A rare event for me, outside of this blog. I’ll be talking at the Typographic Circle evening event on 27 March, at JWT about my work and six years on, life without CDT. For more info click here.
A rare event for me, outside of this blog. I’ll be talking at the Typographic Circle evening event on 27 March, at JWT about my work and six years on, life without CDT. For more info click here.
The year: 1975
This is what was happening:
The British Conservative Party chooses its first female leader, Margaret Thatcher.
The Vietnam War ends as Communist forces take Saigon, and South Vietnam surrenders unconditionally.
A London underground train crashed into a brick wall on February 28th at Moorgate in London’s financial district.
US Apollo and Soviet Soyuz 9 spacecraft link up in space. Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts shake hands.
On TV The Good Life with Felcity Kendal and Richard Briers took the nation by storm and an upturn in grow your own.
Ken Russell’s film version of The Who’s Tommy premieres in London and is an example of his visual over-indulgence and fading star.
By 1975, I was deeply entrenched in my new world of paperback publishing and rather liked the immediacy of the industry. The studio was running smoothly thanks to my super-efficient secretary Rosemary and my dedicated assistants Tad and Bill.
Designing covers for Fontana was akin to being a character actor with the ability to assume different identities at the drop of a hat. One minute I was designing or art directing covers for rather esoteric philosophical or religious studies:
Just one of dozens of religious covers illustrated by the immaculate Tony Meeuwissen.
and the next I was creating covers for some hard-nosed commercial detective series:
Just two of very many Ross McDonald, Lew Archer detective story covers that I designed along with photographer Graham Miller
Also this Eric Ambler series that I designed with photographer Roberst Golden and great fun to work on.
I also love spoofing things up like these two newspapers, all set in letterpress and printed on the correct paper.
John Gorham, a man know for his highly decorative and nostalgic work could also be remarkably minimal and conceptual, as in this beautifully simple cover he designed for me.
Giving an authentic look to photographs by hand colouring, sepia toneing and distressing, as in the above two covers from '75, were all hand done by me in that none digital age.
I absolutely loved the extremes and have come to realise that is why all of my subsequent work is a little hard to categorise. I had so much fun being commercial one minute and super-sensitive the next that I never got out of the habit. I can’t understand designers who just doggedly follow the same stylistic rail track: it must be so dull and monotonous.
To help give the covers a more coordinated look, I dispensed with the historic myriad of typographic styles that appeared on the spines in favour of a simple, uniform style using Goudy Bold and Goudy Old Style (above). I also strengthened the logo and colour-coded them into four categories: blue for fiction, orange for non-fiction, green for science fiction and red for religion.
Left the original Fontana logo designed by Leslie Lawrence and John Constable in 1969 and right the strengthen version with colour coding introduced by me in 1974
William Collins Publishers was another of those environments filled with high academic achievers, many from Oxbridge universities. And then there was me with my one O-level from a secondary modern excuse for a school. But, by this time, I was a pretty adept chameleon and Collins became my second university. A perk of the firm was that, by default, you became a member of the delightful La Petit Club Français, just a few doors down from the Collins offices. What you have to know is that in the 1970s, there were still strict licensing laws in operation: pubs only opened from 12:00 to 14:40 and then again from 18:30 to 21:30. By contrast, licensed drinking clubs could serve alcohol from 15:00 to 23:00, and La Petit Club Français was such an establishment. On any given day, it was not unusual to find a large gaggle of Collins staff propping up the bar. It was a place where births, funerals, divorces and departures were discussed or celebrated and it was also the perfect venue for illicit affairs of the heart. With its crackling fire in the hearth, intimate lighting, weathered leather couches, an upright piano, constant flow of wine and an upstairs dining room serving food as variable as the weather, it was a sheer delight to be a member. They even celebrated Bastille Day and hung bunting across the road.
Freelance designer Ken Carroll became an extended part of the Fontana team. He could turn around work at an astonishing rate, and I would keep him topped up with covers to design.
By that time, we were great friends and pretty much inseparable. Along with our wives and children, we holidayed in the Dordogne area of France. Ken’s wife Sue was a friend of the designer Jim Northover (of design consultancy Lloyd Northover), who owned a charming farmhouse there. So, we spent, as I recall, a boiling couple of weeks there, trying to avoid the blistering sun.
