Elgar’s bear: woodcuts from 1964

Unicorns and lawyers from BBC schools

Found in the attic squashed between the Skippy the Kangaroo TV annual and Amateur Gardening 1972. Illustrations by John Griffiths.

Above: Reclaiming the unicorn as a proud, kick-ass beast of legend as opposed to the My Little Pony makeover of recent years.
From ‘Mowing the Barley’ – lawyer spies a ‘handsome and clever’ maid, stalks her, then places her on his horse. Apparently they now live ‘in a happy content of life, and well in the station above her’. I take issue with this. If you were kidnapped on a horse and expected to live in a bus station you wouldn’t be happy at all.
Rather crestfallen lion who was hoping to reinvent himself as My Little Lion and got stuck with toxic masculinity again.

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

Writers in covers: D H Lawrence

D H Lawrence in Penguin paperbacks

The jury is out these days on D H Lawrence, and yet he was as much a part of the Swinging Sixties as Mary Quant or Christine Keeler, and it’s quite entertaining to see them in the same sentence. Rightly so it would seem, as there are those who think the trial over the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover kickstarted the sexual revolution of the coming decade.

There’s no doubt he chimed with the sixties’ moves towards liberation and would presumably have found an ideal home in the beardy and basic drawings of Dr Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex. And Oliver Reed and Alan Bates’ naked wrestling in the 1968 film of Women in Love put him again in the front line of changing attitudes. Thinking he was able to write about a woman’s feelings was his downfall, but it can’t be denied he was ahead of his time, and even if a little barking mad, had a genuine, fully realised moment, which the Penguin paperbacks here reflect.

Sons and Lovers and The Virgin and the Gypsy were also filmed, the photographic stills above using an idealised ‘natural’ beauty so prevalent for book covers around 1970, just a step ahead of a shampoo advert. The illustrated versions are by Yvonne Gilbert (who gained a little more fame in the eighties for her racier work for the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood, which you might guess from The Prussian Officer) and date from the late 1970s.

The move from an advertiser’s style of photography to illustration is interesting here… before it, in the early sixties, stylised artwork was prevalent, and after it, almost hyper-real illustration gave way to the use of imagery chosen with Merchant Ivory-style attention to period detail in the eighties.

My favourite is The Trespasser, for the lovely typography (excepting the full stops) and what they do with the W, and the enigmatic, half-shadowed figure in a full summer’s meadow.

Holiday haul

Summer holiday: all those unnecessary possessions spilling from boxes and cupboards and wardrobes and drawers reduced to camping stuff and a couple of bags of clothes. And nothing is missed, we’re just here in the present. There’s a lesson there I’ve patently failed to notice, because back home I’m shuffling a new hoard around and wishing I could just ingest everything like something from the movie eXistenZ

Mortimer

Beginning with a superb Penguin from 1964: the cover is a still of Anne Bancroft from the film version which I saw a few months ago. A fascinating film, beautifully acted and shot, 50 years old and still relevant. (The write-up on the DVD has the slightly fatuous line ‘Jo Armitage has a breakdown in Harrods and her life begins to crumble’.)

McCullers

Just brilliant typography – and another film from the 1960s I saw recently. Carson McCullers has such evocative titles for her novels (like Tennessee Williams, and some might find it a little melodramatic) but a phrase like this always draws me to a book, which is partly something to do with how they look in print and how designers can work such magic with them. I haven’t read Carson McCullers before but I know I’ll love this. I had to wrestle and choose between this and The Ballad of the Sad Cafe in the same edition. I wish I’d just got both but was physically removed from the bookshop once it was clear I was about to spend the rest of the holiday budget and probably throw the camping gear out of the car to make room for these essentials.

Huxley and Bowen

More 1960s paperbacks. To think there was a time when most books looked like this.

Bowen and Lehmann

Another evocative title that I’ve been looking for: The Weather in the Streets. I’ll just add this poster from the Transport Museum here, because it comes to mind every time I pick up the book…

0924-49

Notable to see Howard Spring recommending this, a bestselling and respected author that never made it to the 21st century. I’m looking forward to the ghostly short stories from Elizabeth Bowen, particularly after The Demon Lover.

Garfield

And lastly, some Leon Garfield. The cover of The Drummer Boy is by Antony Maitland. I was partly drawn to this by a walk to Easby Abbey in Yorkshire, passing a memorial to a drummer lost in the secret passage from Richmond to the abbey in the eighteenth century.

Drummer's stone

Whistle Down the Wind (vinyl version)

Whistle Down the Wind 7a

I wanted to name my blog ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ after the film with Alan Bates and Hayley Mills, so this song was always going to get in here somewhere.

I’ve been sorting out a lot of old records over the last few weeks on and off. Vinyl is a lovely thing, as are proper record sleeves. It’s the only format where you can really appreciate the effort that has gone into the design, with picture labels and the ritual of really sitting down to listen. Some records come out of the box and have gone sour, vinegar of the era in sound and design, and they fizz and burn out like a match of memory. But some keep shining, like these from 1983/1984.

Whistle Down the Wind 7

The photography is windswept and melancholy, and the typography as spare and crisp as you’d want. Probably this was partly to move Nick Heyward away from the bright and, um, breezy (sorry) pop star mania of Haircut One Hundred. It’s fascinating to read him saying 30 years later*, “I was the happiest man in the world, and also the saddest. That’s what the single Fantastic Day was all about. You’re really up, then really down again. Happy one day, crying the next… I was really melancholy. I couldn’t see anything else, which is why I was writing songs like The Day It Rained Forever.”

Whistle Down the Wind 12

Looking at all his records, there’s a particular brand of indie-ish whimsical Englishness, blown in from the 1960s in a bright and Beatle-ish balloon. And if the rest of his 80s albums were swamped and lost in glossy 80s pop production, there are still excellent songs here and there like Traffic in Fleet Street from albums with evocative titles like Postcards from Home or I Love You Avenue.

Blue Hat for a Blue Day 1

Doing the triple retro thing again… 50s, 80s, 2010s… a Daydreaming in Albion Award deserved for Nick Heyward I think.

Ten years after Whistle Down the Wind he was finally able to make an album of proper jangling guitar pop in From Monday to Sunday. The song Kite brought some fresh recognition in America, and French/US band Ivy late covered it on their album Guestroom.

Here’s the video for Whistle Down the Wind (with some great scenery for landscape fetishists)…

….and following it Kite, which is a perfect sunny day in Ambrosia.

*Quote from 2011, The Beaver: LSE paper