Today, a very unusual sight. Yet it’s one that shouldn’t be a rarity at all, because it’s posters doing what they are intended to do, advertising things. Here on hoardings sometime in the mid 1950s.
Mostly, this is such an everyday scene that no one takes any notice, never mind a photograph. But this time, an up and coming poster designer was recording some of his work appearing. That designer was Patrick Tilley, and he’d designed the Hartley’s Jelly ad in the centre.
I can’t tell you how excited I am to see these. It’s not just that Tilley’s posters are lovely, these photos are also a great chance to see posters in the wild, rather than collected and curated and hung on people’s walls. Which means we can find out a bit more about how they really functioned at the time. Take this set.
The Patrick Tilley design is for MacDougalls flour.
But take a look to the left. The HP Ketchup poster seems to have been signed by Donald Brun.
I sort of half knew that some of the great European poster artists of the 1950s had worked in Britain, and had come across it happening here and there. But it’s still odd to see their work on a British poster hoarding, advertising a very British brand. And the image seems vaguely familiar, but I can’t trace it anywhere. Because that’s the other thing about these posters, they’re also very rare.
Unlike in Europe, Britain’s commercial posters were never (with the exception of Guinness) made available to the public or collected. So it’s not even that only a few survive, probably most of these posters have disappeared entirely. They might be in the archives of the company they’re advertising or the agency that created them; they may even have been recorded in a magazine or design annual. But I’d be prepared to bet that a fair proportion of these posters have disappeared without trace, or at least would have done without these photos.
Mostly, it seems, it’s the artists that keep the records (as was the case with Daphne Padden’s packaging designs). Patrick Tilley kept not only these photographs, but also the original artwork that he presented to the agency, The London Press Exchange, to get the commission.
But not everything is sweetness, light and good design on the hoardings. Once again, the photographs are a reminder that, along with the award-winning posters by great designers that we choose to remember, there was also quite a lot of dross too. Like the tattoo and charity adverts in the first photograph, or that for Swan Vestas next to the McDougalls ad.
I mention this quite a lot, and in a way it’s an obvious truth, but the presence of all these rather average posters must have affected how people saw the good posters too, even if I’m not sure how. Perhaps people got used to just tuning out posters, and so everything got ignored; or perhaps the good posters looked even better because they had a dull picture of a box of matches next to them. I don’t know, I really don’t.
But the other reason that its important is that, by allowing only the good posters through our filter, we distort what they tell us about their times. We will see only classy posters, probably for up-market products. Which means that we’ll miss some things entirely. Take a look at this set below.
The Osram and Gas posters are both very good.
The top one is by Patrick Tilley, the Osram advertisement by ‘Rim’ which raises a whole set of other questions (if you can tell me who this is, I would love to know). But it’s the one on the far right which intrigues me most. It’s neither bad nor good, but take a closer look at what it’s advertising.
Drink fortified British Wine when you sit down in front of the television (tv being clearly a new and exciting innovation). Now there’s a thought you’d never get from anywhere else.
And thank you very much to Patrick Tilley for taking the photographs, and keeping them, as well as allowing me to use them here.