Back in the 1960s when the Radio Times was still printed letterpress and, apart from the cover, was only in black and white there was a wonderful array of pen and ink illustrators who created very personal styles, among them Jim Russell whose work I absolutely adored. This is my favourite of Jim’s work from that special period of Radio Times.
This was me in 1966 with my first Volkswagen Beetle
Time magazine coined the term ‘Swinging London’.
Twiggy was everywhere
BBC screened the moving and controversial film by Ken Loach, Cathy Come Home
John Lennon caused a major uproar when he commented
"We're more popular than Jesus now". In America, fans were encouraged
to take their Beatles records and memorabilia to be publically burned on the
eve of The Beatles’ Memphis concert
Nova, sporting its new typeface, would go on to take the Gold pencil at the 1967 D&AD Awards
Meanwhile across the pond the great George Lois was still producing great covers for Esquire magazine
David Gentleman was beginning his asstonishing output of stamp designs for Royal Mail
Oh yes, and England won the World Cup in that year 4-2 against West Germany
My film for 1966 was Seconds directed by John Frankenheimer
Seconds with a title sequence designed by Saul Bass
My time at the artist agents Bryan Colmer
& Partners was very fruitful. I slowly started to understand and began to
love typography, even though I had little formal training. I’d bought Josef
Müller-Brockmann’s The Graphic Artist and His Design Problems in 1963,
when I stumbled across it while attending calligraphy evening classes. I found
the book baffling, but it struck a chord with me and encouraged me to buy books
on all aspects of creativity, which became my art school. Here are a few that I
bought back in 1966…
I read them from cover to cover and put their advice into practice. I made lots
of mistakes of course, but slowly things began to gel. As the in-house designer at the artist agents, I had masses of opportunities to
improve my typography on the many covers that passed through.
I started visiting publishers to attempt to pick up freelance book cover work.
These were the days when London was littered with dozens of small,
independent publishing houses. My favourite ploy was to visit bookshops and
make a note of the publishers producing good covers. I’d then phone them from a
telephone box, get through to the art editor or art director and tell them
how good I thought they were. People like knowing that their work is
appreciated. The approach worked because I slowly built up a regular flow of
work outside of my day job.
My evenings were spent reading manuscripts and producing cover designs. My time
at Bryan Colmer came to an end when I met an American illustrator who the firm
had signed up. He was instrumental in my next step on the creative ladder. I
left the artist agents and ended up working for a newly formed American-run
design consultancy, Cato/Peters/O’Brien, located in fashionable W1...
Above the mailer that Cato/Peters/O'Brien sent out in advance of their arrival in London
It was the
beginning of a big change for me (you can learn more about that meeting and
what happened to me next in an earlier post here).
And this is my selected job from that year…
From a series for publishers Jonathan Cape in 1966.
These were the days when one would be restricted in the print process. Here I
was contained to 3-colour line for these 2 jackets.
Earlier this month I visited Aardman Animations in Bristol. I was there to interview Nick Park, creator of Wallace & Gromit, Creature Comforts and Shaun the Sheep, and recipient of a shedload of awards, including a staggering four Oscars. Now, you would think all that success would have serious ego inflation. Not a bit of it. Park is one of the most modest creatives I have ever met, reinforcing my view that truly talented people don’t have to go around shouting about themselves: their work says it all.
5ft (1.5m) models of Gromit ready to be displayed across Bristol.
In July, the large-scale Gromit statues (above) will be put on display around the city of Bristol, before being auctioned off in September in aid of the Bristol Children's Hospital. They have been individually decorated by a range of invited artists and designers, including Sir Paul Smith, Cath Kidston, illustrator Simon Tofield and animator Richard Williams, along with Aardman’s own creative team. Okay, so let’s kick off with the first Graphic Journey Radio interview: No.1 Nick Park/Stop-motion animator.
