Ink Studios logo created in scraperboard by Harry Willock 1968
In 1968, Alan Aldridge and Harry Willock set up Ink Studios, with (now Lord) Bernard Donoghue as finance director. They had a studio above Zwemmers Bookshop in Litchfield Street in London’s West End. With the increasing volume of work coming in, they hired Bob Smithers and Rick Goodale, with Harry overseeing the quality.
Alan Aldridge top and Harry Willock below at Ink Studios in the early 1970s.
One of the first notable projects for Ink Studios was The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics (1969), with Alan commissioning an array of talent to each visually illustrate a Beatles song. Alan’s own contributions to the book would, as usual, be worked up as detailed outline tracings. These would be given to Harry, and he would set about the task of perfecting the drawing, transferring it onto art board, followed by the painstaking task of masking out the many layers for airbrushing. At the end of the process, a fully fledged Alan Aldridge imagining was realised into an immaculate piece of artwork via Harry’s supreme craftsmanship. The Beatles Apple Corp would become a major client at this time.
John Lennon, There's A Place from The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics.
Harry's 1969 D&AD Silver Award winning album cover.
Work from Ink studios was popping up everywhere, the combination of Alan and Harry was becoming formidable. In Ink's first year, Harry picked up a D&AD Silver Award for the Small Faces album, Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake, a die cut cover as a replica ornate Victorian tobacco tin.
Victor Lownes, head of the UK end of The Playboy Club, had opened a restaurant in Mayfair and commissioned Ink Studios to produce menu designs. By this time, Alan and Harry had bedded into a seamless relationship akin to that of an architect and an engineer.
The Great American Disaster poster (1971)
Peter Morton commissioned them to produce the identity for the hamburger restaurant The Great American Disaster (1971), located on Kings Road. It was a big hit, and while Alan was away, Morton phoned Harry with a very urgent letterhead job that he needed. “Nothing too fancy, just simple,” requested Morton. Harry produced something overnight and Morton was delighted. Within a week, the enterprise was up and running. It was the logo for The Hard Rock Cafe and 35 years on, it is still in use.
Produced overnight by Harry and still in use worldwide 35 years on.
Work continued to flow from every which way and Harry found himself designing covers for Penguin in his own right, but these had to be done in his own time, as the fee of only 30 guineas (around £500 today) and was felt to be laughable by Ink's finance director.
Harry designed this door notice for sale at the Apple Boutique located on Baker Street. It was devised and written by John Lennon in 1968.
Album cover for The Who 1966.
Logo for the Rolling Stones tour in 1968.
An early 60's Harry Willock logo for DJ Pete Murray.
One of Harry's many night time activities for Penguin Books via David Pelham.
Created for a Heineken 'Refreshes the parts' 48 sheet poster
By the early 1970s, although still frantically busy, Ink Studios wasn’t making enough money for its wider financial backers, so the company was wound up. Alan had bought himself a palatial vicarage in Norfolk and had relocated there with his young family. He and Harry formed Alan Aldridge Associates. Now with Harry living in Bromley and Alan in Norfolk, they would meet every fortnight at the Museum Tavern in the shadows of the British Museum in London. Harry would arrive with his pristine artwork in a portfolio. Alan would always be tucked away smoking in a corner, where he could view Harry’s latest execution well away from prying eyes; this was always a concern for the secretive Aldridge. By this time, their work had developed into complete books, the first being the highly successful The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast (1973), later turned into an animated film.
First edition of The Butterfly Ball
A later edition of The Butterfly Ball
Music album for the animated version of The Butterfly Ball.
The book received major coverage in the press including a feature in The Sunday Times Magazine.
It caught the eye of Elton John, who had Alan design the album cover for Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975).
The Elton John album cover would eventually lead Alan Aldridge to America to work on an animated version of Captain Fantastic.
Album cover for The Peacock Party music
Then it was straight onto another book, The Ship’s Cat (1977), followed by The Peacock Party (1979) and, finally, what Harry considered their best collaboration, The Lion’s Cavalcade (1980). Over a ten-year period, Alan and Harry would continue their clandestine Museum Tavern meetings. Each one-page illustration would take Harry two solid weeks of work to complete.