The Dordogne, France 1975. From Lto R: Sue Carroll, Joe Dempsey. Ken Carroll (holding Oliver Carroll), Ben Dempsey, Daisy Dempsey and Margaret Dempsey.
Ken and I had a bit of a passion for enamelled signs, and France was littered with them. Following a pleasant meal one evening, and after the children had been tucked up in bed and our respective wives were quietly chatting, we set about recording all of the colour combinations of enamelled signs.
Here is the original magic-marker drawing from that hot evening back in 1975. I can’t imagine why I have hung onto it all these years.
The kind of things that obsessive graphic designers do.
One of the Monday routines at Fontana involved me presenting and discussing future covers with Lady Collins, who presided over the religious list, which went under the imprint of Fountain. These were no conventional meetings. Sir William and Lady Collins had a large flat within the house where they stayed during the week, and at weekends they would decamp to their country pile. So, my meetings with her were in the flat. We’d always have tea and biscuits or even scones. She would preside perfectly centred on a squashy sofa with her two beloved pair of shih tzu dogs by her side, feeding them titbits. Between this, I would show her the roughs for the various covers, often with the dogs jumping all over me. She was an absolute delight, with that traditional British ability to appear positive even when delivering something negative, just as Mary Berry does on The Great British Bake Off. “Absolutely marvellous” was Lady C’s favourite phrase. And it was with her religious list that I was able to produce some really adventurous and beautiful work during my time there.
I continue to use many of the illustrators, designers and photographers that I’d commissioned while at Heinemann, but I would keep my ear to the ground for emerging talent. One day, a rather doe-eyed, baby-faced young man dropped by to show me his work. It was unusual because he presented his illustrations like cell animation stills. A black outline was drawn directly onto acetate and then the colours were blocked in on the reverse side, giving a completely flat, immaculate finish. The young man’s name was Brian Grimwood. Not only did I think he had great potential and immediately commission him but he also had already plotted out a five-year plan for his future. I’d never met such an organised individual. And, over the years that I knew him, his grand plan seemed to fall into place seamlessly. This is the first commission I gave him:
And below is an illustration he did of me to accompany an interview I had with AoI magazine in 1975. I remember that hair well.
Strolling down St James’s Place was always a pleasure, especially on a bright spring morning. The railings outside of Collins would normally have a collection of ladies’ bicycles chained to them, mostly with wicker baskets attached to the handlebars. It all looked so civilised and middle class.
This was the publicity department outside of 14 St James’s Place. On this occasion to promote the launch of Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear paperback series. From left to right: William Fricker, Michael Cheyne, Michael Bond (Author), John (designer),sitting: Helen Ellis, Julia Bennet, Debbie Jarvis.
Walking through the entrance was rather like arriving at a classic English house. There was a grandfather clock gently ticking away, a dark oak Elizabethan coffer, oriental rugs and runners, paintings, glass-fronted cabinets lined with books and a seemingly random arrangement of classic armchairs covered in russet-coloured hopsack with scatter cushions. The lighting came from a variety of low lamps. This was the main reception and everything led off from here. So different from the clinical corporate interiors of publishers today, with their security barriers and lanyard plastic passes. Back then they really were publishing houses. One day, while strolling through the reception, I noticed a young woman sitting on a window seat. She was engrossed in a book. I recognised the cover as it had been produced while I was at Heinemann: Michael Holroyd’s biography of Lytton Strachey. The young woman of dark complexion and the jettiest of jet-black hair and looking very Bloomsbury-ish instantly fascinated me.
I was, and still am, ever the curious romantic. It turned out she was waiting for an interview. I didn’t know it then, but our paths would cross again. But more of that another time.
My films for 1975:
Barry Lyndon Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
The famous forward tracking zoom used in Steven Spielberg's Jaws
By 1975, pop music was becoming rather bland. I still remained faithful to Joni Mitchell and Sandy Denny, who I adored, but I drifted towards much more classical music. Little did I know that Alex McDowell, a young student at St Martin’s School of Art, was in charge of college entertainment, and had booked a new group to appear there. Their name was The Sex Pistols.
Related post: Fifty years on No. 12
The year: 1974
This is what was happening:
The first British television-savvy politician, Harold Wilson, was elected Prime Minister.
Professor Erno Rubik invented his 'Magic Cube'
Tom Baker became the fourth Dr Who in 1974
Alan Fletcher won a D&AD Gold with this Reuters gift.
