In 1997 I was made President of D&AD. It was a period of great change and my introduction to the 35th Anniversary Annual reflected this. I made this point…
“A whole generation has been weaned on home computer and MTV. This new and demanding audience is used to receiving rapid multi-layered information, all at the push of a button.”
And the front cover of the annual, designed by Fernando Gutiérrez, highlighted the inclusion, of the then-termed ‘interactive design’ for the first time…
Visual creativity at work by Fernando Gutiérrez
While this sea change was welcomed on the front cover, I asked advertising copywriter Will Awdry to celebrate the art of writing on the back. Not only did he do that with enormous wit and lateral panache, but he also executed it with supreme accuracy, adjusting his 26 assorted box of tools to fit the layout perfectly...
Verbal creativity at work by Will Awdry
That was how advertising copywriters used to work back then, and had done so for very many decades. But as I pointed out…
“In recent years we have seen an increase of visually led design and advertising… members have lamented the passing of simple, well written ideas and see these visually laden commercials as an affront to their beliefs. But they need to cast their minds back to when their own work may have been unsettling for the old guard of their time.”
During the 14 years since writing that introduction, substantial copy in ads and commercials has diminished. Those long, beautifully written and crafted ads are a rarity. The increasing demand for global campaigns has a lot to do with this and the fact that people just don’t have the time or can be bothered to read long copy any more. They are far too busy tapping out there own 140 characters via Twitter.
But hold on, all is not lost. Thanks to the wonderful writers organisation 26, copy is again being taken seriously. And if you care about the craft of writing (and you should) then do support this laudable collective. The fee is a paltry, but witty £26 – the cost of a round of drinks. (Anyway we are told that alcohol is increasingly bad for us).
So come on cast aside your mouse, sharpen a pencil and click here to find out more.
Over the past three years (yes, three years this week) since starting this blog I have spent a lot of time in a retrospective frame of mind. Odd because I very much believe in living in the moment. But there is no question, as the years flash by, images, people, places and events tend to re-present themselves. So I find myself writing about all manner of things and in doing so hope that some of you might find them well, a bit more than just interesting.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I spent my early career freelancing for various publishers. This eventually led to my working in the industry. From 1968 to 1978 I was Art Director at two prestigious publishing houses, William Heinemann and William Collins respectively. The world of publishing enabled me to not only experiment but also to meet and commission many great designers, illustrators and photographers. Plus it allowed me to observe their working methods at close quarters. For someone who didn’t go through the art school system, it was invaluable. And with so many super bright people working at the two publishing houses they became my universities, having had an appalling education.
One of my efforts from 1970 while at William Heinemann
I kept a very keen eye on what other publishers were doing. One that I particularly admired was Macmillan. So I made it my business to seek out the Art Director working there. His name was Nicholas Thirkell and here is an example of his work from that time…
Thirkell's jacket was a removable train ticket complete with hole punched,1967.
In 1969 we met for a drink. Thirkell, a tall rather aloof figure with a well-honed RP accent - that would not be out of place in the BBC continuity department - greeted me. We chatted, punctuated, as I recall, by a series of increasingly lengthy silences. I nervously jabbered away like an idiot. But it didn’t seem to worry him. I felt a little intimidated, for me the meeting didn’t go well.
But we did keep in touch and struck up a friendly rivalry at our respective publishers. In late 1969 the Design Council – at the time based in Haymarket with an exhibition space and shop (those were the days) – invited us to stage a joint Heinemann, MacMillan exhibition of book jackets. A picture exists of Nicholas and me sporting fashionably long hair, velvet jackets, flowered tight fitted shirts and the ubiquitous flares at the opening of the exhibition. I wish I still had that picture. Here are two spreads from Design magazine...
