I was Lord Kitchener’s Thing

Exhibit A today is an ad from our local paper.

newspaper ad with Lord Kitchener From World War One Poster

It’s here, clearly, to illustrate the after-life of posters.  The slogan and image derive, after all, from a poster which will be a hundred years old next year, and yet is still part of our mental furniture.  What’s going on?

The original is of course this design by Alfred Leete.

Alfred Leete Lord Kitchener poster as we all remember it

Except it isn’t what you might think.  Despite the images that we all carry around in our heads, this drawing almost certainly never existed as a poster.  It was designed as a front cover for the mass market magazine  London Opinion, and was so popular that it was turned into a postcard and also a print.

There were certainly lots of pictures of Lord Kitchener plastered out on the streets in 1914.

Lord Kitchener says WW1 recruiting poster

Not just in Britain, either.  Here he is being forceful in New Zealand.

Kitchener banner in New Zealand

There were also lots of posters using the slogan ‘Your Country Needs You’.

Your Country Needs You anonymous World War One recruiting poster

Your Country Needs You anonymous World War One recruiting poster

But they never existed together on the same poster.  This – as sold at Onslows earlier this summer – is as close as they got to being in the same place.

Alfred Leete (1882-1933) Britons (Kitchener) "Wants You" Join Your Country's Army ! God Save the King, original recruiting poster printed by the Victoria House Printing Company Co. Ltd. September 1914

Plus there is also this number, which does at least combine the wording at the image.

Lord Kitchener world war one recruiting poster leete

Neither of which, however, are the poster of our popular imaginations, though.  That’s this one, isn’t it?

Another Lod Kitchener poster

Except this is in fact a mock-up, produced quite recently.   Aaargh.  So how did this poster, which didn’t exist, end up in my newspaper?

The argument about the exact form and origin of the poster has raged all over the internet and newspapers in this centenary year.  I mentioned it before, when the Britons poster came up for sale at Onslows, and I don’t pretend to understand the precise ins and outs of it.  But that’s OK, because this isn’t really what interests me the most.  What I find intriguing is why this particular version – which may or may not have been pasted on walls in 1914 – still haunts us today.  I’m not sure I have a definitive answer, but the search does take us along a few interesting byways.

The first of these does, however,  involve going back to the argument.  An entire book has been written about Lord Kitchener and his pointing finger, Your Country Needs You, which I have read so that you don’t have to.  The conclusion is that there may have been a very few privately printed versions out there, although these were few in comparison with the millions of government posters that rolled off the presses, and researchers have yet to find a photograph of one glued to a wall.

But old soldiers being interviewed in the years after the war, when asked about why they volunteered, reply with some regularity that it was because of the poster of Lord Kitchener pointing his finger and saying ‘Your Country Needs You’, which they tend to remember as being plastered on every available surface.  So what’s going on?  It’s easy to see how people might conflate the slogan and the pictures of Kitchener, and maybe even mix those up with the London Opinion cover.  But it seems unlikely that everyone performed exactly the same trick of memory on their own.

The book argues convincingly that this is all the Imperial War Museum’s fault.  The museum was founded in 1917 specifically to record the events of the Great War and as a commemoration of all of those who died.  As part of this, it collected the recruitment posters of the time  (there were quite a few out there to be collected, warehouses full of them in fact, left over after conscription had been introduced).  It also managed to collect the London Opinion print, and mis-catalogued it as a poster.  Thus categorised, the iconic image was displayed as a poster in a number of post-war exhibitions.  And by these means the memories of returning soldiers were collectively constructed.

Imperial war museum poster exhibition poster graft on galleries

All of which is interesting and starts to explain why a non-existent image has entered the collective consciousness in the first place.  But why did it persist, and for so long?

One reason that the book suggests is that pictures of a person looking directly at you while pointing their finger are very effective.  Which is true.  (There’s a good selection on the Wikipedia page on the poster if you want to test this theory out.)  Which is probably why the U.S.A copied the Kitchener image for its own recruitment purposes in 1916.

Uncle Sam wants you original poster

Once this has happened, the two posters probably start feeding off each other.  The Uncle Sam poster is, if anything, an even greater icon in America than the Kitchener poster is over here.  It has been reproduced and parodied in an almost infinite number of ways since 1918, particularly where wars and governments are concerned.

Time magazine cover Bush as Uncle Sam

Some of which, I am sure, travels over here and makes us remember our own iconic pointing finger in the form of Kitchener.

Uncle Sam and Kitchener parody

But there’s more to it than that.  Because one of the interesting things about the Kitchener image is that it isn’t always there.  Once all the soldiers have returned, and the patriotic lies of the propaganda have been dismissed, the poster seems to have been mostly forgotten about for a good forty-odd years.  People have looked, but not found any visual references in the inter-war period and then for another decade or two after World War Two has ended.