“We’d like to offer you the job as Art Director of Fontana Paperbacks,” said the voice at the other end of the phone. Filled with excitement and the dread of having the task of telling Charles Pick, Managing Director of William Heinemann, that I was going to leave to join Collins’ paperback division. He simply said. “Oh well, at least they are in the family.” Both Heinemann and Collins had joint interests in Pan Books.
Roland Gant, Heinemann’s Editorial Director plus a wonderful mimic and raconteur, took me for a farewell lunch at The Garrick Club, a male-only haven for thespians and arty types. On arrival, the porter discreetly told me that I would have to wear a tie and produced a most inconguous specimen for me to put on. While standing at the bar, Roland said, “Oh look there’s Osbert.” (Osbert Lancaster was a well-known cartoonist at the time, and a rather short man.) I was taken aback as I’d always imagined him as a tall, elegant figure, like the many aristocratic characters depicted in his cartoons. In a nervous moment, I was about to splutter, “I didn’t realise you were so short” (yes, I really was), until I felt a sharp prod in the ribs from Roland, who’s antenna was up. I quickly changed it to “I would have recognised you anywhere.” I was still socially inept in certain circumstances.
Osbert Lancaster's Illustration for the cover of The Kindly Ones
At the time, lunch was served at The Garrick at long, refectory-style tables with large jugs of water placed at regular intervals. A bevy of what I recall as dinner lady types provided the service. I realised very quickly that many of these London clubs were simply extensions of public school environments with their porters and servers.
Above the last catalogue I designed for the World's Work children's list for '74
For the last months of my time at Heinemann, I had a new secretary in the shape of Penny Waldmann, daughter of some property tycoon or other. After working out my notice, I walked ten minutes away from my familiar Mayfair environment to the equally exclusive address of St James’s Place, where William Collins & Sons was located in a charming Georgian house.
The home of William Collins & Sons and Fontana Paperbacks and also my new home for the next happy 5 years, way up at the very top of the building.
Once more, the studio was right at the very top of the building, in what would have been the maids’ quarters.
On my arrival, I found a two-roomed studio painted entirely in matte black. It was dark and depressing; apparently, the previous Art Director, John Constable, rather liked the gloomy atmosphere. This was exacerbated by the fact that Britain was plunged into a three-day week due to industrial action, and the electricity supply was cut off each day at 4pm, when everyone had to work with the aid of candles or Tilley lamps.
Illuminated by gaslight during the industrial dispute of '74.
It created a wartime spirit and miraculously, everything still got done in those analogue days – God knows what would happen now.
Within weeks, I’d had the whole studio repainted white throughout, with a mid-grey lino floor and two spacious plan chests. I had also inherited a secretary – who I seem to recall was the stepdaughter of the wartime flying hero Douglas Barder – and a young Anglo-Polish designer called Tad Aronovitch. It is always tricky inheriting assistants from another regime – a lot of suspicion and judging goes on in the background. I actually needed two assistants, so the call went out and, a week or so later, I hired a charming young college leaver called Bill Jones. So now there were four in my new tight-knit ship.
The Fontana team. From the top me, Bill, Rosmary (who replaced Douglas Barder's step daughter) and Tad, on the roof of 14 St James's Place in the summer of 1974.
Fontana had a much larger list to deal with: almost 500 titles per year. The list was very varied: extremely commercial at one end and highly intellectual at the other. I had a secret agenda to transform the look of Fontana Paperbacks to rival Penguin. Even though a large part of the list was escapist airport fodder, I decided that if they had to look commercial, I would still care about all the elements that made up the covers.
Nothing to write home about but this was the very first Fontana cover I designed on my maiden day there. Film tie in covers were common and turned around very fast. This is an example of me with my 'commercial' hat on. There would be a lot more of that over the next 4 years.
My immediate boss and the person who hired me was Mark Collins, the youngest of the Collins publishing dynasty. He was a bespectacled, gangly, ungainly character with a rather disarming, boyish shyness. He inhabited an unbelievably messy office with manuscripts piled high and covering most of the floor. It also had a large double-sided partners desk sitting in the middle, with every drawer filled to the brim.
My first few months were spent gaining familiarity with the list of authors, genres and the increased volume of work. I very quickly introduced a uniformed typographical style to the spines. And I pulled in many of the designers and illustrators who I had used at Heinemann along with some new finds, and I set course to hopefully make some waves.
