Guilty pleasures

I can’t remember how this poster came to my attention, but it’s been waiting for me to post it for a while. It’s interesting for a couple of reasons.

Well, three really, because one of them is that it’s stark raving bonkers. Photographic bedwarmers, to advertise petrol. How very modern, and yet curiously not. Brilliant.

The first more sensible reason is that it’s the work of Maurice Beck, who I’ve written about before, albeit very briefly. Working with Helen McGregor, he was a key photographer at Vogue between the wars. They took the well known series of images of Virgina Woolf wearing her mother’s dress.

You can see more of his works in the National Portrait Gallery. And he did a few, very interesting posters for London Transport.

Maurice Beck Staff Insurance vintage London Transport poster 1931

What I’ve discovered more recently is that he was also Jack Beddington and John Betjeman’s preferred photographer for the Shell Guides.

This isn’t entirely surprising, because he also contributed photos to the Architectural Review.

Possibly his contribution has been under-rated because John Piper took so many great photographs for his own guides. Still, the two men got on, because the Tate holds pictures of Beck, taken by Piper, clearly church-hopping together for a guide.

Given those connections, it’s surprising he only did one poster for Beddington at Shell. Perhaps the oddity of it was more than he’d expected, and he preferred to send him out photographing Regency architecture and churches.

What’s also surprising is that I can’t find out much more about him. He had a daughter, who married into the lower reaches of the aristocracy, but by whom I do not know. All these stories are about his step-mother, Lily Adams Beck, who was popular esoteric novelist at home in Canada, travelled widely and was a strict Buddhist vegetarian who despised the west and died in Osaka. She’s quite the distraction.

So, any information, please do let me know.

But that’s not the only thing this poster made me consider. Junior Crownfolio – I am no longer permitted to call her small – raised a very interesting point the other day, which is should we be collecting these posters at all. After all, they are promoting the consumption of fossil fuels.

But, but, but– I hear you cry. These are works of great design, classics, they look great on my wall. Yes, but will people think differently in ten years time?

The truth is, I suspect they might. As anyone with even a passing knowledge of Quad Royal will know, Mr Crownfolio and I are massive fans of Daphne Padden. And yet there are a pair of her posters which we’ve never considered buying.

Because they advertise cigarettes. We’d never even think about hanging them on our wall.

So I can’t help thinking that my offspring may be onto something. Perhaps, in the future, most people will feel the same way about posters promoting carbon fuels. Let’s see, shall we.

  • The foot-warmer and hot-water bottle must have been a staple of every country-house car journey before WW2.

  • I’m not sure it is heating oil. Shell did winter and summer petrol throughout the inter-war years, and there’s a Kauffer poster of the New Forest which says ‘see Britain first on Winter Shell’.

    And yes, that’s a really interesting point – I’d seen all those things as just indicators of the season rather than something you’d use in the car. It’s still insane, though.

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