Accidental Indexing

Right, there’s an auction on at Bloomsbury Auctions right now (or at least it will be by the time I post this).  Quite why anybody has a poster auction at this time of year – there’s Onslow’s next week as well – I don’t know.   Not only has any spare cash I might have gone on presents and turkeys, but I don’t even have time to think about what’s on offer.  As the lateness of this post shows.

Nonetheless, we’re going to take a cruise through the catalogue, not only because it’s a rather pleasing selection of posters, but they also form a kind of index to some of the things that have obsessed this blog here in the last few years, which amused me.  So, in no particular order,  here goes.

First is an AOA poster by Lewitt Him.  These are a constant in any auction worth its salt, and I’d be intrigued to know why quite so many survived (there are another two in this catalogue alone).

vintage airline poster LEWITT-HIM - AOA USA, we carry more passengers.... lithographic poster in colours, pinted by W.R. Royle & son Ltd., England

This is my favourite, though, as the one which perhaps best proves the point that the airline posters of the late 1940s and very early 50s are still engaged in a quite intense conversation with the war.  How much does this remind you of an aircraft recognition poster? And radar?  Quite a lot, I’d say.

In an equally unsurprising development, women are still getting to relax on holiday while their families have fun on the beach.  In this case, both parents have absented themselves entirely while the children get on with running riot.

vintage railway poster F ? W.M. - GREAT YARMOUTH, British Railways offset lithographic poster in colours, c.1957, printed by Jordison & Co. London

The catalogue dates this poster to 1957, but what 1930s faces those children have.  The designer has signed in an illegible scrawl, and the poster doesn’t seem to be in the NRM collection, so I can’t tell you if he’d been working since then, or what.  But in trying to find out, I did discover this gem.

vintage british railways poster great yarmouth

Here the woman is so relaxed that her head seems to have exploded.  It’s a risk.

It’s pleasing to see a small selection of Shell posters, which are appearing less frequently at auction these days, for reasons I cannot pretend to understand.

vintage shell poster HILLIER, Tristram (1905-1983) - YOU CAN BE SURE OF SHELL, Jezreel's temple, Gillingham lithographic poster in colours, printed by The Baynard Press

This one is by the strange and wonderful Tristram Hillier, who deserves much greater fame than seems to be his lot.  I now see that there is a biography of him.  I will read it and report back in the new year.

In amongst the railway posters, this blazes.  The image didn’t come up at all when we were debating depictions of industry and the North, although it definitely should have.

JACK, Richard RA. (1866-1952) - BRITISH INDUSTRIES, LMS, Steel lithographic poster in colours, 1924, printed by Staffords, Netherfields vintage LMS railway poster

It’s always good to be reminded about the sheer joy that are the posters of Pieter Huveneers.

 BUY STAMPS IN BOOKS, GPO lithographic poster in colours, 1958

While in the London Transport section, we are also reminded that Harry Stevens is a much better designer than he is sometimes given credit for.

STEVENS, Harry (1919-2008) - MILES OF PATHS.... London Underground offset lithographic poster in colours, 1965

Finally, there is also one London Transport gem which hasn’t come up on here before.

DEIGHTON, Leonard Cyril (b.1929) - IN LONDON'S COUTRY; VILLAGE LIFE lithographic poster in colours, 1957, printed by Curwen Press cond B

It’s worthy of inclusion just for being a great bit of 1957 design, but it’s also by Len Deighton.  A man of many talents, clearly.

More thoughts about auctions to come over the next couple of weeks, along with some pictures of cute dogs, because it’s Christmas.

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A Bauble

I am here really, just rather busy.  There is a post imminent, but in the meantime, have this.

Harry Stevens Christmas Greetings BPMA 1956

It’s an unfinished Harry Stevens design, courtesy of the BPMA.  Circa 1956, apparently.

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Sunny Cheshire by any other name

After more than four years, I have to admit that Quad Royal rambles on a bit.  One day I must make some kind of attempt to index it or at least make it easier for the casual visitor to find their way around.

But the advantage of there being so much back catalogue is that, every so often, Google brings in an unexpected visitor and I discover something new.  Which is what happened recently on a perfectly workaday post about a long-since-departed railwayana auction.

I was writing about these posters.

New Brighton/Wallasey - Have Fun in Sunny Cheshire', 1956.British Railways (London Midland Region) poster. Artwork by Ken or Felix Kelly

New Brighton, Wallasey, for Pleasure!Õ, BR (LMR) poster, 1954. Felix Kelly

They weren’t even in the auction but I do love them so and would still very much like to own them, but I digress.

