Egging it

If I use the words Philip Larkin and 1963 in the same sentence, you pretty much know what’s coming next, don’t you?

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.

(rest of the poem here if you want)

I suspect that part of the reason that Larkin’s thoughts are so often used, almost in danger of becoming a cliche, is that they express for us something that isn’t otherwise easily said.  At some point in the early 1960s, there was not just a sexual revolution but a sea change across all of British culture.  Virginia Woolf noted a similar moment fifty years before:

On or about December 1910, human character changed. I am not saying that one went out, as one might into a garden, and there saw that a rose had flowered, or that a hen had laid an egg. The change was not sudden and definite like that. But a change there was, nevertheless; and, since one must be arbitrary, let us date it about the year 1910.

What Larkin saw happening was the end of what you could call the ‘long 1950s’, which lasted from 1946 until, well, about 1963.  For these seventeen years, Britain was still very much defined by being a country recovering from the Second World War, a country that wanted a fairer and more equal society, refrigerators for all, but most of all a nation that wanted a quiet, decent life.  It’s no accident that this era lasted for seventeen years either, because what 1963 marks is the coming of age of the first children for whom the war wasn’t a defining experience.  They didn’t need the reassurance of a quiet life after chaos, for the simple reason that all they had known was peace.  The result, of course, was the 1960s.

What provoked these thoughts, oddly enough, was the arrival of these posters at Crownfolio Towers.

Go To work on an egg poster- girl

Go to Work on an egg classic poster -

With blessed thanks to eBay, which coughed the pair of them up at an entirely reasonable price.

These are of course posters from one of the classic advertising campaigns of the 1960s and 1970s, ‘Go To Work on an Egg’, a campaign so famous that it has its own website.  The campaign started in 1957 with television ads starring Tony Hancock but, as far as I can tell, these posters date from 1964-5.  At least that’s when they were winning awards.

There are others too.

Go To Work on an egg pink poster Egg Marketing Board

Go to work on an egg alarm clock poster Egg Marketing board

And of course there is a debate or controversy or whatever you will about whether Fay Weldon or Salman Rushdie invented the slogan.  I can’t say I’m particularly fussed.

Because what’s interesting about these posters, at least for me, is that I would like to hang them on the wall.  Which is unusual for posters of this period – and by this period I mean any time after 1963.

At various points in time we have bought ‘good’ – i.e. critically acclaimed – posters from after the 1950s, such as this Saatchi and Saatchi legend.

Saatchi and Saatchi pregnant man poster

Or this protest poster by David Gentleman.

David Gentleman protest poster

While I admire them, I can’t in truth say that I love them.  And I most definitely don’t want to hang them on the wall.

Whereas I can go through editions of Modern Publicity from the late 1950s and early 1960s and covet really quite a lot of what was on offer in there.

harry Stevens tilling group luggage poster 1958

Tom Eckersley Omo poster 1962 Modern Publicity

So what changes at the end of the long 1950s?

A proportion of it is down to simple practicalities, most importantly the rise of television means that people are spending less energy and creativity on posters.  It’s possible that this also means that posters have to try a bit harder to get noticed, hence the increased use of shock tactics.

But I’d also argue that there is a much deeper change in what we might call the mood of poster designs.  As demonstrated by that Tom Eckersley Omo poster above, the 1950s is the decade of the grin.

'Mablethorpe', BR poster, 1960.Artwork by Eckersley.

Tom Eckersley vintage hastings travel poster

I’ve written about this in the context of Tom Eckersley before, about how it’s very easy to dismiss these posters as child-like and simplistic when actually they are the result of much more complex emotions, of relief at the end of the war and a resultant ability to take pleasure in very simple things.  It’s also worth noting that if I’d had a washing machine in 1962, I’d be pretty chuffed too.

And of course Eckersley by no means had a monopoly on the grin.  Here’s Harry Stevens at it as well.

harry Stevens vintage southport coach poster 1950s

Harry Stevens Boulogne vintage travel poster 1959

And it forms the basis of one of Abram Games’ most famous posters.

Abram Games Guinness poster 1957 big G

I could go on.

Hans Unger (1915-1975) Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition Olympia, original poster printed by S H Benson

And on.

Eastbourne vintage travel poster 1950 Bromfield British Railways

And on.

E Tatum train to the continent poster 1958

As I tried to point out in the Eckersley post mentioned above, this is may look like a simple, child-like joy, but it is nothing of the sort.  It’s much more complex and adult than that, stemming from the chance to savour the simple pleasures of life – train trips to the continent, a pint of Guinness, a washing machine – which are all the more appreciated after the dislocatons and horrors of the war.