The Lion's Cavalcade considered by Harry as his finest collaboration with Alan.
Alan had got rather immersed with Elton John and Bernie Taupin on an animated version of their Captain Fantastic creation and he moved to Los Angeles, where he rented a house from the film star Sally Ann Howes. Alan and Harry’s collaboration ebbed away, leaving Harry to look for work elsewhere. There was never a legal contract between Alan and Harry, nor with Ink Studios and Alan Aldridge Associates, and the question of ownership of the original artworks was, and still is, a rather a grey area for Harry, especially when he discovered that Alan was planning on auctioning some of the original artworks at Sotheby’s, but this was eventually stopped.
Harry began to pick up work in his own right ironically, it came from his old employer The Sunday Times via the talented Art Director Gilvrie Misstear who had been with The Sunday Times Magazine for many years, alongside Michael Rand and David King. Harry produced a flow of wonderful header illustrations for a whole series of topics for her, from health to diet and DIY to electronics.
The above 5 images were all for The Sunday Times Magazine with Harry's working solo. They show not only his supreme skill as an airbrush artist but also his with and inventiveness.
At the suggestion of a friend Harry was persuaded to take on a one-day-a-week teaching post at Kingston Art School: something he was unsure of but would continue for 15 years until computers were introduced – which Harry did not want to embrace. Over those years many of his ex-students would surface in many influential design companies and he would often be commissioned by his old young charges now fully fledged in own their right. He found this particularly touching.
Alan Aldridge would pop up from time to time and at one point offered Harry the opportunity to work in LA on an animated film. He was to be responsible for the background artworks. He flew off to LA to team up with Alan again, but the film didn’t go ahead and, anyway, Harry found the endless heat of LA far too much for him – he couldn’t wait to get back to the gentler climes of Bromley.
Harry received a D&AD Silver award for the above in 1984.
Solo again, a wonderful opportunity arose for Harry from ex-Penguin Art Director David Pelham. He asked Harry to collaborate with him on the book The Human Body (1983): an ambitious, sophisticated adult pop-up book written by Jonathan Miller. Harry’s usual masterful work shone, and the result picked up a D&AD Silver Award in 1984.
This led to a second collaboration with Pelham: The Facts of Life, which was another highly successful pop-up extravaganza. In 1987, Harry was approached by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass to design the poster for their film adaptation of
. The result was indistinguishable from the earlier Aldridge/Willock collaborations.
The Wind in the Willows film poster.
In the early 1990s, there was one last collaboration between Harry and Alan on the book The Gnole, but it was only the cover and some small internal graphics; the remainder of the illustrations used an entirely different technique. But Harry was soon to discover that all the years and many thousands of hours working in this demanding area of illustration was to come back to haunt him.
In 1994, Harry was playing his regular game of squash at the local sports club when he suffered a heart attack. Luckily, he survived but was advised to change his lifestyle and cut out stress. He had never thought of himself as being under stress, but it soon became clear to him that the years of deadlines and the exacting nature of his technique, sitting tensely for hour upon hour, must have taken its toll, so he put away the airbrush and art board and stopped altogether. He did visit Alan’s 2008 retrospective show, The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes, at the Design Museum and he was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work on display and so much of it had been produced by him in his little garden conservatory studio attached to at his home in Bromley. He was disappointed that there was little mention of him at that exhibition after all those years of collaboration, but he has very fond memories of his time with Alan and those heady days in the 60's and 70's.
In February this year came the sad news that Alan Aldridge had died, following a struggle with a rare form of Alzheimer’s. Left behind an amazing body of work by this unlikely creative duo. Apparently, all of the original artworks have been meticulously filed away by Alan. What will become of them is another story.
Harry Willock is one of a few remaining handcrafted exponents from the 1950s known affectionately as ‘commercial artists’: a breed that could turn their hand to almost anything. Much of what they did has been absorbed into the clinical, scalpel-free, digital world, and it is a sad loss.
It was a pleasure to meet Harry and hear, first hand, his own story about this special time in British design history.
Part one of HarryWillock's story here.