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Transcript of 'British Film Posters' podcast
My name's Sim and I collect film posters. I've collected film posters since I was a boy, starting when I was 13, back in 1980.
For a long time I bought them because I enjoyed them. I used to pin them on my wall and I liked looking at them. I moved to London about 12 years ago and I met one of the artists, a guy called Tom Chantrell, we'll talk about him in a bit. We got on pretty well, saw quite a bit of him and he told me quite a bit about his career which was really interesting. Went right back before the war.
It set me thinking that there was an interesting story about these posters I'd been acquiring for 20 years that had never been explored properly before. Most of the artists were anonymous. Most of them by that point were dead, barring a few of the younger lads.
When Tom died unexpectedly in 2001, I spoke at his funeral, which was a real privilege. Quite an emotional afternoon. That was the spark that set me to try and write a book. I tracked down all the artists that I could - printers, publicity men, advertising executives.
The book came out last June/December. It's Â£25 but it's well worth it! You can also get off Amazon now for about Â£14.
The talk I'm going to give now is a prÃ©cis. You can't possibly do justice to this subject in an hour. I'm going to give the edited highlights. If you want to know more, buy a copy of the book.
Let's see what we have.
The cinema started in this country in 1896. February 1896 there were a couple of scientific demonstrations in London that went very well. It was the first time that moving images had been projected. It was picked up very quickly by the music halls and the cinema in this country starts off in the music halls.
There were two big music halls on Leicester Square in London - the Empire and the Alhambra. The two guys who pioneered the technology - a British guy called Robert Paul and a pair of French brothers called Lumiere Brothers, set up in the two big London music halls. It kind of went from there.
That means that the first 15 years or so of British film posters are what are called 'letter-press bills'. In other words, there's no illustration. It's just a list of attractions at a particular music hall. This one is Bury St Edmonds. You've got a group called the Woellhafs, Fred and Marie. You've got Nina Hicks who is a second Gertie Gitana apparently. A bunch of music hall performers and about halfway down you can see pictures. 'Arson at sea’, ‘The rubber industry', 'Tontolini’s Breeches', ‘Calf Love’, 'Heart of an Indian Maid', 'Detective Fuzzle's Triumph', 'Torpedo Boat Firing', 'Tilly and the Smugglers'.
These are shorts, literally lasting a minute or two minutes each. Novelty shorts. For about 15 years this is the basic situation. They are being shown in musicals or fairground tents, a popular attraction. Sometimes travelling showmen would put on shows in town halls, community halls. Sometimes shops would be converted, they were called penny gaffs. They would be showing this kind of stuff.
That changes round about 1910. What happens in 1910? Various things start happening.
Firstly, you've got the first purpose-built cinemas being built. There's a lot of debate about what the first purpose-built cinema actually was. A possible candidate is The Phoenix in East Finchley London, but there are various contenders.
By this point, the films have developed, they are now what are called 'two-reelers'. A reel of film is about ten minutes, so a two-reeler is about twenty minutes long. The films are between 12 and 20 minutes.
When you've got that length of film you can start to develop some kind of narrative. The other thing that's happening which is important is the distribution and exhibition side of the business is starting to get organised. People are starting to build cinema chains, set up distribution companies to actually market these things.
A combination of those circumstances, purpose-built cinemas, longer films, distribution companies starting to muscle in, mean that they are starting to sell films on the basis of their stories. This is quite an important one 'Lieutenant Rose and the boxers'. This is the earliest surviving poster as far as I know for an individual film. It's from the BFI Archive, 1911. As you can see, Lieutenant Rose is stabbing a boxer.
'A Canine Sherlock Holmes'. This is about 1913 and the dog has obviously helped to solve the crime. These posters are what's called hand-drawn litho, which in a nutshell means we have no idea who the artist was. Someone would have designed this probably connected to the film company. Some kind of watercolour design would have been took up to the printing works, in this case Jordison, a printer up in Middlesbrough and craftsmen at the printing works would have copied that design onto the zinc printing plate with a waxy crayon. About 3 or 4 copies would have been taken of that and it would have been coloured in. You only need 4 colours to give the appearance of full colour. A yellow plate, a red plate, a blue plate and a black plate. You print them one on top of the other and you get what looks like full colour. Tones can be created by mixing the four inks.
So, it's hand-drawn litho, we've got no idea who designed it. It would probably be almost impossible to try and figure out who had done that. If you did track down the company records of Jordison at around 1913 you might, maybe, find some kind of list of craftsmen who were on the payroll. It would be hard work.