Almost exactly three years after I wrote the piece, this appeared in the comments.

The Sunny Chesire posters were not done by Felix Kelly but rather Kenneth Roy Kelly MBE, my grandfather. I have the original artwork hanging on my wall. He also did TWA advertisements as well as designing the Popsicle logo.

This surprised me quite a bit, because these two posters are ascribed to on the NMSI database (which I use because it works better than the NRM one, but I’ve gone on about that before now and may well do again some day).  But then when I looked a bit closer, the attribution did look a bit suspect, because this is the only other poster down as being his work.

ÔChesterÕ, BR (LMR) poster British Railways (London Midland Region) poster. Interior of cathedral with choir stalls and organ front in north transept. Artwork by Felix Kelly.

You’d be hard pressed to claim it as related in any way.

And in fact when I read the NRM blurb very carefully, the maker may be down as ‘Felix Kelly’ but the description says it is by ‘Ken Kelly’.  So we are all very confused.

Google knows very little about Kenneth Roy Kelly, except that he got his MBE for services to defence heritage.  And there’s a fantasy artist called Ken Kelly so that’s any more detailed searches on the subject doomed.

Nonetheless, between the Quad Royal archives and the magic powers of Google, we have added very slightly to the sum total of human knowledge.  And I’ve written back to Roy Kelly’s grandfather to see if we can have a look at some photos of that original artwork and then perhaps I will be able to tell you even more.

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Lovely bombs

You may need to bear with me on this post.  I’ve been thinking about writing it for at least a year, possibly longer.  I’m sure all the ideas made a lovely linear argument when I first had them, but I’ve pondered them so long that they’ve all turned into some kind of thought soup.  The ingredients include bombs, posters and a very famous John Betjeman poem.  Only writing will tell me if they still make sense together, so here goes.

The easy part is the poster, which is this design by Edward McKnight Kauffer, commissioned by the Air Raid Precautions Department of the Home Office in 1938.

McKNight Kauffer vintage propaganda poster ARP 1938

Every so often I come back and think about this poster, and not just because we’ve got a copy framed on our walls.  I’m intrigued by what living through those years of the late 1930s must have been like, with people trying to live their normal lives as much as possible, but all the time knowing that war was looming dark and unavoidable in the very near future.

I’ve always thought that the allusiveness of the poster – you are invited to join ARP without any clue about what you might be joining or what the organisation might do – was because no one was very clear about what the war in the air might involve.  Pat Keeley’s companion poster is similarly vague.

Pat Keely vintage arp world war two propaganda poster 1938

Perhaps it was the misunderstandings behind the Keep Calm and Carry On poster which led me to think that no one really foresaw the reality of bombing raids, but that’s certainly what I believed.  The posters show nothing because back then no one really knew what was to come.

How wrong I was, it turns out.  People, not just the army, not just the government, but ordinary people in the streets, newspaper readers and casual observers, knew exactly how the bombers would come when war was declared.  It had been shown to them for years, and the evidence was actually there in plain view, if only I knew where to look.

The first clue to this came in a history of the inter-war years, which I was reading for another reason altogether, but piqued my interest by mentioning ‘London’s Great Air Battle’ which was staged in 1925.  Here’s the account from the News of the World, as reprinted in the book.

Powerful searchlights…stabbed into the path of darkness overhead, sweeping the skies for the menacing machines….Guns manned by alert teams rattled away as they spat out their imaginary stream of shells into the heavens and the invaders circled round and round loosing their cargoes of destruction from the heights.

Someone clearly had a very good idea of what the next war would do to London.   But who?  I nearly broke Google trying to find out (London’s Great Air Battle wasn’t actually what it was called, so this made life a bit more difficult than it might have been).

Until I eventually – and really this did take a couple of days – found a perfect blog.  It’s called Airminded, and it’s subject is Airpower and British Society 1908-1941.  I’d say that it couldn’t be more perfect, were it not for the fact that the author of the blog, Brett Holman, has also written a book called The Next War in the Air: Britain’s Fear of the Bomber, 1908-1941.  Which is exactly what I needed to know.  Except it’s an academic book, and so costs £75.   But never mind, the blog gives us more than enough information to look at the posters in a new light.

It turns out that these displays were put on as part of the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley in 1924 and 1925.


One of the many attractions was that No 32 Squadron of the RAF simulated the bombing of London in a thrilling display of pyrotechnics that included anti-aircraft guns and fire engines.  And not just one display either, these ran six days a week for nearly a month.

