It’s a bit unfair to apply too much hindsight to other people’s critical judgements. Classics are sometimes not spotted as such at the time, while designs that are feted often don’t stand the test of time.
But in the case of posters, it’s so rare to get any kind of contemporary reaction to them that I really can’t resist. The posters in question are Patrick Tilley’s series for the Sunday Times from 1960, of which this is possibly the most famous.
Now I’ve mentioned them on Quad Royal a few times before (here and here for example) and every time I have, the posters have been enormously popular. As is only right, because they are great bits of design, especially considering how early they were produced.
But at the time, the reaction was a bit more snitty. The critic, one Stuart Lewis writing in Advertisers’ Weekly, is fairly certain about that.
I certainly do not regard them as important poster art.
He also doesn’t think they’ll sell the product, because the style is ‘more suited to the promotion of an intellectual left-wing periodical, or a poetry quarterly’ than a national newspaper. Although, in the end, he is generous enough to leave the verdict open.
I don’t know whether they sold newspapers or not, but I think the jury would be finding pretty emphatically in favour of the posters these days. They certainly wouldn’t find them shocking, as the article suggests that people did at the time. (I’ve put the complete review at the bottom, if you want to read the whole thing for yourself.) I find it pretty hard to be shocked by any of the series of posters, but that’s one reason why it’s good to come across articles like this now and then. Because the way we see posters, and indeed any other kind of design now, may not be anything like the way they were perceived at the time. Which has to be borne in mind if we want to read anything into them.
A couple of extra points by way of an addendum. Firstly, the perceptive poster was quite comprehensively plagiarised a few years ago for Modest Mouse (evidence here if you want to see) and so I suppose must be a design classic. Also, if you were wondering how these posters look quite so neat and tidy (and indeed digital) despite being more than fifty years old, Patrick Tilley cleaned up the scans and adjusted the colours himself. So this is what they would have looked like if they’d been made now.
And now over to Mr Lewis.