Charlie Chaplin. This is about 1915 and it's what's called a 'three-sheet'. It's a bigger poster, the two we've just previously seen were called 'one-sheets', about 40x27. This is about three one-sheets, about 80x40, roughly. It's actually illustration. The two black and white things are hand-drawn. They're sort of photo-realist. At first glance you might think they're photographs but they've been redrawn. It's a stock poster, on the far left you can just see an identical, very similar poster for another one of his films.
You would have a basic format and they would just change the stills and the title. It was cheap.
This is from 1923, 'Ten Commandments', Cecil B DeMille. This was printed by WE Berry, a very important printer up in Bradford. Had a lot of the work as the years went on.
This is 1926, 'A daughter in revolt', again printed by Jordison in Middlesbrough. A melodrama about a girl who switches places with an earl's daughter and is mixed up in a robbery in which she's not actually involved in. It's a farcical storyline, she has to escape on the pushbike at the back there. The design focuses on her legs which I'm sure we can all agree are very shapely indeed. They weren't afraid of selling films on the basis of sex even in the twenties.
'The Ghost Goes West'. This is 1935. This was printed by Waterlows, a company in London, important printers. It's still hand-drawn litho, so again the original design is utterly unknown. It would have been copied up at the printing works. Again that's a big tall three-sheet.
We're now into the mid-thirties. All the posters we've seen so far have been portrait aspect. In other words they are taller than they are wide. Why the hell does that matter? It does matter.
This is, as far as I know, the earliest surviving example of a poster called the 'quad crown'. Quad crown is a printers' term, it's short for quadruple crown. The crown is 15 x 20 so a quad crown is four crowns together to make a poster that is 40 inches wide and 30 inches high. That's very important because this became the standard format for British film posters. And that's important because in almost every other territory in the world film posters are portrait aspects and normally one-sheets, 27 by about 40 high.
British posters, because we're a contrary bunch over here, became landscape. What that meant was we could no longer import American posters and we could no longer easily adapt American designs. If you think about it it's quite tricky to adapt a design for portrait into a landscape portrait.
This suddenly frees up British commercial artists to start thinking in terms of designing posters for a British audience. They don't have to think 'Here comes another American poster, I'll just juggle it around a bit'. They can actually start doing their own thing.
Most of the posters we're going to look at now are quads and the quad is what differentiates British posters, what makes them unique. That's why they've gone off in quite interesting tangents compared to most of the posters around the world, all of which have their own interesting national identities. But the fact that we've been lumbered with a horizontal landscape format is really important for the history of these things.
Will Hay, 'The Goose Steps Out'. This is 1942, although I now think this is probably a reissue from about 1948, doesn't really matter. At this point we start to know a little bit more about the artists. This was painted by a guy called Dudley Pout, who undoubtedly had the best name of any British film poster artist ever, although unless you're from the Midlands you wouldn't know why.
Dudley Pout was actually from Kent. He was born in Herne Bay. His dad was a farmer and he went on to farm himself. He had several farms around Kent. He farmed cattle and shire horses, poultry. He also did commercial art and he worked a lot for United Artists, did some stuff for Ealing. The reason we know about him is because he wrote his autobiography a few years before he died - 1982 it was published and luckily there are copies still dotted around.
Otherwise Dudley Pout, along with probably dozens of his contemporaries would now be utterly unknown. I spent five years writing this book and if there is a way of getting hold of the names of some of the guys working in this period I've never figured it out. They are just forgotten. Unless they happened to make some effort to record their careers.
We're on to Ealing. Ealing deserves an hour to itself. We don't have an hour so I'll have to reduce it to just two posters which is not doing it justice. Ealing Studios hopefully need no introduction. Their films are a very distinctive body of work. They're known for the comedies but they made all kinds of stuff. Run by a guy called Michael Balcon, a very important producer. Balcon had a very middle class sensibility, very philanthropic sort of a guy, who wanted his company to represent everything that was best about Britain.
He was aspiring to do something a bit more intellectual and unusual than the run of the mill commercial posters. He had an art director called Sidney John Woods. His background's in futurism in the thirties. He would design posters and get other illustrators to do them.
This was designed by Sidney John Woods, illustrated by AR Thompson. It's a very striking image. It's not necessarily representative of the Ealing posters because a lot of them are a lot more intellectual and difficult than this. They weren't popular with the distributor. Rank didn't like the Ealing posters at all because they thought they were too bloody clever. They wanted something simple and basic to sell the films and often S John Woods would come out with the most bizarre designs that scarcely bore any resemblance to the films they were trying to sell.