This is the simple joy of a late Matisse painting.

Matisse collage, who knows what

Or of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence.  (I was forced to read these as a snarky seventeen-year -old for my A-Levels, with the entirely predictable result that I thought these were a set of feeble-minded rhymes about lambs skipping and that the grown ups clearly had no taste.  It’s only now, as a grown-up, that I can see Blake’s point at all.)

But when a new generation arrives, a generation which has not passed through any of the hardships of war, this subtle emotion can’t survive any more.  So it’s out with the old, goodbye to the grins and the taking pleasure in life, and in with shock tactics, subversion and generally getting a rise out of the grown ups, something which could only be done if you had no idea what they went through.  And while the results are often admirable, I don’t often want to hang them on the wall.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Response


It’s a rare thing, the intersection between Quad Royal and literary fiction, but by Jove I think we have found it.  Or perhaps I should say, by Barbara Jones!

Jonathan Coe expo 58 cover

The work in question is Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe. Now this – if you have my mindset at least – was always going to be a promising subject, because the whole novel is centred around the British Pavilion at the Brussels Exposition of 1958.  And here it is.

British Pavilion Brussels Expo 1958

The British Pavilion has turned up on here before, mainly because its catalogue was designed by, of course, Barbara Jones.

British brochure Brussels Expo 1958 cover Barbara Jones Illustration

And it’s very good.

Brussels Expo 1958 catalogue for British Pavilion Barbara Jones illustration

More of it here if you like.

Mr Coe has done his research too because, lo, here on page four of the novel is our hero (ish) flicking through this very booklet.

This afternoon, in the middle of February 1958, Thomas was checking the proofs of a pamphlet he had helped to put together for sale outside the pavilion: ‘Images of the United Kingdom’.  There was a small body of text, interspersed with attractive woodcut illustrations by Barbara Jones.  Thomas was checking the French version.

Which, as it happens, is the one featured here.

Brussels expo 1958 British pavilion brochure page spread cow

Although if those are woodcuts, I am quite prepared to eat a model Atomium.

I obviously have to tell you to read the book, because clearly anyone with an interest in post-war design and international exhibitions needs as much encouragement as they can get.

But – and I am only half way through – I have to say that it’s probably the only reason to read it, because the rest of it is well, a bit odd.  The experience is, well a bit flat and dull.  I can see that some of this might be my own prejudices; if I’m going to imagine myself at the Brussels Exposition, I’d like to be shown every single design detail that I would have noticed if I was there, please.  And I’m not, it isn’t a very visual book, which is a bit odd considering that it’s about a giant extravaganza for the eyes and senses.

I suspect thought that plenty of people would find it a bit of a cardboardy book.   I can see how this has happened.  The narrator is, deliberately, a bit of a dull chap.  Which is, in some ways, fine, because boring people should deserve to be in books as much as anyone else.  Except they don’t, because they’re not that much fun to read about.

The thin-ness of the telling is also, in some  ways, a kind of period detail.  People did publish novels just like this in the 1950s, and lots of people read them.  So perhaps it is just one giant post-modern joke on itself.

I really hope that’s true, because the alternative is, and I am beginning to consider this, that it just isn’t that good a book.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Responses

Price Conspiracy

Now, I know I’ve been saying recently that eBay prices are going up and can sometimes be a match for the auction houses these days.  Clearly I am not the only person to have come to this conclusion.

A seller called the design conspiracy (a name just asking for a snarky comeback) has put this poster on.

1928 London Transport poster Austin Cooper golliwog

For £500.

Now it is an Austin Cooper London Transport poster, and it is framed.  But it’s a picture of a golliwog, it’s just not going to happen.  It probably wouldn’t have happened anyway even if it were a picture of an ickle fluffy bunny, but it’s definitely not going to fetch that for a golliwog.  And in case you think I’m being harsh, it’s already failed to sell and been relisted at least once.

However, that is the pricing of a sane person compared to our next offering.

Andrew Hall London Transport poster 1965 Imperial War Museum

This is by Andrew Hall from 1965, it is not framed and it too is on offer for, wait for it, £500.

We bought one on eBay  a few years ago; it cost us £19.99.  I think someone is going to be a bit disappointed here.

Amazingly though, I can top that.  Here is a Terence Cuneo poster (not one of my favourite phrases, I must say).

Terence Cuneo Forth Bridge scottish holidays railway poster

Quite apart from the fact that it seems to have been bolted onto the wall, it’s an odd one.  Come to Scotland for your holidays, it’s trying to say, but the picture is not beaches or promenades but the Forth Road Bridge.  Perhaps the engineering holiday market was bigger than I imagine.

