The year: 1976
This is what was happening:
We seem to think that we are currently having extraordinary weather. However, back in 1976, it was devastating. An earthquake killed 655,000 people in Tangshan, China. A tidal wave killed 5,000 in the Philippines. Hurricane Belle hit the US East Coast. And an earthquake in Guatemala and Honduras killed 22,000.
Britain 1976, the worst drought in recorded history.
Here in the UK, the first recorded drought hit due to a prolonged heat wave, which caused many flash forest fires.
What else was going on?
The first commercial flights of Concord started.
James Callaghan became the new Prime Minister.
Fidel Castro became President of Cuba.
Steve Jobs formed Apple with Steve Wozniak.
This was to be a year of fantastic opportunity. It started with me walking into The Plough pub in Museum Street, London. Through a wispy haze of blue cigarette smoke sat the slender figure of Alan Aldridge, who was adding to the lingering smoke. He had contacted me to talk about the possibility of collaborating on a book together. He’d long moved on from his Penguin and Beatles period. At the time, he was having considerable success with his The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast book and was working on an animated film version. He had also designed the album cover for Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy and was developing the idea for an animated version of that too, so he was a very busy bee – or should I say butterfly.
The book Alan had in mind was to celebrate the work of Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s lyricist. It was to be called The One Who Writes the Words for Elton John andwould contain all of Taupin’s lyrics. These would be accompanied by individual illustrations to visually express each song. Alan had a list of people from the pop world that he was going to commission, from John Lennon to Ronnie Wood. It was to be my task to commission from the world of illustration and photography, as well as design and art direct the book – no pressure there. In the event, my collaboration with Alan was minimal: I only saw him twice before he disappeared to America. And so, I was left to my own devices. The book sold out before publication and was reprinted immediately. Here is a little sampling…
Cover illustration by Alan Aldridge and Harry Willock
Illustration by Alun Hood
Illustation by Ken Carroll
Illustration by Donna Brown
Photograph by Lorenz Zatecky
Illustrated by Tony Meeuwissen
Illustrated by Peter Bentley
Illustrated by Brian Grimwood
Illustrated by Keith Bowen
Illustrated by David Pelham
Illustrated by Bill Sanderson
Illustrated by Dan Fern
Illustrated by Pauline Ellison
Back on the top floor of my Fontana studio in Mayfair, wearing my children’s book list art director’s hat, I was given the task of producing an urgent film ‘tie-in’ series for The Rescuers by Margery Sharp. The problem was that there were no stills, only some rather bad black and white reference shots. What to do?
Mick Brownfield in the 70's
Enter the extremely dashing Mick Brownfield, who had established himself as a wonderfully ‘method’ style of illustrator. He could step into the shoes of a comic strip artist, a 1940s pulp fiction illustrator or, as for my requirement, a traditional cell animator.
He was absolutely believable in all those different shoes.
Meanwhile I was wearing lots of hats too.
Photographer Robert Golden (know as Golden Light) produced many cinematic covers for me.
Illustrator Justin Todd was a mavel and I gave him masses of work
Me as illustrator for the Fontana religious list which I loved and gave my all
This is me during the long hot summer of 1976, relaxing in a field with my first daughter, Polly. We were on location shooting covers for a children’s pony series with photographer Denis Waugh, who took this shot. We were staying with the Armada Books Children’s Editor Marion Dickens, granddaughter of the author Monica Dickens. And the intriguing dark young woman that I mentioned in the last 50 + 50 post was now working as Marion’s assistant. Her name was Jessica and she was helping out on the shoot. We had become friends by this time and spent a lot of time together, especially in a delightful little French bar in Shepherd Market, Mayfair, called L’Artiste Muscle (40 years on, it’s still there). We’d sit at rather wobbly old sewing machine tables, which I recall furnished the place, and have a bottle of Beaujolais, warm soft French bread and some delicious blue cheese. We would talk and talk. It was always interesting and delightful. I have always loved the company of women, as there is rarely talk of sport, which seems to dominate most male conversations and is something that I am totally allergic to.
Alan Parker's first feature film, Bugsy Malone
Marion Dickens had mentioned that we should go and see a rough cut of a film that she was considering publishing as a film ‘tie in’. It was called Bugsy Malone and was the first feature film both written and directed by Alan Parker. We met in a Soho screening theatre, where I was introduced to the film’s producer, David Puttnam. They were both full of enthusiasm. Parker was riding high as a commercials director, having won everything there was to win and now with his sights on Hollywood. Puttnam had also had success with two David Essex films, That’ll Be the Day and Stardust, and was about to set up his own production company (Enigma). He later asked me if I would be interested in designing its identity. John Gorham was great friends with Parker and virtually designed everything for him, so Parker was out of bounds for me. But Puttnam had mentioned that he was going to produce a film with Ridley Scott. So, I kept closely in touch.
Each year there was a major sales conference for the whole of Collins Publishers up at the main print and bindery at Bishopbriggs in Glasgow. We all had to troop up there and my first experience was quite a shock, mainly because there was a traditional evening meal presided over by the tall figure of Sir William Collins in full benefactor mode, complete with a silver-trayed procession of haggises preceded by a fully kilted piper. But the really bizarre part was that the dinner was for male staff only. All of the female members had to fend for themselves. I refused to attend in the following years, preferring to spend my time with the women, which was far better than a whisky-sodden room of men.
With my studio being at the very top of the building, I was tucked away from prying eyes. And so, Fridays became party time. I would persuade the odd job man Len to supply us with a box of wine from the very well-stocked Collins’ cellar. The various editors, Kristy McLeod, Caroline Caughey, Marion Dickens and Jessica Datta, would bring in food and we would wail away the afternoons and early evenings eating, drinking and listening to music, which got louder with the increasing consumption of alcohol. I don’t know how I got away with it for so long, but I did and it was great fun. On the work front, I was delighted to have five pieces of work in the 1976 D&AD Annual, which encouraged me no end. I was so competitive in those days.
Ken Carroll still featured regularly at the studio and we would go to the very first Chicago Pizza Pie Factory, which had just opened in Crown Passage just off Pall Mall. Founder Bob Payton would often be there to chat to customers, who had to bring their own drinks, as there was still no alcohol licence. Towards the end of the year, Tad and Bill (my two original assistants) left for pastures new, and two new lively characters were to join. And David Puttnam phoned to ask if I’d like to design the titles for a new film he was producing. It was called The Duellists and was to be directed by Ridley Scott. More about that in the next 50 + 50 post.
My album for the year:
My Films for 1976:
All the President's Men directed by Alan J. Pakula.
Network written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet
Taxi Driver directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Paul Schrader
The Missouri Breaks directed by Arthur Penn. Not a great film but I'd see anything with Brando in it.
Related Post: 50+50 part 13