So what happens to change this?  The answer is the 1960s, or to be more precise 1963-4, when two specific things happen.

One is a boutique on Portobello Road.

I was Lord KItchener's Valet shop sign v&A

This first shop was such a roaring success that they expanded to Carnaby Street and, later, the Kings Road, where the shop had the even better name of ‘I Was Lord Kitchener’s Thing’.

I was Lord Kitchener's Thing Kings Road

I have very nearly written this entire blog post just so that I can post that photo, but never mind.

But why, why Lord Kitchener?  The answer, I think, lies in both the specifics of the early 1960s and the almost universal adolescent urge to get up your parents noses.

I’ve written about the early 1960s before.  It’s the moment when the first generation comes of age who didn’t live through the war, not even a little tiny bit of it.  They’re bored of hearing about the deprivations and the community spirit, they’re bored of self-sacrifice and drab.  And most of all they are bored of hearing about the army.  Because what does Lord Kitchener’s Valet sell at first?  Surplus army uniforms.

And was this meant to irritate the grown-ups?  Of course it was.  A contemporary magazine article makes this clear.

Lord Kitchener of Khartoum would undoubtedly turn in his grave if he knew he was giving his name to a “with-it” boutique in London’s Portobello Road, and he would probably be even more horrified if he knew the boutique was selling the uniform of the British Army as the latest ‘mod’ gear.

The goading worked, too.  In 1966 a ‘Muswell Hill youth’ received a conditional discharge after being stopped for wearing a Scots Guards tunic.  But by  then it was far too late: John Lennon, Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger all bought uniforms there and the red tunics and gold braid were everywhere.  ‘I think it looked fashionable and smart,’ said Muswell Hill Youth, and it almost certainly did.

So the overwhelming urge to stick two fingers up at the British establishment, at their parents’ generation and the war is clear, but why did Lord Kitchener have to be brought into it all?  Why wasn’t he old hat, so to speak?

The answer is, I think, that there was still a problem with attacking the Second World War, even for these bolshie youths.  This was because those who had fought in World War Two had been very, very Right.  They had vanquished Hitler, brought peace and prosperity, liberated the concentration camps. No one could argue with that.  So instead the children of the 1960s had to skip back twenty five years, and pick their enemies from a much more equivocal war, where the generals had made mistakes, where little had been achieved and one in which those soldiers who had returned lamented the futility of the whole thing.  In short, you wouldn’t dare say a word against Montgomery, not for a long time yet, and so it is Lord Kitchener instead who acts as proxy for that entire wartime generation.

All of which makes even more sense in the light of the other early 1960s appearance of Kitchener.  This was 1963, and it happens in Oh What A Lovely War!  He was on stage.

Murray-Melvin-in-Oh-What--A Lovely War

And more importantly, he was all over the publicity and posters.

Exterior of Theatre Royal during the original production of Oh What a Lovely war

Joan Littlewood’s entire career sprang from the urge to go against established opinion.  And by turning her fire on the army, this also allowed her to take aim at various other previously sacrosanct institutions like the Empire and the upper classes.  But even for an iconoclast like her, picking a fight with the most recent war would have been a step too far.  And so, once again, it is Lord Kitchener’s image, with all that this represents, which takes the flak.

By this point, the meaning of the poster has gone through several transformations.  At first – for most people, there were of course always dissenters – this was a simple appeal from a national hero.  After the war, returning soldiers revolted against the high-flown patriotic rhetoric that had brought them into the basest hell of the trenches, and the posters became a prime exhibit of how they had been lied to, Kitchener included.

But by the time it returns in the 1960s, the posters now stand for even more than this, representing upper class twittery and the follies of the gold-braided, Empire ruling establishment.  For a long time, the poster gets parodied (and this is true of the American version too) when someone wants to point out that our rulers are taking us on the wrong path.  This is true even today.

Cameron Kitchener poster

But now the image is so much part of our mental equipment that it can be used for almost anything.  Including, it seems advertising storage.  Which is where we came in.

This is such a complicated issue that I’ve left out lots of relevant things, including the repeated rise and fall of Kitchener’s own reputation.  I’ve also been forced well out of my normal range, and so owe particular thanks to a couple of other internet sites, including this great post about I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet and this long but very expert discussion of the Kitchener poster.  It’s also become clear that I would like to know a lot more about Joan Littlewood and the reception of Oh What A Lovely War! but then I have to stop somewhere, at least for now.  So if you do have any thoughts to add to this, I’d love to hear them.