The controversial Till Death Us Do Partwas first screened. There were still only 3 TV channels and all in black & white
This was finished. The Post Office Tower (now the BT Tower), complete with revolving restaurant was opened by Harold Wilson
The Beatles released their 6th album
My harmonica hero, Sonny Boy Williams died in that year
I bought this album. R&B was my passion back then with frequent visits to the Marquee Club
This was my favourite film of 1965, Repulsion directed by Roman Polanski
Towards the end of 1965 I’d had enough of being forced to use Albertus,
hand-lettering titles on Boy’s Own Paper cover illustrations and endlessly pasting
up pages for a toy catalogue. I’d spend my lunchtimes visiting bookshops to
peruse the book cover designs. I’d also got into the habit of ‘liberating’ book
jackets from my local library and had built up a substantial collection. My
evenings were spent redesigning covers that I didn’t like and I put those into
a little A4 plastic folder with a grandiose but naive view of showing
One day while wandering down Farringdon Road I happened on a window that had a
wonderfully detailed illustration placed on a tabletop easel. It turned out to
be the offices of an artist agent that had just opened. I went in to enquire
about the illustration and was told it was by a man called Tom Adams. It meant
nothing to me at the time, but I could tell he was something very special.
This was the illustration in the window for John Fowles The Magus illustrated by Tom Adams
As I was about to leave, a tall, elegant man sporting a pin-striped suite and
flowered tie arrived. He asked me why I was interested in the illustration. I
explained my desire to design book covers but that I didn’t quite know how to
go about it. “Come and see me with your work tomorrow,” said this rather dapper
individual with a cut-glass RP accent. I spent that night hurriedly designing
another sample cover to add to my meagre collection. The next day, I was
sitting in front of him, slightly on edge, while I watched his elegant fingers
turning the pages of my pathetic little folder.
He finished, took a long drag on his cigarette and said: “I can’t make any
promises, but call me tomorrow, and I’ll have a think.” Well, he thought and offered
me the job of in-house designer, responsible for the typography on the book
covers that their artists had produced illustrations for. The agent was called
Bryan Colmer Artists and the man who’d offered me the job was an old Etonian
named Virgil Pomfret. I am indebted to him for recognising something in an
unsophisticated, self-taught, non-art-school-trained kid from Dagenham.
So here’s my job for that year…
My 1965 book cover. Designed, illustrated and Letraseted all for a bumper £12 fee. As you can see I still had much to learn.
Poster for Robert Fraser Gallery 1963, by Robert Brownjohn
I recently went to see The Look of Love, a film about the 1960s porn baron Paul Raymond.
Steve Coogan as Paul Raymond in The Look of Love 2013
I thought it was pretty dreadful and full of graphic and period errors, along with a flourish of horrid false beards and wigs. The very nature of the subject, Soho strip clubs and adult magazines, demanded a lot of nudity – only of women, of course. It got me thinking about nudity and in particular how women were portrayed in graphics and design back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, a period I am very familiar with. But before I show you the array of images I have turned up, here’s a bit of historical context. From 1900 to 1968, The Lord Chamberlain’s office was responsible for censorship in Britain’s theatres. All scripts had to go through that office before a theatrical performance was granted a licence. But all that ended in 1968 when the censorship laws were relaxed. Obscenity was still a crime of course, but many young Turks of the thespian world wanted to push at the barriers of acceptability. In 1969, Kenneth Tynan, a theatre critic turned writer, devised the musical Oh! Calcutta!
It caused a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic, mainly due to the fact that the entire cast appeared completely naked during the performance. Audiences, including many rain-coated gentlemen, flocked to the show. At the same time, Hair,
Masha Hunt star of Hair
another all-singing-all-dancing nude production that had been held back until the censorship laws changed, was doing great business.
Prior to 1968, the use of ‘live’ nudity was restricted to the seedier strip clubs of Soho, where the ‘models’ were not allowed to move...
Above the more innocent times of London 'Review' clubs of the 1950s
But no such restriction applied to the more esoteric world of ‘conceptual art’. In the early ‘60s, the French artist Yves Klein was using naked women as human paintbrushes.
Before an invited audience, complete with string orchestra, he would have naked models smear themselves with his distinctive ‘Klein blue’ paint and would direct them to roll onto large sheets of paper. The resulting body prints...
were then displayed and later sold for 4 million francs – nice work if you can get it. You can see a little movie of one of these events from 1964 here. The ‘60s were also full of so-called artistic ‘happenings’, which normally involved women wandering around naked to the delight of the assembled males gathered. Andy Warhol was famous for these impromptu events.
A Warhol event from the 1960s
In 1965, Yoko Ono, in her art performance piece Cut Piece, allowed members of the audience to cut off her clothing,
but fell short of total nudity. But she made up for that in 1968 when she appeared on this album cover… Two Virgins Yoko Ono with John Lennon 1968
In the mid-‘70s, another performance artist, Marina Abromović, often appeared nude in very confrontational pieces. She often mutilated her body, which was very disturbing for her audiences.
