A contemporary of David Gentleman’s was Dennis Bailey (above right chatting to Robin Darwin), another 1948 arrival at the college. One of his fondest memories was being present in the senior common room (SCR) – an innovation of Darwin’s, who invited many established working artists and poets to mingle with the tutors and (occasionally) students. Bailey, like so many students at the time, was a Rizla roll-up man, until he spied one of Darwin’s distinguished guests removing a cigarette from a distinctive blue package.
Bailey went straight down to Soho to purchase his first pack of Gauloises: a brand that became ubiquitous with students at the college.
Bailey had started off on the illustration course that shared the same space, tutors and often the same projects as the graphic department, with which he became more intrigued. After his first year, he transferred to that department, where he came into contact with a number of fellow students who wanted to breathe new life into the staid teaching at the college, among them Len Deighton and Raymond Hawkey. On graduation, Bailey went on to art direct many magazines, including the iconic Town.
Two photographs from 1952 with Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud in the RCA Senior Common Room
The SCR was Darwin’s brain child: he wanted it to be an inspiring place where fine wine, good food and intelligent conversation took place along the lines of Cambridge, with its High Table complete with white-gloved serving staff. Many who visited found it outrageously pompous. Artists Francis Bacon (who was a tutor at the college in 1950), Lucian Freud and John Minton would often hold court there. The ever-inventive Darwin had it in his mind to build up a collection of paintings from students, visiting tutors and artists to decorate the SCR walls. He kick-started the collection by personally donating several works, including pieces by Stanley Spencer and Walter Sickert. Over the years, this was to develop into a significant horde: he secured donations from Francis Bacon, Peter Blake, Lucian Freud, Barbara Hepworth, William Scott, David Hockney and Henry Moore, among many others. The collection continues to this day.
The Lion and the Unicorn Pavilion at the Festival of Britain.1951
The year 1951 gave RCA graphic students the opportunity to shine when they were involved, under the beady eye of Guyatt, in working on The Lion and the Unicorn Pavilion at the Festival of Britain. But instead of a new broom in the world of RCA graphic design, it was more of the same, with whimsy representations of ‘Englishness’ expressed through Victorian typefaces like Egyptian Expanded, Doric Italic, and Throne and Figgins Shaded.
The Festival of Britain graphics designed by Abram Games who taught for many years at the RCA
The whole place was filled with tweed jackets, handmade brogues, briar pipes, walking canes and images of country life, all reinforcing the nostalgic view of a bygone era and completely ignoring any acknowledgement of modernism.
The wonderfully surreal Goons' who changed the face of comedy
As the 1950s progressed, a radically new concept in comedy surfaced; the surrealistic The Goon Show was a particular hit with students. There was appreciation for modern jazz imported from the States, with its free-form, abstract quality. It wove its influence on the creative scene at the RCA. Students began to rebel more openly against the traditional barriers of conservatism still preached by the college hierarchy.
Music in the shape of modern jazz from the US was also influencing the creative scene.
Like Bailey, fellow RCA student Raymond Hawkey (who had won a scholarship to the RCA to study illustration) found the course very dull, punctuated with endless life-drawing classes and a distinctly nostalgic approach to the craft.
Bailey managed to switch to the graphics course and quickly secured a post on the RCA magazine ARK,edited at the time by Len Deighton. The magazine’s main task was to publicise the college and was originally conceived in 1950 by student Jack Stafford, who self-funded the enterprise. Later, the RCA decided that it was a worthwhile pursuit and chipped in the money and office space above the students’ common room at 2 Cromwell Road to make it an ‘official’ part of college life.
In its early days, ARK stayed within the ‘genteel’ bounds of Darwin’s sensibilities, but it was to develop into a major force and voice in the wider creative arena way beyond the confines of the college, being sold through London bookshops and on subscription internationally. It was also to cause a lot of aggro between staff and students. One such moment was when Hawkey created a photographic cover for ARK, which greatly upset Darwin, who dismissed photography completely.
Alan Fletcher's startling cover for ARK 13, 1955 fueled with his experience of being exposed to the American graphic scene.
Alan Fletcher, who’d won the first RCA/Yale student exchange scholarship, returned to the college full of enthusiasm from his experience of meeting US designers and artists, including Robert Brownjohn, Ivan Chermayeff, Tom Geismar, Paul Rand, Saul Bass, Bradbury Thompson and Josef Albers. Fletcher became the art editor of ARK in 1955 and immediately broke the classical typographical stranglehold of the magazine by using sans-serif typography on its cover. Fletcher remembers that the keeper of the RCA print room held all of the sans-serif type under lock and key like cocaine.
As the 1950s progressed, fashion, film and new forms of art fuelled the graphic students. Many from the painting department added a graphic dimension to their work, especially Peter Blake, Eduardo Paolozzi and Robyn Denny, the latter producing a wonderful typographical mural for the Austin Reed men’s fashion department in 1959, against which The Beatles posed in 1963.
Top: Robyn Denny's typographical painting for Austin Reed. Below: the Beatles posing in front of it in 1963.
Another student from the painting department was Keith Cunningham, who ended up being a significant graphic designer in the 1960s and 1970s.
During this time, the relationship between staff and students at the college became increasingly at odds, with the students tending to learn and be inspired by one another rather than their tutors.
Like Fletcher, many saw America as the leading light in graphics, illustration and advertising, with high-quality finishes and supreme wit and humour. Swiss modernist typography was also admired, but there were no jokes in that. Len Deighton was a passionate lover of US creativity, especially its advertising (also unpopular among the staff), and was determined to introduce it into ARK when he was its editor.
From the top: Us illustrators Ben Shahn, Andy Warhol, and David Stone Martin were changing the face of the craft in the 50’s with their scratchy, emotive, immediate styles. Bottom: an example of Len Deighton's work from that period.
By this time, Deighton and Hawkey had become friends and often collaborated to disrupt the status quo. It was Hawkey who went on to design the book jacket of Deighton’s first novel The Ipcress File in 1962,with a beautifully stark, one-colour, photographic cover.
Raymond Hawkey's 1962 cover design for Len Deighton's book.
The publisher hated it, but Deighton insisted. The book sold out immediately, and a bit of graphic history was born. Hawkey became a significant editorial designer throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
John Sewell, another graphic student with a love of surrealism, made some bizarre short films and produced a great deal of original collage work that he later used to great effect with the graphic identities for the independent bookshops Better Books and The City Bookshop, both long gone.
For part 1. click HERE.
For part 3. click HERE
For more on David Gentleman click HERE.
For more on Raymond Hawkey click HERE.
For more on John Sewell click HERE.