Writers in covers: H E Bates

I’ve posted a few H E Bates covers before, but just to say again, I’ve no idea why he isn’t more appreciated these days. My own feeling is that he was too prolific and easily able to turn his hand to many genres, and much of his work was eclipsed by the Darling Buds of May. That’s a great shame, because his best work is incredibly bittersweet and melancholy in a warm, Septemberish kind of way.

Perhaps the titles here fit more into the prolific, career writer category, though of course Fair Stood the Wind for France has been incredibly popular: his output during, or drawing on, World War Two fairly cornered the market, from reminiscences of a fighter pilot to celebrations of rural life that were as much a part of capturing a country’s essence as the Recording Britain artists’ project.

Again the artwork moves from the late fifties to the early seventies. The Poacher gets the inevitable lusty Panther paperback treatment. (There was certainly a slight frisson of erotica in the way his work was sometimes portrayed, as if it brushed up against Henry Miller, and as proof I remember my grandma allegedly complaining that one of his books ‘had smut in it’.)

The Fabulous Mrs V is a perfect early Seventies ode to Martini-style sophistication. Mrs V appears to be wearing tennis whites, but if you look closer it’s actually far less practical and indeed one of Margo Leadbetter’s party dresses, and she has as much connection to the racket as an artefact from an alien spaceship.

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Printer’s specimen book 1958, Pt.3

Yet more mid-century fonts, layouts and illustration from Abbey Mills, North Wales

In the 21st century, anyone designing text and graphics has an infinite palette of colours and effects to throw at a design, and we can see the results vomited on street signs and shop fronts in all our towns. They’re not street signage of course, but the simple, effective designs here are not just a product of diligent training and effort, but also the restraints placed by what was technically possible. And surely these are delivering just as much impact.

It’s quite sad and a sign of the times that concise graphic design like this – used for everyday items, like food packaging, signage, informative and promotional materials – as opposed to book covers, artwork for music and posters, for example – has been shepherded into a visual language for what was once called the ‘discerning consumer’, shorthand for aspiring, likely to be sold overpriced product packaged beautifully or a word now rarely seen, ‘tastefully’.

Calvin Swann

In amongst all the mid century modernity, the Pepys layout above demonstrates an ongoing love of gentle baroque decoration, coloured like fine china.

Uncredited

Printers’ specimen book 1958, Pt.2

More mid-century fonts, layouts and illustration from Abbey Mills, North Wales

Ru van Rossem

All these images are a reminder of how much has been lost in the age of digital printing: a traditional printer was a true craftsman, custodian of skills passed through generations and now lost forever. Of course letterpress lives on as a niche artisan craft, but this kind of beauty was once an everyday item, as throwaway as a paper bag. The marriage of paper and colour is incredible, the tones so pure and vivid.

Judith Bledsoe
John O’Connor
Thomas Hennell

Printers’ specimen book, 1958, Pt. 1

Mid-century fonts, layouts and illustration from Abbey Mills, North Wales

Designed by Eric Fraser, originally from Curwen Press

Featuring papers with names like Glastonbury Coloured Antique Laid, Basingwerk Parchment, Chariot Cartridge and British Oak Parchment this is a gorgeous volume. The production values are incredible, arresting the senses at every level, and even now the scent of musty forest hangs among its leaves.

Drawing by Charles Mozley

Every letter is flawlessly crisp, and touching the many silks, sheens and matts of the papers makes you feel like a Tudor merchant plunging his hands into a trove of fabrics from a newly-arrived shipment.

Figurehead by A Romney; Shop by C Arthur; Initial letter R Busbridge
Illustration by Cecil Keeling

Chocolates and liqueur

1767 Chocolates

The boxes that get left in the attic over the years, used to store Christmas decorations and so guaranteed a job for life, seeing the light of day once a year. These ones date from the 1950s and 1960s. The book is the Jonathon Cape Florin edition of E F Benson’s Spook Stories.

