Skylon Biro

Mr Crownfolio went off to do some shopping for our holiday the other day.  He still has no sunhat, but we do now own this.

Festival of Britain Battersea Pleasure Gardens cover

Given that the gardens were the slightly more raucous and, dare I say it, downmarket outpost of the Festival of Britain, I wasn’t expecting too much from the guide.  But it’s a surprisingly interesting piece of design; take this contents page by Osbert Lancaster.

Festival of Britain Battersea Pleasure Gardens contents page Osbert Lancaster

There are also some interesting layouts too.

Festival of Britain Battersea Pleasure Gardens Welcome page

Although I will spare you the rest of the poem which isn’t up to the standard of the typography.

The good design perhaps isn’t so surprising, as it turns out that one of the two editors and designers of the guide is Ruari McLean, founder of Motif, amongst other things.

Festival of Britain Battersea Gardens guide night

He clearly commissioned some good artists but very few of the illustrations are credited – not just the full page spreads, but also the smaller black and white illustrations, in a whole range of styles, which are scattered throughout the text.

Festival of Britain Battersea Gardens guide cave Schweppes

This is all part of trying to make the Battersea Pleasure Gardens (its name alluding to the old eighteenth century pleasure gardens at Ranleagh and Vauxhall) as uplifting and high-minded as the rest of the Festival.  The guide makes it sound like a promenade of flowers, architecture, Punch and Judy Shows and orchestral music.  The pictures, however, show that it was basically a very large funfair.

Festival of Britain Battersea Gardens guide photo

In the course of finding out all of this, I read an article which suggested that the Festival of Britain could be seen – if Battersea and the South Bank are thought of together – as the world’s first theme park, with the theme of course being Britain.  It’s an interesting thought.

But I haven’t quite finished with the guide yet, because it’s also got some interesting advertisements in.  One is by our old friends Lewitt-Him.

Festival of Britain Battersea Gardens guide Lewitt HIm Guinness ad

They designed the Festival Clock, which was one of the attractions of Battersea and apparently contained the most complicated clock mechanism ever built at that time.  It was such a success that Guinness commissioned eight more, allowing the clock to tour department stores and amusement parks all over the country.

This Gillette advert, meanwhile, is a reminder that modern design still only had a very tenuous hold in 1951 Britain, and certainly hadn’t spread to packaging design.

Festival of Britain Battersea Gardens guide Gillette ad

Tom Eckersley’s Gillette posters from a year or so before suffered from just the same problems of contrast.

Tom Eckersley vintage gillette monkey poster

A copy of this hangs on our stairs and, every so often, I am still shocked again by the contrast between the modern image and the Victorian packaging.

Finally, though, there is this, which will just have to describe itself.

Festival of Britain Battersea Gardens guide skylon biro

Truly it is a brave new world which has such things in it.

Death and the Poster Designer

I’ve always loved the smiliness of Tom Eckersley’s posters.

Tom Eckersley vintage hastings travel poster
Hastings, n/d

Between the late forties and the mid 1950s, his work is filled with cheerful characters, from spoons to beach balls.

Tom Eckersley Enos Fruit Salts advertisement 1947
Eno’s Fruit Salts, 1947

Tom Eckersley Vintage British Railways poster Bridlington 1955
Bridlington, British Railways, 1955

And of course people.

Tom Eckersley Vintage Guinness poster seal topiary 1956
Guinness, 1956

So I was rather disappointed to discover that Eckersley himself didn’t like these posters later on in his life – he said that he wanted to get rid of the whimsy and the smiling faces as they almost made him angry.  Which seems a harsh judgement on something so delightful.

Then, a couple of months ago, I read an interview with the poet Jo Shapcott, in which she discussed her experience of having cancer.

I ask whether that period changed her sense of the world. She says it did, dramatically. “When Dennis Potter was dying, he filmed that famous interview, in which he talked about looking out of the window, and observing the blossominess of the blossoms with an increased urgency and joy. And I think that does happen to cancer survivors – apparently it’s really common to feel euphoria[.]

But it was her final words which really struck me – and, strangely enough reminded me of all of the posters above.

Does she still feel the euphoria she did at the end of treatment? “I do,” she says. “All these years later, it hasn’t gone away.”

Because perhaps we – and also Tom Eckersley himself – have been doing the 1950s a disservice.

It’s really easy to characterise the early 1950s as an era which was almost feeble-witted.  See the women gladly strap on their floral pinnies and get back into the kitchen while the men take their pipes, sow the vegetable garden and tidy out the shed.  Imagine their pleasure in a brand new fridge or washing machine.  Look at their simple-minded delight in the primary colours and pretty shapes of the Festival of Britain or happy posters with smiles on.

