifteen and was posted to the land commission. From there he went to the office of national education, in Marlborough Street, where he became acquainted with Thomas Collins (qv), known among the staff for his wit and light verse. With Arthur Booth (qv), whom he had met through the Rathgar Players dramatic society, he had formulated the idea for a humorous topical magazine and conscripted Collins to complement his own artistic input. Originally Dublin Topics, the journal became, on Kelly's insistence, Dublin Opinion. Initial doubts about the market for humour, in a country riven by divisions over the Anglo–Irish treaty, were quickly dispelled when the first issue of 3,000 copies sold out in March 1922. Success was only guaranteed, however, when Eason's agreed to distribute it the following May.
Following Booth's death in October 1926, Collins and Kelly stepped jointly into his editorial shoes and formed the limited company Dublin Opinion Ltd. Kelly also replaced Booth as the journal's main cartoonist, a role which he played for the next forty-one years. Signed C. E. K., C. E. Kelly, or occasionally Clement Molyneux, his sparsely drawn cartoons infused the journal with their gentle satire. His ‘Céilidhe in the Kildare Street Club’ and his depiction of the exodus from Cork of prospective civil servants in ‘The night the treaty was signed’ epitomised his keen eye for apposite social and political satire. His cartoon campaign against the abolition of proportional representation, utilised effectively by the Irish Times, was a simple yet damning indictment of the straight vote system. Popular with most politicians, some even requesting the original drawings of their caricatures, he was attacked in the dáil by P. J. Little (qv) and Seán MacEntee (qv). They questioned the propriety of a senior civil servant partaking in the ridicule of Fianna Fáil.
Unlike Collins, Kelly maintained his civil service position throughout his years with the journal, moving from the Department of Education to An Gúm, where he fostered a life-long enthusiasm for the Irish language. A period with the Department of Industry and Commerce followed, punctuated by a brief spell as administrative officer in broadcasting at Radio Éireann in 1938. He returned to Radio Éireann as deputy director in 1942, and served as a member of the advisory committee on radio in 1944. In 1947 he became director of overseas broadcasting and replaced Robert Brennan (qv) as director of broadcasting in August 1948. During his directorship he oversaw the initiation of plans for a new studio centre in Cork, introduced the weekly broadcast of high mass, and controversially employed foreign musicians for the first time in the newly established Radio Éireann Symphony Orchestra. He served as deputy chairman of the broadcasting advisory committee when it reconvened in November 1950. In 1952 he was promoted to director of savings, a new position in the expanding Department of Posts and Telegraphs. He remained a trustee of the Dublin Savings Bank long after his retirement.
By the mid-1960s the readership of Dublin Opinion, once a loyal 60,000, had begun to wane. Kelly and Collins wound up the journal before public indifference destroyed it. It was sold in 1967 but made a brief and unsuccessful return under the editorship of Lelia Doolan and Joe Dowling. Kelly also submitted cartoons to the Capuchin Annual and he was an ardent watercolourist; he had frequent exhibitions in Dublin galleries. A member of the Dublin Sketching Club and the Watercolour Society of Ireland, he was also president and chairman of PEN. In 1979 he received an honorary doctorate in literature from the NUI. He died 20 January 1981, after a long illness, and was buried in Deansgrange cemetery.
With his first wife, who died in 1965, Kelly had three daughters, Mary Rose, Brenda and Pauline, and three sons, Aidan, David and Frank, a well-known actor (b. 1938). He married Peggy Nelson, a family friend, in November 1972.