But all this was under the guise of conceptual art where the audience could gaze at naked forms with an air of detached sophistication. Greater liberalisation of the body came in the 1960s, coinciding with the ‘hippy’ counter-culture with its ‘free love’ and ‘flower power’, encouraged by the introduction of the Pill, the proliferation of hallucinogenic drugs and the feminist movement.
Music festivals started to pop up everywhere and it became de rigueur to strip off at the sound of the first bar of music, which was greatly helped by the uninhibited effects of LSD. This youthful, freeing attitude to nudity found its way into advertising, movies and graphics. But, as always, it tended to be the women who were naked because these areas were dominated by men. Even that staunched feminist Germaine Greer (she of The Female Eunuch fame) stripped for the controversial magazines Suck and OZ , the latter of which was embroiled in a hilarious obscenity case.
OZ magazine ran from 1963 to 1969
Conversely, in 1965, Paul Raymond (Above) published his ‘adult’ magazine King and, as can be seen from these covers…
Above, for the time rather good covers for King 1965
it was trying to present itself as a serious read, often commissioning some of the best writers of the day. It was art directed by Michael Foreman (now the long-established and celebrated children’s book illustrator), who had spent a short period at Playboy magazine in the US prior to joining King. Unfortunately, it failed and was repackaged as Mayfair (Below) with predictable girly covers and fold-out pin-ups.
The psychedelic flower power era spawned well, lots of psychedelic flowers, mostly painted onto women’s naked bodies.
Poster How would you paint your own wife by Alan Aldridge 1967
From The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics 1969
The illustrator Alan Aldridge was a master of this and his work quickly grabbed the headlines. Suddenly there was a rush of painted female bodies popping up everywhere…
Above: a modern recreation of Aldridge's handiwork
Masha Hunt in the 60's
LA,LA,LA ala Caravelli & His Magnificent Strings album cover 1968
Alan Aldridge film poster for Chelsea Girls 1966
From The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics 1969
46th Annual New York Art Director’s Club Exhibition poster 1966
Art Directors Club of Los Angels exhibition poster from the 1970s
Alan Aldridge film poster promoting London from the mid-1960s
The singer Janis Joplin entered into the spirit of the time back in 1966
The was even a nude alphabet created by Anthon and Anna Beeke and photographed by Geert Kooiman 1970
Over the ensuing years, effective lobbying groups have slowly changed attitudes towards women and how they are portrayed. The ‘90s and ‘00s saw female nudity starting to slowly abate from advertising, design and book covers, but the music industry, with its historical image of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, doggedly hung in there.
Jimi Hendrix with his entourage in the 1960's
Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland 1968
Blind Faith 1969
Spinach 1. 1973
Roxy Music Country Life 1974
Spinal Tap Bitch School 1992
Pulp This is Hardcore 1998
The Stokes Is This It 2001
Ultrabunny The Thrill of It All 2012
Bat for Lashes The Hunted Man 2012
The fashion world is still very wedded to nudity to sell their wares...
Wonderbra poster TBWA 1994
Tom Ford for Men advertising campaign 2007
Tom Ford for Men & Women advertising campaign 2011
Calvin Klein advertising for Obsession for Men 1993
Today what goes on in the deepest recesses of the internet makes all that I have shown here look distinctly innocent. Some of our red tops still insist on their antiquated page-three spreads and there is still a plethora of ‘lads mags’ that continue to see women as little more than objects to ogle.
But far more sinister is the attention given to highly unrealistic body images (mostly Photoshopped) aimed directly at young girls: a sad and worrying aspect of this 21st century. It is a tragedy that children are no longer able to be children anymore.
I’ll give the last word to Barbara Kruger. I think she is spot on.
Detail from Barbara Kruger’s ‘Brainy Illustration’ for a New York Magazine cover 2000.
But what comes around goes around. In 2007 the youth fashion chain, American Apparel aligned its brand with far more blatant imagery than any other retailer. It got many complaints. Here are some examples, you can judge for yourself.
Despite 5 decades of the various women's movements, some things never change.
This film poster was designed by Saul Bass in 1963. With the passing of time Bass’s work just gets better and better. And hereis a little bit of wisdom from Saul that every designer should here and sign up to.