The year: 1977
This is what was happening:
Former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe denies allegations of attempted murder and of having a relationship with male model Norman Scott.
Apple is incorporated.
On TV, the mini-series Roots became a worldwide success and led many from the black community on journeys to discover their own beginnings.
The Commodore PET, the first home computer, is produced.
Star Wars opens in cinemas and later becomes the highest grossing film at that time.Elvis dies, aged 42.
Elvis found dead in his lavatory at Graceland
In 1977, two new designers were welcomed into the Fontana fold. The first was Francine Lawrence: a tall, elegant and very attractive figure who brought with her much laughter and devilment. Next was Ashted Dastor, who was shorter and had a penchant for winding Francine up with what today would provoke an instant reprimand. But Francine gave as good as she got, taking no prisoners in the process. We were all wildly different personalities but somehow got on well.
The lovely Francine Lawrence who went on to be the first Art Director of Country Living and later became its editor
By this time, I had a fantastic range of designers, illustrators and photographers collaborating on Fontana’s work, which regularly featured in design magazines and annuals. But within the publishing industry, dark clouds were beginning to form. Many of the traditional independent houses were being bought up by large conglomerates. At Collins/Fontana, there were boardroom rumblings.
A new sales director arrived at Fontana in the shape of the broad smiling (rather too broad) Matt Wotherspoon. One of his first questions to me was “Why don’t we have foil blocking like the other paperback houses?” My heart sank. And I thought “The enemy is now within”. Up to this point, I would just have had a conversation with Mark Collins or the editors about the covers, and I had an instinct for what a commercial cover was for many of the mass-market authors Fontana had on its extensive list. But now there was to be a formalised process, and the abettors would be Matt Wotherspoon and his cohorts. It was the first time I had doubts about my future.
Me in my top floor studio at the Collins/Fontana offices
Meanwhile, back in my little top-floor studio nest, I would have tidying purges – much to the horror of my assistants. And it wasn’t unusual to find us all repainting the walls to keep the space looking bright and fresh, as I have always been passionate about creating a good work environment.
Me and editor Tim Shackleton at one of our regular Friday afternoon parties.
The now-regular Friday afternoon parties continued, with Francine embracing them wholeheartedly by bringing in food to add to the mix, supplied by the various editors that would pitch up. And we’d all eat and drink our way into the night in great merriment and mischief.
1977 was also the year of punk, which for some became a mantra if not a religion. Punk was seen as a new broom to sweep away the excess of the self-congratulatory groups that populated the charts at the time. But spitting on and abusing the audience never struck me as an evening’s entertainment. And anyway, my musical epiphany happened back in the early ’60s in the sweaty Marquee Club while watching Sonny Boy Williamson wailing on his harmonica – that really was a eureka moment.
I gave the wonderful illustrator Arthur Robins the entire Gerald Durrell series to illustrate. Durrell loved the illustrations.
Meanwhile, Bugsy Malone was published, along with a comic book version illustrated by Graham Thompson. My association with Alan Parker and David Puttnam led me to work with both of them. David phoned to ask me to design the identity for his new production company, Enigma. This was in the days when his sartorial trappings consisted of a white Margaret Howell shirt, Levi’s and a leather flight jacket. Not quite the Savile Row double-breasted outfit he now wears in the guise of Lord Puttnam. Back then, he had his whole film career ahead of him.
The sumptuously visual The Duellists directed by Ridley Scott 1977
David asked me to meet him at the offices of RSA, where Ridley Scott was piecing together The Duellists, his first feature. I had been asked to design the title sequence. I’d taken along a whole storyboard of ideas that were to be mini-films in themselves. I showed them to Ridley. He showed me some rushes of various edited sequences, and I quickly realised that I needed to dump everything I had suggested. The film was sumptuously visual and the last thing it needed was me trying to be Saul Bass. So I went for utter simplicity, which worked perfectly.
So, all in all, 1977 was a good year. But I was getting itchy feet, and 1978 was to heighten that feeling. To be continued.
Here are a few Fontana covers produced that year…
My films for that year:
Julia directed by Fred Zinnemann 1977
The Man Who Loved Women directed by François Truffaut 1977
Annie Hall directed by Woody Allen 1977