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English School

I am in the middle of trying to construct a post about the afterlife of World War One posters, which is too complicated and thus taking me longer than I thought.  But in the meantime this has popped up at auction.

Weetabix poster original oil painting


It isn’t a poster, but the original (and somewhat battered) oil painting for a poster.  And it arrives accompanied by several others.

Bathchelors foods original oil painting for poster

Swan vestas original oil painting for posters


What particularly tickles me, though, is that the auction house is resolutely describing them as though they were normal oil paintings.  20th Century English School.  Oil on unstretched canvas.  A description which might lull you into a false sense of security, and even bidding given that they are all estimated at £50-100 each.

Because unlike an ordinary oil painting, these are huge.  Gigantic in fact.  The two below are each more than two and a half meters high.

Allenburys Throat pastilles original oil painting for posterRoyal Exchange Assurance original oil painting for poster

Most of the rest come in at well over two meters.  It’s insanity.

Prudential original oil painting for poster

But it would be a great shame if these disappeared for next to no money, because while they are not the most beautiful images I have ever encountered (I may be understating things here), they are rare survivals and thus important documentation about how advertising worked between the wars.  To my mind, rather than being knocked down for next to nothing because no one has the wallspace for them, these paintings belong in an archive or a museum.  Let’s hope they get there.


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out of the attic

Apologies for the break, I’ve been away and went in such a rush that I didn’t even have time to put the ‘out of office’ notice up here.  There will be proper posting later this week, but I’ve just popped in briefly to point at this.

Barbara Jones mural sociology 1961

It’s a Barbara Jones mural from 1961, entitled Sociology and produced for the Turin International Labour Exhibition of that year; it’s rather large at over four metres by three, and it’s on sale at Christies next month.

Now attentive readers of this blog – and indeed attentive exhibition viewers – will remember this mural because it formed part of the British Murals and Decorative Painting Exhibition at Liss Fine Art last year, where it was for sale, should you have wanted it, for a ‘price on request’.  Now it’s estimated at £3,000 – 5,000.  Mr Crownfolio has sized up the house and concluded, reluctantly, that we have nowhere to put it, so it’s all yours to bid on.

Should you be a fan of Barbara Jones, though, it’s probably worth you looking at the whole sale, which goes under the title of Out of the Ordinary and is frankly a bit barking, in a rather wonderful way.  Once you’ve picked your way past the giant taxidermied spider crab, the holograms and the giant cigar box in the shape of Harrods, you could bid on items ranging from Paul McCartney’s old front door from the 1950s to the 14th century heraldic arms of the Earl of Bohun, via all manner of memorabilia, oddities and, sometimes, tat.  It’s as though the most idiosyncratic museum in the country, the V&A on acid, had decided to go to a boot sale.

Apart from the Barbara Jones, I can imagine a few of you also being tempted to try for this.

Festival of Britain Railing

Which isn’t a rusty piece of 1980s something or other, but a piece of railing from the Festival of Britain.  £1,500 – 1,800, since you ask.

It’s eccentric, but I can’t help thinking that the assorted miscellania is exactly the kind of company that Barbara Jones would have appreciated.  And had she been curating a modern-day Black Eyes and Lemonade, she might have been able to find quite a lot of her material right here, from the slot machine to the signage.

Slot machine Christiesshoe bar sign

And of course the illuminated peacock’s head.

illuminated peacock

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Tennis, surfing and elephants

What with it being summer and all that, things have quietened down a bit on the auction front this month, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on.  Next week, Swann Galleries have a sale, with a few items of interest to this blog included.

Like every other recent sale, the anniversary of World War One means that there are a fair number of recruiting posters in there.  (Where did they all come from this year?  Have auctioneers been stockpiling them for decades?  Or are they actually as common as anything?).

David Henry Souter, 1917, est $800-1,200

That one, you will not be entirely surprised to learn, is Australian, rather than British.

These inevitably lead on to World War Two posters, of which this is probably my favourite just because it’s an interesting and unusual poster for the time (as written about here, before)

NEVER WAS SO MUCH OWED BY SO MANY TO SO FEW." Circa 1940.  30x20 inches, 76 1/4x50 3/4 cm. Lowe & Brydone, Ltd., London.
Anonymous, 1940, est. $800-1,200

And hey, guess what, there’s one of these too.  Again.

Anonymous, 1939, est. $12,000-18,000

For a rare poster, there aren’t half a lot of them about.  So many, in fact, that I have lost track of what they are selling for.  But I still don’t want one.

What does distinguish this sale from any other though is the enormous quantity of – wait for it – tennis posters.  And these aren’t just posters for equipment, tournaments and so on, but any poster that might have even the slightest glimpse of a tennis racquet in it.  Which means that it includes this Tom Purvis design for Austin Reed.