My Film for 1974:
Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather II
My Job for that year:
Related post: Fifty years on No. 11
This is Ben Shahn’s 1964 hardback book to memorialize John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Originally a poem by Wendell Berry published in The Nation magazine 4 days after Kennedy’s assassination. Shahn’s beautiful hand lettering has a sense of poignancy for such a tragedy.
Images via Jennifer Kennard’s excellent blog
The 50th anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis and the reading of his The Screwtape Letters on Radio 4 this week makes for perfect synchronicity with the illustrator I want to celebrate, and not just me. The Royal Society of Arts (RSA) will honour Tony Meeuwissen with Royal Designer for Industry at their annual awards next week.
Above a selection from the Fontana C.S. Lewis paperback series that Tony Meeuwissen designed for me in 1974.
Back in the 1970s, when I was art director of Fontana paperbacks, I commissioned Tony to design many paperback covers. This included a series for C.S. Lewis, which Tony executed with his usual brilliant attention to detail and conceptual brilliance.
Born in 1938, Tony Meeuwissen has been quietly beavering away since the mid-1950s. Over the decades, he has been responsible for some of the most staggeringly beautiful work ever produced: work that has constantly won awards, accolades and praise along the way. He is a modest, obsessive worker, spending three to four years on single-book projects.
Alan Fletcher once said that there are few real mavericks in our business. Well, Tony Meeuwissen is just that: a true maverick. His work is always inventive, intensely detailed and full of wit and beauty. On becoming a freelance illustrator in the late ‘60s, Meeuwissen worked for a range of clients, including Radio Times, The Sunday Times magazine, Penguin Books, Fontana and Music Sales. He also created the cover artwork for the classic Rolling Stones album Their Satanic Majesties Request.
Centre lable for Transtalantic records 1972
Tony is not only an exceptional illustrator but he also has the mind of a designer. His work is infused with inventive ideas and wit, always breathtakingly realised through his gift of supreme craftsmanship.
This excellence has earned him two D&AD silver awards and two of the much-coveted D&AD gold awards; he is the only illustrator to have achieved that. He has also received a V&A book illustration award. His work is in their permanent collection.
Above from The Key to the Kingdom 1993
Meeuwissen has also produced his own books: the children’s titles The Witch’s Hat, Remarkable Animals, Flip-O-Storic and The Key to the Kingdom, which is a book and set of beautifully realised ‘transformation’ playing cards that took him three years to complete.
David Pelham, Penguin Books’ art director from the late 1960s to the late ‘70s, recalls: “On first meeting him it quickly became apparent that, armed as he was with a singular and quite remarkable illustrative technique, he was a keen reader with a sharp insight, able to absorb the essence of a book and to consequently define it with a strong and relevant image. Few have the ability to convey a notion from the mind’s eye to the drawing board with such clarity, originality and wit as Tony.”
Royal Mail Weather stamps 2001
Royal Mail Greetings stamps 1991
He has also produced a number of stamps for Royal Mail, one of which was voted the world’s most beautiful stamp. Now age 75, he shows no sign of retiring and is in the middle of another lengthy book project.
Tony Meeuwissen has spent his life demonstrating an extraordinary level of craftsmanship. All produced by hand, without the aid of digital technology.
He is an inspiration to anyone wanting to understand the hand-and-eye craft that is being lost in this digital age. And, what’s more, he never went to art school and learned his craft the old way of working in many long gone ‘commercial art’ studios in the mid 1950's, climbing his way up in a bygone era.
The main bulk of his output has been in the promotion of literacy through not only the many covers he has produced but also his own book projects for children, which have engaged and enchanted many young readers to look deeply into his work, where they are richly rewarded. His work educates, illuminates and delights through its breath-taking beauty and unsurpassed skill.
Now that’s what I call a contribution to society, and it is truly fitting that he should be honoured as a Royal Designer for Industry.
Long may he continue.
This is David Pelham...
He presided over Penguin book covers as their Art Director (following on from wild child Alan Aldridge) from 1968 to 1979. Not only did he commission some wonderful artists and designers but he was an exceptional talent in his own right as a designer…
The Above Kites won Pelham a D&AD Silver Award
And also as an illustrator, producing a run of immaculately airbrushed illustrations for a verity of Penguin’s science fiction covers. Here are a few of my favourites…
He left penguin in the late ‘70s after the erosion of the Penguin design aesthetic brought about by Peter Mayer, who shook the company up and in the process made it profitable but threw out its soul. Pelham worked for a short-lived spell at Pentagram Design, after which he concentrated on his own publishing projects, specialising in innovative pop-up books.