Festival of Britain postcard

All of which is rather patronising, and, I think, wrong.

Because these are not a new generation of air-heads but the people who have lived through six years of war. For the first time it’s not only the men on active service who’ve faced death every day, but the women and children, the clerks and the old men too; they have all spent years in which they knew that they might not make it through to the next morning.  Having lived with death breathing down their necks for so long, might they not feel euphoria too once it has departed?

Festival of Britain Battersea Pleasure Gardens vintage poster 1951


They weren’t being dim when they they enjoyed the simple pleasures of their home, or the visual delights of the Festival of Britain.  Rather than a child-like wonder, it was the more c0mplex pleasures of people who have been through the fires and survived.  Perhaps, in fact, they were both more clever and more alive than we are now?

Tom Eckersley vintage British railways poster Mablethorpe

To be fair to Tom Eckersley, he himself partly knew this.  Because he also said of these posters that they were done sincerely. It was just that he couldn’t ever do them again.  Maybe, in the end, the euphoria does fade after all.

Festival time

Mr Crownfolio has been fossicking in the furthest depths of the internet again.  And he’s found this.

British painting vintage poster for arts council exhibition 1951

And this.

Town planning exhibition vintage poster 1951

As well as this.

Ten decades of British taste vintage poster 1951

What links them all is this.

Festival of Britain map poster 1951

The Festival of Britain.  Or, to be more precise, the Museum of London’s rather wonderful Festival of Britain online exhibition and archive.  Not only does it have photos and reminiscences, it also has a searchable catalogue stuffed to the gills with wonderful posters and other ephemera.

Now I fell in love with the Festival of Britain when still in primary school, I have a vivid memory of the Radio Times doing a feature on the Festival in 1976, on its 25th anniversary, and wishing that I could have walked around in all of that primary coloured optimism myself.  It looked a great deal more fun than the 1970s.

Festival of Britain postcard

This was clearly a formative experience, too, leading to a whole mis-spent life of 1950s collecting, a thesis, and, in the end, here.  The Radio Times has a lot to answer for.

If only I’d had all of this wonderful material to play with then.  The Museum of London’s archive is a result of a gift from Peter Kneebone, who combined being a key player in the Festival Office with being a keen epehemera collector.  Perfect.

There are some great things in there.  Mr Crownfolio says he has seen this Abram Games before, but I’m not sure that I have.

Abram games poster for model railway exhibition 1951 festival of Britain

Or you might want to consider this Reginald Mount.

Reginald Mount exhibition poster Industrial Power Glasgow 1951 Festival of Britain

What’s particularly interesting about what Peter Kneebone collected is that it doesn’t always conform to our images of the Festival, which can tend to be stereotypical, generally involving the South Bank and the Skylon, possibly also the Festival Hall if you’re lucky.  The Reginald Mount poster above is a reminder that exhibitions and events were occurring all over the United Kingdom.  In Ulster, you could find out about Farm and Factory as well.

Ulster Farm and Factory exibition poster 1951 festival of Britain

Furthermore, not all of the Festival disappeared in a puff of smoke at the end of 1951.  This ‘Living Architecture Exhibition’ (proof that Grand Designs Live is not a new idea in the slightest),

Another poster for Lansbury FoB architecture 1951

became the Lansbury Estate, which is still there.

New Homes living architecture exhibition 1951 festival of Britain

The images are also a reminder that, without hindsight, the Festival wasn’t the victory for soft Scandinavian modernism that it now seems to be.  Quite a few designers are harking back to the Great Exhibition of 1851 as much as they were looking forward.

Festival of Britain in Bristol poster Eric Fraser 1951

In this case, Eric Fraser, producing a generic poster to be used across Britain.  Some of the designs seem to refer even further back to the Regency, like this Birmingham leaflet

Birmingham city Festival of Britain leaflet

A vein of British  eccentricity and folk art also ran through the whole Festival; corn dollies and unicorns lurked within the modern buildings of the South Bank and elsewhere.  Here’s the incomparable Barbara Jones (about whom I will write one of these days), whose poster combines both Victoriana and whimsy.

British popular art 1951 exhibition poster Barbara Jones

What’s also great about the archive is the display; these are real, slightly battered pieces of ephemera, rather than air-brushed scans.  It’s good.  (And also reassuring given the condition of most of what we own.)

My only gripe would be that not enough designers are named.  I’m pretty sure that the Ulster Farm and Factory poster is by Willy de Majo, who designed the whole exhibition, but the Ten Decades poster has a signature that I just can’t read, or find anywhere else, and it would have been good to know.  But that’s my only, tiny quibble, so hurrah for the Museum of London, Peter Kneebone and their lovely archive.