TOM PURVIS (1888-1959) AUSTIN REED'S OF REGENT STREET. Circa 1930.  poster
Tom Purvis, c.1930, est $3,000-4,000

There are also a surprising number of British seaside posters of the 1950s on offer too.  Most of them have been featured on this blog at some time or other, but this one is new to me.

HARRY RILEY (1895-?) WESTON - SUPER - MARE. Circa 1960. 40x24 3/4 inches, 101 1/2x63 cm. Waterlow & Sons, Limited, poster
Harry Riley, 1960, est. $600-900

I love, just love, the pointy hat in the background there.  Where can I get one?

This one is also worth noting, because when it’s offered for sale at Christies or Onslows, it tends to go for considerably more than this estimate, so there might be a chance of a (relative) bargain.

Alfred Lambart, 1937, est. $1,000-1,500

And that’s about your lot.  Unless of course you want an elephant on a Vespa?

poster ESIGNER UNKNOWN VESPA.  39x27 inches, 99x68 1/2 cm. Giuseppe Lang, Genova.
Anoonymous, est. $700-1,000

Who wouldn’t, really?

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It’s too hot to think properly.  So it’s lucky then that some interesting bits and bobs connected with past posts have come my way.

Firstly, Hans Unger.  Four years ago now, I wrote a piece about his life and his work not just in graphic design but also stained glass.   It’s worth going back to read that post, even if you’ve looked at before, simply for the comments, which are still arriving even now.  Clearly he was a man who was beloved by very many people.

The post came about because Mr Crownfolio had been reading about Unger’s work on St Columba’s Church in Chester.  Their website person, Bernard Payne, got in touch recently and has sent me two more photographs of Unger’s work for the church.

Hans Unger Stained Glass st columba's church chester

Hans Unger stained glass st columba's church chester

Sadly, these two windows aren’t in existence any more – they were taken out in 1986 because the timber was rotting and the mullions deteriorating, and clearly no one at the time thought they were worth saving.  Which is a great shame.

Also a while back, I posted about the symbolism of blue skies on post-war airline posters like these two Lewitt-Hims.

Lewitt Him, vintage airline travel poster 1948 Poster Connection

Vintage Lewitt Him BOAC poster 1948

My speculation was that, after the Second World War, these clear blue skies might have had more meaning that we might at first suspect.  Now the fighters and the bombers were gone, there were no more looping white trails signifying a dogfight any more.  The skies, and by association the aeroplanes that fly in them, were now safe, to be celebrated rather than feared.

So I was very pleased with the discovery I made when I was researching James de Holden Stone the other day.  In 1945, when the war ended, he was the Art Director of Vogue, and this was the cover he designed for their October issue.

James de Holden Stone Vogue cover October 1945

And this is how Vogue themselves described it:

With the war in Europe and the Far East finally having come to an end in September, Vogue has no suitable cover commissioned for this issue. James de Holden-Stone, the magazine’s art director, makes his point aptly with a painting of blue skies – denoting the end of the blitz over London.

The cover comes, incidentally, from a whole archive of them which is now online and well worth a browse through, even though it is a bit of a pig to search (the link starts you off in the 1950s, just to make it a bit easier).

Finally, while we are on the subject of ways to waste time on the internet, Mr Crownfolio has been disappearing into the British Newspaper Archive in order to find out more about the history of our house.  And from his searches I can also tell you that Daphne Padden was a bridesmaid in Bathwick, in 1934.  She wore blue taffeta and was given a vanity case and a rope of pearls for her troubles.  Sadly that’s all that the archive can tell us about her.  I do wish I knew more.

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The lovely Daphne Padden tea towels that To Dry For produced along with us have now been on sale for a year, and, I am pleased to report, are doing very well.  So much so that you can now by Daphne Padden stuff in Heals and Liberty’s.  Which is only as it should be really.

To Dry For Daphne Padden kitchen baking tea towel

In fact, they’ve done so well, that we’re branching out, in the form of these rather wonderful place mats, from some different Daphne Padden designs.

Spring Daphne Padden mats Beast in Show

Not just the summer design either, also its spring and autumn companions.

Daphne Padden spring mats Beast in Show


Daphne Padden Autumn place mats Beast in Show


If you”d like to buy them, click on the relevant image here on the Beast in Show website.  The place mats are available right now, the coasters following any moment.  And I can certify that they are all lovely, as we are already using a set of each here at Crownfolio HQ (well we would, wouldn’t we).  Or you could hassle your local shop to stock them, in the interests of good taste and everyone owning as much Daphne Padden design as they can manage.  Which has to be a good thing, don’t you think?

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