So, my attention was rather diverted from Quad Royal towards the end of last year on account of this.

The life of stuff - cover image

First the bad news, it’s not about posters at all.

Despite that, it may yet be of interest to a few of you because, amongst other things, the book is about how things come to mean and what we read into them.  So in some ways it is a much wider application of what I do with posters on here, which is to stare at them very hard and see what might be understood from them.*

At the same time, it’s also very different, what with being a memoir and taking in museums and hoarding and the history of napkin rings and all sorts of other things besides, so I won’t be offended if you don’t read it.  In any case, it’s not coming out until May.  But if you do decide you want to get it, it’s available online, or you can trundle down to your lovely local bookshop and get it there.

Next post will be back to posters, or at least vintage design, I promise.


*I’ve been fascinated by this ever since taking an MA in Design History, where I was intensely frustrating to my tutors because I wasn’t particularly interested in what they considered to be the core of the subject, which was how things came into being.  I wrote about what bits of china might have meant to the people who owned them instead.

As the book shows, this is still what I’d rather write about – only now I think I’d defend myself a bit harder.  Because looking at things in terms only of who designed them and why is missing a big part of the picture.  It’s not quite discussing books only in terms of the history of authors and printing, but it’s getting close to it.  Much of literary criticism is based on re-readings and re-interpretations of a book, rather than restricting itself to what the author intended, or discovering which kind of desk it was written on, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t look at objects in the same way.  And that includes posters.



Ghost posters

This picture arrived by email last week.  It is, I am told, a street corner in Brighton at some point during the 80s.  But with the 1950s lurking just under the skin.

Brighton street corner with posters remaining

Now this would be worth putting your way just as a reminder of what does persist, and in the strangest places.  But there’s more to it than just that.

Because this picture is the only colour image I’ve ever seen of that Eckersley Omo poster on the left.  Until now, I only knew it from a black and white reproduction in Modern Publicity.

Tom Eckersley Omo poster 1962 Modern Publicity

Despite that,  I recognised the poster at once, because I’ve used it – both on here and elsewhere – as an example.  It’s a reminder of the sheer volume of British posters, specifically commercial posters, which have not only failed to survive in any number, but quite often have left almost no trace at all.  Except here it is, leaving a trace, thirty years after it was first printed.  Hurrah for that.  And I much prefer it in colour too.

(I suspect that there are other clues in that picture too, or at least hints.  My feeling is that British commercial posters weren’t kept in part because they were immense, whereas – perhaps – Continental ones came in smaller sizes too.  But that’s just a hunch with no research behind it for now.)

Two addenda.  Firstly I know nothing about that Bovril poster at all, so if anyone has any ideas about that, please point yourself at the comments box at once as I would love to find out more.  Secondly, the picture comes from someone called Bongo Pete, but arrived with me via the medium of Facebook which means that it’s hard to contact him.  So if you are Bongo Pete and want any more acknowledgement than that (and of course my eternal gratitude for taking the picture in the first place) please do get in touch.




Well I went up Leeds at the end of last week, to give a talk at the Marks and Spencer archive about Daphne Padden.

This was a lot of fun, even if I’m not entirely sure that I fulfilled the alleged title of the talk, which was about Daphne Padden and design in the 1960s and 1970s.

Daphne Padden Marks and Spencers Christmas cake design

I did cover Daphne Padden’s work for Marks and Spencers, but that didn’t take very long at all, because we don’t really know very much about it.  Which isn’t just me not trying very hard, but between me knowing about Daphne Padden and the archive knowing all about M&S, there still isn’t very much information out there at all.

Daphne Padden M&S angel sandwich design and finished

And that, in the end, was one of the main themes of the talk: just how little we know about designers and design of this period, despite all the best intentions of archives, academics and people like me.  Served with a large dose of my general thoughts on archives, not knowing things and why coach posters are brilliant, most of which will be familiar to any regular reader of this blog

Daphne Padden Royal Blue vintage coach poster sailor 1957


I was considering posting the talk on here, but that’s before I delivered it and realised that it was a rambling and somewhat opionated mess that probably wouldn’t play that well without the facial expressions and apologies.

But I did meet lots of lovely audience people there too, who asked interesting questions, so I’m happy to answer any questions on here if anyone wants.  Although be warned in advance, quite a few of the answers tend to be, we just don’t know.



