One of the pleasures of the last Morphets sale was a few of John Burningham’s delightful London Transport posters. We bought this one.
It’s even better in person, as everyone on the poster, the people, the dogs and especially the birds, are all real characters.
Perhaps that’s not so surprising. Because, if you have anything much to do with small children, he’s much better known as a writer and illustrator of children’s books (and a few for adults). That’s what he spent most of his life doing.
But when he was just setting up as an illustrator in the early sixties, he was commissioned to produce a series of posters for London Transport, each of them very different.
This one is probably my favourite, as much for the eccentric text as the picture itself.
This is a farmer. He has forgotten his bucket. The cow’s name is Buttercup. The wheel came off the cart on the last load of hay. Green Rover, the god, is helping the hens find the egg they laid yesterday. The goose won’t lay any golden eggs as he is a gander.
First steps in farming are best made with London Transport’s Country Walks Books.
All of these images come from his autobiography, John Burningham,which came out last year, which also means I could scan in this fantastic detail from his Winter poster from 1965.
Here’s the whole thing.
The day [my first] poster was to appear at London Underground stations and bus shelters, I got up early and went on a local tour. I thought people would be discussing my poster, but their reaction seemed to be to ignore or lean against it. This was disconcerting, but happily I continued to do more posters for London Transport.
I can’t recommend the book too highly, even if you have no interest at all in children’s illustration. Burningham had an idiosyncratic childhood, raised by Conscientious Objector parents and a succession of off-beat and progressive schools, including, finally, Summerhill. He writes very well, but, even better, the book is very much written with a designer’s eye, telling the story through images as much as words. There aren’t as many books like this as there ought to be.
If you don’t want to buy it, although I can’t think why that might be, there are a couple of interesting articles out there fom the book’s publication, including an interview and this thoughtful review.
So there’s no excuse not to discover, not only his work, but also what a fascinating and thoughtful designer he is.