The Human Body by David Pelham and Jonathan Miller was a great pop-up book success.
This late 1940’s cover for an RAF information booklet has such a Boy’s Own Paper persuasive feel. The dreamy look on the face of the clean cut young man, and the exciting world of flying laid out in the background must have seduced many to pick up a pen to fill out the application form. Such innocent days.
There was a spate of IRA bombings during 1973. This one was at the Old Bailey in London
The first mobile phone was introduced
Noël Coward, English composer and playwright, died
The album cover for Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon designed by Stom Thorgerson and illustraed by George Hardie
Peter Shaffer’s Equus was on at the National Theatre. It was advertised with this striking poster designed by Moura-George/Briggs, with illustration by Gilbert Lesser
Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? was first screened on the BBC
The annual Pirelli Calendar was attempting to become artistically respectable
by allying itself with the artist Allen Jones, but to many it was just more
exploitative material to hang on garage walls
The poet W.H. Auden died
The cover of the 1973 D&AD Annual illustrated by the brilliant Tony Meeuwiessen
By 1973, I was beginning to get itchy feet. What to do next? I had got my life at Heinemann running like clockwork and I wanted/needed a new challenge. I knew that I’d have to put feelers out to get it.
I’d moved house by this time, but still miles out of London in Essex. And this is a happy family snap, now all 5 five us.
Me and my then wife Margaret with our twin sons, Joe, Ben and daughter Polly
A big responsibility for a 29-year-old.
Back tucked away in my top-floor office/studio in Mayfair, Marie Clair (my secretary) and I would busy ourselves drinking coffee and checking out what was on at the Curzon Mayfair: the most stylish cinema in town at the time. Starting that week was Don’t Look Now directed by Nicholas Roeg. I had seen his first film Performance and rated it highly. I knew nothing about this new one.
The opening of Don't Look Now
We slipped out one afternoon to the Curzon and settled back into the comfy seats engulfed in the intimate darkness. And very dark it was. I was completely overwhelmed by the film’s inventiveness: its imaginative use of editing, camerawork and sound design and its ability to profoundly disturb. I had never seen flash-forwards in a film until that moment. I came out of the cinema shattered and exhilarated in equal measures.
The closing sequence of Don't Look Now
I was straight on the phone to Ken Carroll to tell him he just had to see it. We spent many animated hours chatting about every frame of Roeg’s masterpiece.
By this time, Ken and I had become inseparable: talking on the phone most days, visiting each other’s homes and planning a holiday for the following year. Ken and his then wife Sue had just moved from Camden to Tulse Hill, South London, and he had turned one of the bedrooms into a studio. He had moved out of a shared studio space in Floral Street, Covent Garden, in the building occupied by Rodney Kinsman’s OMK Furniture. This was when Covent Garden was still a working fruit market and rents were cheap.
Covent Garden in 1973: a year before it moved to Nine Elms
Michael Farrell, Keith Davies, John Gorham and John McConnell all worked out of the same building. At the time, John McConnell was doing a lot of work for A&M Records and the company’s art director was Michael Doud, who was commissioning a lot of London designers. I managed to get a few commissions from him. This was for The Ozark Mountain Daredevils.
My album cover design for The Ozark Mountain Dare Devils
It is very much routed in that ‘70s eclectic period, when anything and everything was valid. McConnell was also producing some wonderful work for the photo-setting company Face, which I think he had an interest in. He would often collaborate with John Gorham, who would generally surpass everyone with his astonishing ability to do everything perfectly.
As the year drew to a close, a job opportunity came up advertised in The Bookseller: ‘Art Director wanted for Fontana Paperbacks’. It was to become another important step in my meandering design journey.
My Albums for 1973:
William Friedkin’s The Exorcist caused a mild sensation, with help from Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (below) as part of the soundtrack
In addition to it's disturbing quality Don’t Look Now, containing one of the most graphic sex scenes hitherto shown in mainstream British cinema, was released in a double bill with The Wicker Man (below) not a brilliant film at all but, all these years on, now has a cult following.
My own bookjacket design for 1973...