1976 was a very memorable year for me via a fantastic opportunity.
It started with a meeting at The Plough pub in Museum Street, London. Through a wispy haze of blue cigarette smoke sat the slender figure of Alan Aldridge, who was adding to the lingering smoke. He had contacted me to talk about the possibility of collaborating on a book together. He’d long moved on from his Penguin and Beatles period. At the time, he was having considerable success with his The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast books and was working on an animated film version. He had also designed the album cover for Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy and was developing the idea for an animated version of that too, so he was a very busy bee – or should I say butterfly.
The book Alan had in mind was to celebrate the work of Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s lyricist. It was to be called The One Who Writes the Words for Elton John and would contain all of Taupin’s lyrics. These would be accompanied by individual illustrations to visually express each song. Alan had a list of people from the pop world that he was going to commission, from John Lennon to Ronnie Wood. Most of these were in black and white so, I opted to make the whole book monotone.
It was to be my task to select and commission from the world of illustration and photography, as well as design and art direct the book – no pressure there then. In the event, my collaboration with Alan was minimal: I only saw him twice before he disappeared to America. And so, I was left to my own devices. Much later l discovered that Alan was living it up in Barbados with Bernie Taupin on sex,drugs and rock n' roll under the guise of writing the script for the Captain Fantastic film.
Eventually, I pulled it all together thanks to the many illustrators and photographers who kept to the very tight deadline. The book was really a present from Dick James, Elton and Bernie's music publisher, and he made sure that it was sold out before publication by apparently buying the lot. So it was reprinted before publication.
Flicking through the book now, 40 years on, I am amazed at the talent involved. Here is a sampling ...
Cover illustration by Alan Aldridge and Harry Willock
In 2008 I met up with Alan Aldridge to interview him about his major contribution to Brtish Graphics and illustration and his very eventful life along the way.
He had travelled from his home in Los Angeles to attend the opening of a retrospective of his work and the publication of, The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes . So as if by magic let's revisit that warm summer afternoon at Aldridge's daughter's flat in Notting Hill...
Sunday Times cover 1965
Poster How would you paint your own wife by Alan Aldridge 1967
Just a fraction of the many Penguin covers designed by Aldridge during his Art Directorship.
Chelsea Girls poster 1966
The Who A Quick One album cover 1966
From The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics 1969
Above Heinz Edelman's work for Twen magazine.
From The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics 1969
Elton John, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy album cover 1975
Alan Aldridge in 2008
The book I collaborated on with Alan Aldridge in 1975
The above article originally appeared in Varoom magazine in 2008 to compliment the publication of Alan Aldridge's book and exhibition, The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes.
"Meticulous, professional, serious and educational".
This described the visual aesthetic of Radio Times as laid down by John Reith, Eric Gill and Eric Fraser back in the 1920's.
In 2011, I wrote a celebratory piece on the golden days of Radio Times. I also attack the disintegration of the magazine's intelligence, wit, creativity, beauty and educational stance since the departure in 1981 of its most outstanding Art Director, David Driver.
From that point, the magazine went into a slow decline to be transformed into a dumbed-down, 'me-too' version of the trashiest listing magazines it accompanies on the newsstands.
Long gone is the unique gem that was Radio Times. My piece was praised and attacked by all quarters, including former staff of the RT and the whole jolly thread is faithfully recorded in the comments section below the original post. (Link at the foot of this post).
I am reviving the topic because I stumbled on a BBC radio player archived programme The Art of Radio Times. It was made in 2013 to coincided with the magazine's 90th anniversary. Enthusiastically and intelligently presented by broadcaster Peter Day he explored the remarkable graphic heritage left behind that began in 1923. Day talks to David Driver, Illustrator/political cartoonist Peter Brookes, early RT contributor Val Biro and Chris Beetles, illustration collector and gallerist along with some terrific archive recordings of many contributors.
Day also asked RT's current editor, Ben Preston, if RT's artistic legacy is still alive? I leave you to decide if you agree with his response.
Spot the difference.
Asked why I am so upset by RT's presentation since David Driver's departure back in 1981? I'll answer that by quoting Peter Brookes from the above programme, "There was nothing else like it". That is what I and many others still lament the passing of.
Back in 1977, Milton Glaser was doodling an idea in the back of a New Your taxi.
It was the genesis of what would become the most recognised and plagiarised logo in graphic history. 25 years on Art critic Alastair Sooke packed his bags and set off to New York to get the full story behind this iconic logo.
I picked up these little gems from the local Co-op's free charity box of second-hand books. All were published by Penguin in the 1950's. They follow Jan Tschichold's rigorous 1940's restyling for Penguin.
Tschichold was one of the pioneers of the German functionalist 'New Typography' movement in the 1920's. However he later completely revised his view on typography and embrace what he termed, 'New Traditionalism' using a mix of classic serif typefaces in a centred configuration, employing decorative borders and repeated patterned backgrounds, all far removed from the clinical severity of his former work.
So many designers get locked into a particular typographical style, seemingly afraid to ever change, like the ageing pop stars who refuses to ditch their 70's mullet hair styles. Not so for Tschichold, thank goodness, who left us with this perfect, quintessentially English understated style of grace and elegance. I can't imagine them in any other way.
I stumbled on this charming collection of books in a local charity shop.
They were published by William Collins during the second world war when paper was rationed.
The first one I opened was published in 1944, the very same year I was born. I held in my hand thinking we are the same age. I love these coincidences Even with the paper shortages Collins managed to publish 50 odd titles in the series called, Britain in Pictures. I love their directness and one colour simplicity.
Of the many things I’ve seen and heard this year, the following, in my view, are the best, with a few of the worst that really infuriated me.