Peculiar though that may be, it’s still overshadowed by the price, which is a truly boggling £3,100.  Has a Cuneo poster ever gone for that kind of money, particularly one with brown sellotape marks on it?  Surely not. (Bidding has actually ended, but I still had to show you anyway).

There are still a few bargains out there, though.  Two of which may be the subjects of my next post.  Watch this space.


Posted in eBay, London Transport | 13 Responses

Oh what an unprofitable war!

Hello everyone.  My attendance really isn’t getting much better, is it?  We’ll have OFSTED round soon if I’m not careful.

Anyway, I thought I’d better post something about last week’s poster event at the National Army Museum.  Lots of people who know about posters spoke; more frighteningly, lots of people who knew about posters also sat in the audience.  And for light relief after lunch, they all got me, rattling on and trying to fit everything I had to say about Home Front Posters into 40 odd minutes.  There were some very odd minutes in there too.

Much of the content wouldn’t have  come as much surprise to anyone who has been reading my posts on here, but the basic thesis was that most of our shorthand generalisations about Home Front Posters are wrong.  That in itself isn’t exactly news, but it’s all too easy to imagine that all Second World War posters came out of a giant, all-powerful Ministry of Information determined to tell the public what to think.  I think we have George Orwell to blame for that, but the truth was rather less like 1984, and, well, rather more shambolic and British.

Lewitt Him Shanks Pony world war two home front poster

Most obviously, posters didn’t just come from the Ministry of Information.  In fact they came from everywhere but.  To start with, the two biggest-spending government departments, the Ministry of Food and National Savings, didn’t bother with the MoI and made their own.

Tom Eckersley elephant poster ministry of food world war two

Then there were the London Transport posters…


…the GPO posters…


…the railway posters…

British Railways wartime holiday at home poster

And that’s before we’ve even mentioned Abram Games’ posters produced for and by the Army.

Abram Games Ventilate your quarters poster

Or RoSPA’s innumerable workplace safety posters.

Tom Eckersley goggles RoSPA poster

But the reason I’m telling you this, is that one of the people who attended, Kirill Kalinin pointed me at some Home Front posters I hadn’t seen before, posters which were produced by private companies.

Now why, you might be asking, would private companies spend money on advertising during war, when everything was rationed, production was centralised and it was nigh-on impossible to buy anything inessential?  It’s a good question, and the answer lies in taxation.

One of the prevailing views then about World War One was that large companies had profiteered from the war, and it had made the rich richer.  So, at the start of World War Two, a tax of 100% was levied on any company whose profits rose above their pre-war levels..  Clearly there was no incentive to make any extra profits, and companies looked for ways to spend the money rather than give it to the government.

One easy thing to spend it on was advertising.   Hence the pages and pages of adverts like this in every wartime newspaper and magazine, either for goods that were in such short supply that they didn’t need advertising or, quite often, weren’t available at all.

World war two ad for Bovril

Despite the restrictions on paper use, a few posters were also made.  I’d included this one in my talk.

Fougasse World war two poster for fillings

I think this is a result of Tillings donating poster space in their coach stations to the war effort, although in the absence of any real archives it’s hard to tell.

But Kirill has now introduced me to these, which are produced by the Motor Industry Association, and which I’d never seen before.

Motor Industry Association world war two poster torpedo


Motor Industry Association world war two poster bomber

I have no idea where they were displayed or anything about them at all.

Motor Industry Association world war two poster tank

They’re also interesting because they show the ironmongery of war, something which most Home Front posters, with the exception of National Savings, avoided almost entirely.

All of which pretty much proves my overall point from last Saturday, which was that whatever generalisation you make about Home Front posters, it’s always possible to find a poster to disprove it.  So if you have any more oddities you’d like to point out, please send them this way.

And if you like the Motor Industry posters, Kirill has them for sale on his website.

Posted in other, posters | 2 Responses


Back, back, back as Smash Hits used to say.  And apologies to all those people who thought I’d been hospitalised by my abscess.  I haven’t, I’ve just been ridiculously busy.  By way of apology, have a picture of an otter.

Vintage Shell poster Kennedy north 1931

It’s traditional.  Normal service resumes later in the week.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Responses

Your war posters need you

I am back from holidays but now have the most appalling toothache and can’t think straight.  But I do need to string just enough sentences together to tell you about this.

war poster chat thingy

An entire seminar at The National Army Museum at which lots of people who know about wartime posters are going to be speaking, and then so am I.  Should be entertaining, although in what way I am not sure.  I will do my best though.

Full details here, and perhaps I will see you then.  If this blooming toothache ever goes away that is.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Responses