What is clear from the 1950s was the continual fruitful connection made between graphic designers and fine artists, with the former often producing posters and catalogues and the latter giving a different visual take on the world, fuelling the minds of the graphic designers.
In 1960, a group of former RCA students (Alan Fletcher, Romek Marber, John Sewell, Denis Bailey and David Collins) were part of an exhibition called Twelve Graphic Designers. It was staged at the Time & Life Building off Bond Street and was the first time that a new British sensibility in graphics had been seriously exhibited. It was the catalyst of what was to become D&AD a couple of years later.
By 1961, Guyatt had relaxed his tight grip on tutors and had sanctioned FKH Henrion, Anthony Froshaug, the younger George Daulby and Larry Carter, among others, who brought with them a modernist approach to graphics. By this time, even Darwin’s pet hate, photography, had been embraced, with Geoffrey Ireland heading up a new department. There was also a television design department, run by George Haslam.
Darwin’s collection of friends within the industry meant that many students were often snapped up on graduation or found commissions. Ex-RCA students found their way into the BBC (John Sewell was the first graphic designer to be employed by the BBC to take charge of on-screen graphics, followed by Bernard Lodge and Douglas Merritt).
The title sequence for Dr Who designed by Bernard Lodge in 1963.
Another port of call for RCA graduates was with Shell’s Jack Beddlington, who was in charge of commissioning advertisements and posters. He was part of Darwin’s clan and another Tory anti-modernist. He regularly drew on the talents of John Betjeman and Nikolaus Pevsner, both dedicated lovers of Victoriana and thus proponents of Darwin’s view of the world.
One of a number of David Gentleman’s projects that he illustrated for Shell
But Beddlington was a good prospect for both students and graduates to earn money, as was Penguin Books. An astonishing number of 1960s RCA graphic designers and illustrators were commissioned by Penguin Books: David Gentleman, Dennis Bailey, Alan Fletcher, Quentin Blake, Len Deighton, John Sewell, Peter Blake, Ken Sequin, Larry Carter, Michael Foreman and Romek Marber.
Designed by Dennis Bailey 1958.
Designed by John Sewell 1963
Designed by Romek Marber 1963
Ane arly Alan Fletcher Penguin cover left and right with Fletcher/Forbes/Gill 1961/63.
Outside of ARK, there were many sought-after posters to design for the various RCA clubs, like the drama society, the film club and the jazz club. In addition, there were lectures and exhibitions to be publicised. It is through these posters that one can get a real sense of the stylistic struggles that permeated the college throughout the 1950s. But designers Gordon Moore, Michael Foreman, Stephen Abis, Ken Sequin, Freire Wright, Neil Godfrey, Bryan Denyer, John Fenton Brown, Bryan Haynes, Billy Apple and Wendy Coates-Smith demonstrated their prowess in projecting the college in a more modernist light, often with a perfect fusion of American style and Swiss typographical crispness.
Spread from Michael Foreman’s award winning illustrated children’s book The General 1961.
Poster for the RCA Film Society designed by John Fenton Brown 1963
Poster for the RCA Film Society designed by Brian Denyer 1963
Poster celebrating 15 years of graphics at RCA designed by Thelma Roscoe 1963.
By 1960, the old stranglehold had been broken: Britain was changing, and many ex-RCA students were now spreading to the outside world of advertising, magazines and television. Through graphics, they were expressing the beginnings of what was to become the Swinging Sixties. By 1963, graphic design in London was becoming so good that the impact of ARK magazine was subsiding, whereas it had led the way a little earlier. Darwin commented on the magazine towards the end of his reign: “What is significant is that the more generally unintelligible ARK becomes… the better it sells. Vitality is indeed an attraction in itself!”
The last batch of students to enter the RCA in 1963 covered in this introduction had a significant impact on the newly formed graphic design scene, represented by the growing influence of D&AD. In 1966, when those last students graduated, 11 pieces of work appeared in the first three very slim and monotone D&AD annuals. Among the RCA alumni were John Fenton Brown, Barrington Smith, Geoff Fowle, Derek Coutts, Charles Riddell, Robert McAulay, Freire Wright, John Tomlinson, David Chaston, Stephen Abis and Derek Holmes.
Derek Holmes formed Churchill/Holmes/Kitley. This book jacket from 1965 designed by the group had lenticular device of lips opening and closing adhered to each cover.
I would single out three design collectives that were formed after leaving the college at this time. Abis/Stribley/Sida produced some wonderfully clean and inventive graphic work very much on par with Fletcher/Forbes/Gill, but they split within a year. Stephen Abis joined Panther Books as its art director, where he had a considerable impact on the publishing scene, commissioning masses of the very best British creative talent. Derek Holmes formed Churchill/Holmes/Kitley, another highly creative design group that lasted only a few years but in that time produced some stunningly original work, especially in the publishing arena. Lastly, George Daulby (who was a tutor at the college in 1959–60), along with Derek Birdsall, George Mayhew and Peter Wildbur, formed BDMW Associates. This was another short-lived but wonderful design collective that was responsible for some sublimely timeless work.
One more 1963 RCA student graduating in 1966 was Gert Dumbar. He returned to Holland and was to resurface in the 1980s as Studio Dunbar with work that had a major impact on the graphic scene and echoed around the globe.
Poster to celebrate the RCA's move to Kensington Gore (above) in 1963.
By 1963, the Swinging Sixties had arrived, along with music from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Who. Young documentary-style photographers David Bailey, Brian Duffy and Terence Donovan surfaced (proving Darwin wrong in his assessment of the power of photography). The leading models were Jean Shrimpton, Twiggy, Pattie Boyd and Celia Hammond.Fashionistas Mary Quant and Ossie Clark and tonsorial supremo Vidal Sassoon were having a great impact. Pirate radio challenged the BBC’s airwaves; satire mocked the political circles, with Gerald Scarfe viciously scratching his wicked caricatures at Private Eye.
Poster for RCA Convocation Ball designed by Neil Godfrey 1960. Godfrey went on to become a major creative force at the advertising agency Collett Dickens Pearce.
Peter Blake's The Beatles1963
Robyn Denny's graphic style painting from 1960 Baby is Three
David Hockney (centre) and friends outside the RCA in 1963.
Pop and op art was led by ex-RCA students Peter Blake, David Hockney, Robyn Denny, Richard Smith, Bridget Riley and Allen Jones, and there was an explosion in creative British advertising and graphics. The design scene in London had transformed into brilliant Technicolor. A great deal of this transformation was down to the many RCA students who doggedly pushed against the status quo during the 1950s to create a new graphic landscape that has endured ever since.
Part 1: Here
Part 2: Here