Vote poster

Stuff, life, has kept me away for a bit – apologies – and now that I am back there appears to be an election on.  This blog doesn’t usually have too much overlap with the political arena, but there is one thing I wanted to point out.

Labour party post war poster reversion as tea towel

It’s not a poster – well it was once upon a time, but now it is a Labour Party fundraising tea towel.

Obviously tea towels based on vintage poster designs are a great idea, but that’s not the only reason I’m showing you this.

What’s interesting is that this is a poster that I’ve never seen before, another part of the unknown known.

There are a very few political posters that have become part of our visual furniture.


But the rest – well, they’ve just disappeared.  And there’s no central repository, no archives to browse through and see which parties produced which messages and designs.  So to all intents and purposes they didn’t exist. Until, that is, the Labour Party goes through their own records and pulls one out for us to buy.  For which I am of course very grateful, although it would be even more interesting to see the other ones too.

(The Labour Party archive does live, it seems, in the People’s History Museum in Manchester, but only a small proportion of the posters are digitised.  Although this one does seem to come from the same series as the tea towel.)

Labour party 1950s political poster

But in the end, all of this acts as a reminder that it’s almost impossible to make any kind of sweeping statement about the history of posters, for the simple reason that we just don’t know enough.  The posters that are out there, kept in archives, curated, digitised, seen, are just a small and rather less than random sample of the totality of what was produced.  And every so often we get a reminder of this fact, which can only be a good thing.

Oh, and if you wanted to get a tea towel, the bad news is that they were a limited edition and have just sold out.  But you can always buy one of ours instead.

New ideas for dishwashers

Christmas is madness in so many ways, but one of them is that there is far too much television on to take in all at once.  So one of the series that Mr Crownfolio and I stashed away to watch later, was The Home That 2 Built, which is a history of makeover and suchlike programming on BBC2.

We’ve also been watching it in the wrong order, starting with the last programme, about the 90s and 00s.  This is because in my past life before this blog, back in the late 90s,  I used to make exactly this kind of show.

So I knew there would be a few familiar things in there, but I really wasn’t prepared for how much I recognised.  It was like drowning and watching an entire period of my life flash before my eyes as I went under, programme after programme, episode after episode.

Laurence LLewellyn Bowen on Changing Rooms, first series

‘I filmed that bit.  And that one.’

‘That was the first programme we ever made.’

‘She was a cow.’

‘Oh my God, it’s those credits again.’  Etc.

They didn’t interview me, though, opting instead for Laurence Llewelyn Bowen; I can’t think why.

So, fast forward a couple of weeks, and we finally get round to watching the first programme, about the 1960s.  This time I really wasn’t anticipating any kind of surprises, but my goodness there was one this time too.  Half way through, in a short piece of black and white film, a woman demonstrates how she has turned a dishwasher into an owl.

‘That’s Barbara Jones,’ said Mr Crownfolio.

He thought he was being flippant, but you know what?  He was absolutely right.  There was Barbara Jones.  On our television.

Barbara Jones on BBC2 with owl dishwasher

It’s a good owl, too.

Barbara Jones owl dishwasher two

If you want to watch it for yourself, this episode is on Youtube, and you can find it about 27 minutes in.

But I do have to warn you, there’s a lot of Laurence Llewelyn Bowen to wade through on the way.  For which I do have to apologise.  It is after all, in a small way, my fault.

‘Tis the season

Sleigh bells, holly, Santa, etc.  You know the drill.

But right now, as someone rather brilliantly defined it on Twitter, it’s the brief and shining season between the bumper Christmas Radio Times coming out and the realisation that there’s nothing you want to watch in there at all.

So to celebrate, some Christmas covers from the past.  When graphic design was much, much better.

Hans Unger radio times cover

That one’s Hans Unger, not unsurprisingly.  I can’t tell you who the next two are by, but the date from 1965 and 1966 respectively.

Christmas Radio Times cover 1965

Christmas Radio times cover 1966

I particularly like the latter one, and wouldn’t mind finding the original artwork under the tree, should someone happen to have it lying around.

But things were good before the war too – take this McKnight Kauffer from 1926.   As I am sure many of you would like to.

McKnight Kauffer radio times christmas cover 1926


For those of you who would like to do a proper trawl, the full Flickr set is here.  But be warned, there are more than a thousand photos.

And finally can I note that this blog post was produced without any co-operation at all from my ‘y’ key, so apologies for any typos.