A Miserable Reflection

In trying to put together the history of the Post Office : Lines of Communication posters last week, I spent some time wandering within the BT archives.  Where I found this.

Clifford and Rosemary ellis vintage GPO poste 1935.

Which does, truly, justify the existence of the entire archive on its own.  It’s by Clifford and Rosemary Ellis, it’s from 1935, and it is bonkers.  I also have no idea what it means.  Answers on a postcard please, if you have any.

Now I’ve mentioned before that the BT online archive is quite a curious and obscure thing, which may perhaps be why this Abram Games has lurked there unnoticed for so long.

Abram Games vintage GPO poster greeting telegram 1937

On the other hand, its obscurity may have something to do with the fact that the archive’s search facility is, how shall we say this, a bit challenging.  A search for Abram Games doesn’t bring it up, while a search on Greetings telegram just produces a deluge of material; I only found this by putting in ‘Good wishes’.

But there is good news on this front, because BT do now have a  more accessible way of looking at some of these images, which is the interestingly named Telefocus Media Gallery, a title which for some reason just makes me visualise the Post Office Tower, but never mind.  It’s mainly aimed at picture researchers, but it does have a reasonably browsable gallery of images, including both of the ones above and plenty more besides.

A telephone for your guests vintage GPO poster 1937

Be warned though, there are still lots of pictures of Busby and trimphones in there, so take care.

I did also discover a bit more about the Lines of Communications posters while I was there.  Mainly that there is also an artwork by Abram Games for the series.  All I can tell you about it, because there is no illustration, is that it features ‘twelve coast radio stations working to ships’ and is, once again, artwork.  If anyone fancies a stroll down to Holborn in order to tell me whether it’s as good as the rest or not, feel free.

More strangely, I found this.

Beaumont, lines of communication, vintage GPO poster

It’s by Beaumont, and it is an actual poster which seems to have made it out into the world rather than just existing as artwork.  If possibly just once, because I’ve only found it in a single auction, which was Van Sabben’s last sale just a few months ago.  (They regularly get interesting GPO posters for each sale, and I would like to know where from).  But this one isn’t where it ought to be in the BT Catalogue – not even its artwork – so the mystery just deepens.  Any more thoughts anyone?

  • Absolutely. There’s also something distinctly 1930s about its jittery neuroticism. But the Ellises illustrated lots of Shell posters in the 1950s, so I’d like to think that they calmed down a bit and were happier by then…

  • Ha! Well, from 1945 the Ellises were kept busy with designing the Collins New Naturalist duswrappers, so if they weren’t mellowed out by then, they must have become so after a few years of endlessly lovely butterflies, birds & flowers …

  • Hmm. It is now some six years later…… so I’m not sure if this comment page is still active/read?

    I would like to offer a simple explanation, in reply to cf’s comments (both here and elsewhere) on the GPO Telephones ‘Reflections’ poster. Its relevance is actually quite straightforward, and not at all ‘bonkers’, once you are aware of the social background! Its sole purpose was to attract new subscribers, at a time in history when the vast majority of the population were most definitely NOT connected ‘on the ‘phone’!

    Despite post-war austerity, the increase in potential subscribers in the 40’s and 50’s out-stripped the G.P.O’s ability to supply a private telephone line. There was a considerable waiting list, and most new subscribers had to be content with sharing the service with another subscriber on a ‘party line’. With hindsight, this was a highly unsatisfactory arrangement. If caller A wanted to make a call, but caller B was already on the line, A’s call was not blocked by an ‘engaged’ signal, and as a result, caller B’s entire two-way conversation could be overheard by caller A! (And vice-versa, of course) So the service was far from private, and was open to eavesdropping, relying only on the discretion – or otherwise – of both parties!

    Which leads neatly into the other GPO poster, showing workmen digging a trench, prior to laying the pipeline which was used to carry the telephone cables underground, in urban areas. Its purpose was, no doubt, to illustrate to vexed, would-be private-line subscribers, the great difficulty the GPO was facing in order to provide sufficient cable capacity for new customers, and for upgrading existing party line subscribers. (A similar problem to that relating to the current demand for super-fast broadband, in fact.)

    Perhaps the ‘workmen’ poster post-dates the the ‘reflections’ poster, which might lead one to assume that, far from not making any sense, it may have been a remarkably successful advertising campaign after all. It may have attracted new business well beyond the GPO’s immediate capacity to provide a satisfactory service!

    It would be interesting to discover the respective launch dates of these two posters?

    (Guildford School of Art, Graphic Design, 1958-1962)

  • I am still reading and writing, even if I don’t always get around to comments straight away.

    Many thanks of the background, it’s really interesting. And you’re right about the dates – the Ellis’s poster is 1935, while the trench digging one is post war. I still think the first one is a bit bonkers though.

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