The Icelandic noir crime series Trapped was one of the better crime productions, not only for its creepy storyline but also for the wonderful, relentless, snow-swept locations.
Happy Valley. Series 2 was as magnificent as the first series, with consistently outstanding writing from Sally Wainwright and wonderful performances from the entire cast, especially Sarah Lancashire.
Fleabag. An amazingly revealing and original series from writer and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge. It is funny, edgy and very moving.
Going Forward. Another outstanding writer/comedian is Jo Brand, and Going Forward was funny and touching in equal measures.
Joachim Lafosse’s, L'Économie du Couple (After Love). An intense observation of a marriage breakdown performed with utter commitment by the film’s two leads Bérénice Bejo and Cédric Kahn. More
20th Century Women is set in Santa Barbara in the late ’70s and focuses on Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening), a wonderfully eccentric single mother and divorcée living in a dilapidated but charmingly eclectic house where she lets two rooms to help make ends meet in order to bring up her son as a decent human being, with much angst and hilarity on the way. Written and directed by ex-graphic designer Mike Mills, whose earlier film Beginners was a delight too. More
I, Daniel Blake is Ken Loach’s precisely targeted indictment of our welfare state. It is Loach at his very best. More
Following A Single Man, director Tom Ford follows up with Nocturnal Animals and proves that he is to be taken seriously in this nearly perfect thriller. More
Manchester by the Sea. An incredibly powerful and moving story of loss, with an Oscar-deserving performance from lead Casey Affleck.
Ethel and Ernest. The story of Raymond Briggs’ young life. Despite it being an animated film, it pulls no punches. Humorous, beautiful, moving and tragic. Watch it
Yerma. The Young Vic restaging of Federico Garcia Lorca’s 1934 tragic masterpiece ‘Yerma’, reset in 21st-century hip London society. With two standout performances from Billie Piper (in the main role as ‘Yerma’) and Brendan Cowell as her husband. More
The Almeida’s stunningly brilliant production of Uncle Vanya. Imaginatively staged and directed by Robert Icke, with a wonderful cast headed by Paul Rhys.
The Switch House Tate. One of the most inhospitable, dismal architectural experiences of 2016. Bleak and cold, with no attempt to create an uplifting experience for the visitor. More
Two diabolical rebrands appeared on the scene. First was the hideous Addison Lee courier and car service. It could have been so good in the right hands.
British Steel introduced a shamefully embarrassing new identity, as opposed to reintroducing David Gentleman’s perfectly thought-out original.
But there was a welcomed and brave move in accepting that an earlier logo from the 1960s still works perfectly. Sean Perkins at North resurrected the baby from the bathwater of the ill-judged Co-operative rebrand of a few years ago.
Nat West's so-called "gentle evolution" of their logo by making what was originally simple complicated. It will be hardly noticed by most but will cost many millions to implement. Such is the insulting disregard that banks have for the public's view of them. More
This is graphic design at its very best: simple, meaningful, intelligent and witty. Created by Paula Scher at Pentagram NYC for The Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada.
2016 saw another group of inept ‘fine art’ collection of posters, this time for the Rio Olympics. Repeating the dreadful mistake of the 2012 UK Olympics with equally dreadful posters, again headed by Tracey Emin. An insult to all serious poster designers. More
A Life in Letterpress. Alan Kitching’s life work in print. A doorstopper of a book, beautifully illustrated.
Nobrow has published the graphic novel, Audubon that centres on explorer John James Audubon’s ornithological quest across America during the 19th century. Written by Fabien Grolleau and sensitively illustrated by Jérémie Royer.
Wales’ Christmas drink-driving campaign, by the Cardiff- based agency Bluegg, underlines the tragic loss of a loved one on Christmas Day.
The Royal Academy of Arts, Abstract Expressionism exhibition was an absolute joy but rather too crowded.
Agatha Christie: An intriguing series of six stamps designed by Jim Sutherland and Neil Webb, complete with hidden clues.
The wonderfully pure Wes Anderson envisioned Christmas train trip for H&M. Watch it
Florian Zeller’s award-winning stage play The Father, translated by Christopher Hampton for BBC Radio 3. Centred on a man disappearing into the world of dementia. With a moving performance from Kenneth Cranham.
Barney Rosset, creator of the Evergreen Review in 1957 (right) with Samual Beckett in the 70's.
In its original paperback form.
The Evergreen Review was a US based literary magazine founded by Barney Rosset, publisher of the Grove Press. It first appeared in 1957, as a quarterly trade paperback, a little like Britain's Granta. Over the early period, Evergreen featured notables like Jean-Paul Sartre, Samuel Beckett, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.
This cover from 1965 clearly inspired Annie Leibovitz with her 1981 Lennon Ono Rolling Stone cover.
During the sixties, Evergreen blossomed and was often ahead of the pack in featuring features writers like Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman and continuing the regular association with Kerouac, Mailer, Beckett, and Burroughs.
Sex and art were recurring themes in Evergreen and by the late 1960's it change to a large, glossy magazine format and switched from a quarterly to bimonthly eventually attaining a circulation of 1000,000. The Evergreen Review ceased publication in 1973.
As can be seen by the covers featured above, all from the 60's, the graphic style is very much of the period with lots of exposed flesh, as always mostly women. But there were also illustration commissions by some notable illustrators among them Paul Davies, Robert Crumb and Tomi Ungerer. In the late 1960's the masthead and editorial layout were redesigned, followed by another revamp in the 70's when the overall production became more sophisticated.
Although the original Evergreen Review ceased publication in 1973, the magazine was revived in 1998 in an online edition edited by founder Barney Rosset and Astrid Rosset.