London Defended wembley programme

As Holman points out, this was a lot of time, energy and aeroplane for the RAF to commit, so they must have been convinced that there was a propaganda purpose in all the spectacle.  They wanted people to know that the RAF was the most modern and exciting of the fighting forces, they wanted people to understand that the next war would be fought in the air and so the RAF would be essential.  But a side effect was that it made clear to people that, should the next war ever come, London would very definitely be in the firing line.  (It’s also notable that the Air Raid Precautions Department that commissioned the posters was also founded in 1924, which given the propaganda nature of the displays may be rather less than coincidence).

This wasn’t the only place that the RAF were showing their workings either.  The RAF Aerial Pageants had been held in Hendon since 1920 – and it’s worth noting that a lot of lovely London Transport posters were produced to advertise them too (this image from Kiki Werth).


In 1926 and 1927, one of the high points of the spectacle was set piece displays of the bombing of London.  The pageants, too, were large scale events – 150,00 people visited in 1926 alone.  None of this was a secret.

However, back then in the twenties it wasn’t necessarily clear then that another war was imminent.  So the shows could just be seen as hypothetical displays.  Perhaps even the results of the Air Defence Exercises that ran alongside the Wembley and Hendon events were not as frightening as they seem now with hindsight.  Each summer, starting in 1927, the RAF High Command tried to bomb London with some squadrons, while others tried to defend it.  The results were clear each time, the bomber almost always got through.  And this conclusion was widely reported in the newspapers when it happened year after year.  By 1932, the results must have felt at least a bit ominous though.

As the decade turned and the 1930s rolled on, it must have been apparent to even the most casual observer that was would be very different next time round.  No more trenches, no more stale mate.  The new war belonged to bombers, and the bombs would not be falling on soldiers alone, everyone in Britain would have to be prepared for what might come.

The final piece of evidence for this is John Betjeman, and perhaps his most famous lines of all.

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air -conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath.

These lines aren’t the result, as somehow I’d always assumed, of hindsight, the poet summoning the bombs back in the 1950s to do their work again.  Although Betjeman published the poem in 1937, he actually wrote it in 1928.  This is ten years before those ARP posters, and yet there’s no explanation in the poem, no need for him to explain what the bombs will do. Everyone understands.

All of which means that when I now look at the posters again (this is a third one, produced for the WRVS but in 1938 as well) I have to see them in a very different way.

ARP WRVS poster air raid 1938 world war two propaganda

Their vagueness isn’t the result of evasion at all.  On the contrary, everyone is so clear about what the next war will involve that the realities don’t need to be mentioned at all.  No one wants to see the blasted corpses, the broken homes, the dead children.  All that needs to be said are the three letters of ARP, and the viewer of the poster knows what has to be done.  Because war is coming, and this time the war will come from the air and no one will be spared.

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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.



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There’s an undervalued poster coming up at a provincial auction in Cheltenham (and the auction’s tomorrow – Tuesday – sorry about that).

Harry Riley (1895-1966) 1950's British Railway advertising poster "Newquay on the Cornish Coast", 63cm x 101cm

Given that this Harry Riley poster usually goes for well north of a grand, I am expecting it to fetch more than the £100-200 estimate, even taking into account its charming mis-attribution to British Railways and the 1950s.  There are another two Harry Riley posters thrown in with it too, just to make it even more of a bargain.

There’s another of his posters on offer too, with a similarly daft estimate.

Harry Riley Ilfracombe railway poster

But that’s not the real news story.  Lurking further down the listings is an entire world of Harry Riley items.  There’s artwork, paintings and a multitude of family portraits.  These pictures are him in his studio with his daughter, Barbara.Harry Riley in studio with his daughter barbara sketches

There are cartoons and sketches.

Harry Riley national service cartoon

Scrapbooks and advertising material.

Harry Riley advertising sketch mens clothes

And even a gigantic pile of ephemera including his complete correspondence with the BBC.  I have to give you the complete description of that one because it’s fantastic.

Quantity of Harry Riley (1895-1966) ephemera including 1940’s letters from The British Broadcasting Corporation, Southern Television, Savage Club, 78rpm gramophone record “Harry Riley Cartoonist Corner”, quantity editions of Sketchpad and other Periodicals, quantity dinner menus and entertainment programmes including 40th Anniversary London Sketch Club and others and large quantity of Harry Riley illustrated menswear catalogues and other advertising material and ephemera (1 bag and 1 box)

But the auction is also very sad.  What’s on offer here – in a multitude of tiny lots – is an entire archive.  And it’s going to be broken up, which is heartbreaking, because once sold like this it will probably never be assembled again.  I hope the NRM are there and bidding, and bidding hard.  It would be a crime to let this disappear.

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