One of the nice things about writing this blog is the chance encounter that occasionally pops up. In 2013, I wrote a short piece about the death of Tom Wolsey, the art director of the influential sixties British magazine Town.
Photographed by Bob Brooks 1927 – 2012
Serendipity intervened, and I had two connections with Wolsey coming from different worlds.
The long-time and award-winning advertising agency art director Dave Dye told me that he had made a bunch of scans from Town while hunting stories on 1960s photographers. He wanted to know if I would like some.
You bet I did.
And I share them with you here along with the names of a few of the astonishing photographers that were commissioned by Wolsey for Town.
Photographer Peter Knapp (1932 –) top spread, on the shoot for the 1966 Pirelli calendar which was designed and art directed by Colin Forbes while at Fletcher/Forbes/Gill
Photographs by William Klein (1928 - ) for an article on prisons.
Photographed by Brian Duffy 1933 – 2010
René Burri 1933 – 2014
Frank Horvat 1928 –
Art Kane (1925 –1995)
Photographed by Brian Duffy 1933 – 2010
Then, unexpectedly, David Wills, who turned out to be an assistant of Wolsey’s at Town magazine in 1963/4, contacted me.
Photograph by Saul Leiter 1923 -2013
So, this post compliments that 2013 post, Tom Wolsey: My Kind of Town. Link at the foot of this post.
I asked David Wills to give me a feel of what it was like working for Tom Wolsey and on the magazine itself back in those heady days of ‘swinging London’…
“I very much agree with your summation of his talents; his visual puns and graphic ideas were put into practice with his wonderful sense of space. It was an honour and an education working with him. I think a lot of his ideas were formed from studying with Lyonel Feininger (1871–1956, the German-American expressionist painter) in Chicago.
But I doubt he’d be a very convivial ad agency pro, even though he had plenty of experience – he was not the most accommodating person and would have been loath to bend or compromise his considerable and strong opinions, which would have been defended with gusto verging on violence. (Ed: Wolsey moved to New York in 1972, where he worked for advertising agencies Ogilvy, Scali and Ally & Gargano winning many awards).
As for working with him, he was a man of few words and great vehemence in demanding that his instructions were to be carried out exactly as ordered.
‘You vill do as I say!’ was yelled in his strong German-accented English, which Peter Sellers used as the model for Dr Strangelove. He scared me straight.
His small studio next to mine in the bland offices near Marble Arch was orderly and decorated with a big letter T in a roman face.
I think he may have had a girlfriend, but no one ever saw her. He was not a very likeable person.
Wolsey’s right-hand man, the production manager DLC (Dennis Curtis), was the intermediary between Tom and I, so much of my interaction was with DLC – who was even more unpleasant...
Mostly, my job was to translate Tom’s rough layouts into printers’ instructions, drawing the pages in detail, fitting the text and masking the photographs, which for the black and white was done in the most barbaric fashion considering the value now of the prints – the area to be reproduced was indicated by gluing paper masks with rubber cement directly on the prints. The area to be filled with the black and white was indicated on the layouts as a drawing that I’d trace in the Lucie (Studio Camera Lucida).
The colour transparencies were enlarged on the Lucie as drawings, and black and white prints were made at the process house to size and masked in situ on the layouts.
Town had at the time the only font of Helvetica in the country – specially ordered from Haas in 72pt. So any headline had to be cut up, letter spaced, close not touching with kerning, then photographed to size at the process house, with the repro print marked up for reproduction. (Oddly, I think the movie, which I have not seen, featuring the typeface Helvetica made no mention of Tom’s considerable – indeed singular – contribution to the popularity of the face.)
Because Town was printed letterpress on a machine that printed 16 pages at a time, we would proof each sheet, with me marking corrections (especially any rule borders that did not join precisely at the corners).
Tom and DLC would correct the colour. Since it was letterpress, each colour would have its own zinc plate nailed on type-high wood, so it was a considerable expense to make any adjustments! Black was printed last while the underlying inks were still wet to achieve the rich colour that made Town’s colour reproduction so vibrant and rich.
Front and inside cover of this Christmas edition of Town featuring Len Deighton, cookery writer and illustrator turned novelist (The Ipcress File had just been made into a successful film) here with Pattie Boyd (Later to become George Harrison's wife )
One time singer (now actor) Mike Sarne famous for his 1962 hit Come Outside, seen here decked out in a £35 guineas grey flannel braided blazer suit from the Carnaby Street's sartorial go to John Michael.
Tom had quite an influence on the men’s fashion aesthetic, and I once heard him say that he was personally responsible for the popularity of striped shirts in the 60s.
I'm sure there is a whole lot more to say, but that's what I got right now "
Thank you, David. A fascinating insight into another time and place. And if he recalls more on his days at Town, you’ll see it here.
During Dave Dye's reserch he found this letter to Tom Wolsey inside a copy of Town.
And a big thank you to Dave Dye for supplying the wonderful images. Dave has a terrific resource blog on 20th-century advertising greats. take a look here.
Link to the original Wolsey post here.