In 1970 we also shared a feature article in Gebrauchsgrfik magazine. Later that year Thirkell struck a deal with Macmillan to enable him to set up and independent design group that would not only service Macmillan but other publishers and the commercial world at large. He named the group Nicholas Thirkell Associates, found offices in London’s Victoria and brought with him a highly talented group of individuals; George Hardie, Bush Hollyhead, Bob Lawrie and Malcolm Harrison. There quickly followed an astonishing array of work, which started to make waves in the graphic world. But after only three years Thirkell decided to leave having become disillusioned with running a design group with its dull administrative duties. He had the urge to travel. He set off with his Indian wife and spent 15 months India following the well-trodden hippy trail.
Meanwhile the remaining studio members took over the company. They changed the name to NTA Studios and moved to Covent Garden. Peter Bentley – former member of super graphic group Bentley/Farrell/Burnett (Written about on this blog, see link at foot) – joined the illustrious team. However the chemistry was not right culminating in personality clashes. Bentley promptly left to pursue a successful solo career. A little later Bob Lawrie also departed to immerse himself in the world of animation. The remaining trio of H’s, Hardie, Hollyhead and Harrison… L to R: George Hardie, Bush Hollyhead and Malcolm Harrison
continued to be a major influence in the illustration world. Their work, a combination of influences from Marvel Comics to British artist Douglas Binder, was witty, eccentric and always conceptual. Working in close proximity they clearly sparked each other off, giving their creations an instantly recognisable feel but from individual hands. In addition to producing book covers they were penetrating the world of advertising, music and the wider commercial arena. The group decamped to Smithfield having bought a small warehouse building in Charter House Square. Here for a while they worked in collective harmony. But as the years passed they became increasing separate in their pursuits, often preferring to work from home, leaving the warehouse as a soulless entity. They eventually gave up the ghost and disbanded and so came the demise of a very special period in British graphics and illustration.
Here is just a small sampleing from every member of that special group...
Mr Freedom graphics and poster designed by George Hardie
Above are by Bob Lawrie
Idea cover by Bush Hollyhead
D&AD poster by George Hardie
All three above are by George Hardie
So where are they now?
Well, Nicholas Thirkell eventually returned from his travels, became interested in education and trained as a teacher. But he quickly lost a taste for that when confronted by a classroom of unruly, spotty teenagers. He returned to publishing for a while, and then set up another design company...
Logo for Thirkell's reincarnation by Bush Hollyhead
Disbanded that and started another, Cooper Thirkell where he produce some classically beautiful work culminating in a D&AD gold award in 1986...
V&A Colour Books designed by Thirkell
In the same year he joined a successful seven-year-old design consultancy called Carroll & Dempsey. Yes, the very same that became Carroll, Dempsey & Thirkell. Thirkell has been retired since the late 90s and now lives in Brighton.
George Hardie continued freelancing and took on a dual roll of Design Educator at Brighton College of Art (now University) eventually ending up as Professor teaching the exotic sounding MA course in Sequential Design and Illustration. When not working on direct commissions he self publishes experimental books on topic that fascinate him. Over the years Hardie often collaborated with Storm Thorgerson at Hipgnosis, has won many awards including 7 D&AD silvers, is a member of Alliance Graphic International. In 2005 he was made a Royal Designer for Industry. He is still plying his craft from home. His desk is a short walk from his bed.
Bob Lawrie formed Blink Productions in 1978 and remained there until 2001. Now, according to his website Vonlolly he is ‘Currently working on ‘Dream’ and related sculptural elements.’ These days he pursues fine art living in London and France.
Malcolm Harrison gave up his pencils and brushes to move into music and for the past three decade has been strumming his jazz guitar appearing at regular spots including, Langans Brasserie, Lords Cricket Club and the Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden with the John Barnes Outswingers.
Bush Hollyhead moved into design education spending 3 years Brighton School of Art and then many years teaching at Newcastle Art School. He has since returned to London and is back freelancing again.
Lot 49 above by Bob Lawrie
As for Peter Bentley well, as far as I know he is living in Greece. I’m still trying to find out. If you can fill in the missing pieces do let me know. If you'd like to know more about Bentley/Farrell/Burnett click here.
I'm still a quest to find more examples of John Piper's work, when he was art director of Corgi Books back in the mid 1960s. I came upon these three examples from a science fiction series that he had created the cover styling for...