Drambuie 3

They are beautiful things, free from the faux-sophistication of today’s packaging. Sadly Drambuie has suffered a shiny metallic update in the 21st century, not quite as bad as what Harvey’s did to their Bristol Cream however. I mean, I don’t drink sherry, but I liked to know it was there, in the same way as HM the Queen is there if you want to look.

Drambuie 2

The chocolates are named after the year the company was founded. Terry’s of York no longer really exists. Read about them here, and how the Grade II listed chocolate factory is as of the moment becoming “mixed-use residential, commercial and leisure”.

But the building remains. And England, just about, still makes chocolate in Birmingham. And Dorchester, and Skipton.

Terry's 1767

Synchronised dreamscapes

Tim Walker - Devon cream

Postcards from an exhibition of Tim Walker‘s photographs, which was held over the summer at the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle. All the images were displayed in light boxes, so the darkened room created a night-time setting to make the experience entirely dream-like. I like the above image particularly, because it must have been projecting quietly in my mind when I was transferring my parents’ slides from the 1950s here. It’s also called Devon Cream, which I didn’t know until I drew it out for this post. Synchronicity indeed…

Tim Walker - It rained outside

The above image is called It rained outside so we camped indoors.

Tim Walker - Snow in Summer

Snow in Summer (above).

Tim Walker - Flying saucer with members of hunt

And another hunting image – Flying Saucer with members of the West Percy Hunt. All these photographs are constructed, using props, and are not the product of digital manipulation… to quote the essay, “To reveal the ambition of photography as an integrated, collective undertaking where the pressing of the shutter on the camera is the closing moment in the creative process”.

I’m not sure how many exhibitions work so successfully, when small elements sit quietly in your mind and then crystallise a particular moment in your own history – my parents, Devon, and the 1950s – a time before I was born. I’ve looked at my parents’ slides many times over the years. They’re blueprints in my memory of a time I never knew, acting like gentle magnets, as I drift along.

North Devon, 1950s

In the 1950s my parents moved all the way from Yorkshire to North Devon and bought a new bungalow on the edge of Tiverton. Not long after they went to the railway station to collect a puppy, a cocker spaniel who had travelled by train, in a wicker basket, from a breeder somewhere up country. I can’t imagine if the basket was shut or closed on the journey, but assume the breeders knew what they were doing for the time.

1950s1

The puppy was called Sherry, after the drink which matched her fur, but her kennel club name was the grander Gatehampton Caroline (although no-one would have any interest in dog shows).

These slides were taken on a camera which never worked by the time I was born, but I loved the beautiful brown leather case (which led to me choosing my current camera over ones which were probably much better value…) Taking photographs was much harder in the 1950s, and I’ve found the guide to ‘successful photography’ which must have been bought in an attempt to make sense of it.

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Some of Sherry’s walks in these days look impossibly idyllic, and this picture of Bickleigh looks like a stage set. The blossom at the end of the road looks as artificial as Ronald Coleman and Greer Garson’s cottage in the 1940s film Random Harvest (I know this because it was my grandad’s favourite film so have watched it again). Here’s a hastily found Youtube clip, and the scene is around 8 minutes in…

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It looks a particularly lovely moment in time, but my father could never settle in one place and Hollywood films are artificial for a reason, though I can’t imagine Yorkshire stock being under any illusions about this.

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North Devon and Exmoor is still, and always has been, organised around hunting and shooting. I’m not sure what Sherry is making of this sign, but on Boxing Day she may have gone into Tiverton to see the spectacle of the hunt meet. I’m sort of ambivalent about hunting, despite a gut reaction of repulsion, because there’s something primeval and ancient about it: a dreadful fascination. These photos from 1958 look so vivid I can imagine every sight and sound in the town square, and the colour of the winter light is beautiful.

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And then perhaps another walk over Tarr Steps, washed away and replaced time and again over the centuries…

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