This is another Ealing, 'Lady Killers', the last of the great black comedies from 1955. Design and illustration by Reginald Mount, worked a lot for Ealing, book jacket work. An important artist of his time. Ealing also employed people like Edward Bawden, Edward Ardizzone, Leslie Hurry. These were important contemporary artists, they weren't just hacks, Ealing would employ the most important leading artists of the day to do film posters. They were prepared to pay them more money. At this point before the war there wasn't much money in film posters. Film posters were generally looked down on as a very lowly branch of commercial art because the cinema was a popular entertainment.
If you want to see high-brow posters you'd be looking at the British Transport, London Transport travel posters which are incredibly groundbreaking and interesting. Film posters aren't really, they're usually lowest common denominator which is what you'd expect because you're trying to sell films to the masses.
This isn't Ealing although it's in Ealing's tradition. This is Ronald Searle who did the St Trinian's cartoons and he also did the film posters. That's my copy which is why the corner's missing. A lot of my posters are in rough condition because I've never had much money to spend on them. A very lively bit of illustration.
'Saturday Night, Sunday Morning'. I've included that because I don't want to give a false impression. An awful lot of film posters were collaged photographic designs because that was just cheaper. Illustration was more expensive, but illustration that's interesting so I've only thrown one in there. Obviously a great classic of the British New Wave. Probably designed by Sidney John Woods from Ealing because the company Woodfall, Tony Richardson's company, we're pretty sure that he was employing S John Woods.
There's another one called 'The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner' that's definitely one of Woods' because he's signed it. This was is unsigned but it's such a similar style from the same period, same company, it's got to be in my opinion S John Woods.
Let's get down to absolute brass tacks. I'm going to talk about the artists now. The remainder of the stuff we're going to be based artist by artist. It's not really representative, it's the highlights. I really want to stress this.
This is an important guy, Tom Chantrell. He was born in Manchester in 1916, a gifted graphic artist right from school. He was doing stuff when he was five or six years old that is breathtaking and accomplished. He kept it all and it's fantastic. Cowboys and Indians scenes, all kinds of stuff.
He worked in Manchester briefly but he had a temper on him and got into a punch-up with his foreman so he had to move down to London. Worked as a silk screen printer for a year or two, learning how to print silk-screen posters. Eventually ended up at a company called Bateman Artists design studio. Bateman Artists were linked with an advertising agency called Allardyce Palmer and Allardyce Palmer had two big accounts - Warners and 20th Century Fox.
Tom's first poster, by his own account, was 'The Amazing Doctor Clitterhouse', from 1939. The poster doesn't survive. He was in bomb disposal during the war, he wouldn't fight - a conscientious objector. Survived that amazingly considering that in bomb disposal the life expectancy was about 10 days. He got through that, digging mines out of Sussex beaches. Went back to Bateman Artists after the war and started doing film posters.
He was very good at it. He had an instinctive feel for an eye-catching design. Technically a very accomplished painter. Not enormously versatile really. All of his posters are kind of generic but they're terrific. He is the artist that got me into collecting film posters although I didn't know it at the time.
That's one of Tom's - '1 Million BC' - a classic eye-catching design. Plenty of white space which is untypical for him. Raquel Welch is in a bikini. Great big pink title, you can't miss the title and that draws your eye into all the little dinosaurs rampaging round at the bottom there.
There he is being Dracula. Why is he being Dracula? This is for a Hammer film called 'Dracula Risen From The Grave'. Poster artists work from reference stills and on this occasion the reference stills didn't turn up in time so he was forced to take some pictures of himself looking frightening. There's the finished poster. As you can see that looks nothing like Christopher Lee at all because it's a minimally disguised self-portrait of himself as Dracula.
This happened a lot. I haven't got too many examples in the slides today although there are plenty in the book. They were always drawing themselves because it was quicker and easier.
'Star Wars'. That's probably his best known poster, from 1977. Obviously not too much needs saying about that except for the fact that Princess Leia is Shirley, his wife. He photographed her in his back garden holding a toy plastic sword with a Chinese dressing gown and just painted her in. So that is in fact Shirley Chantrell there on the right. He got a lot of money for that, the reason being that his standard fee at this point was about Â£250 which would be about three layouts. The distributor would choose the one they liked the best and from that one he would do the finished art.
He actually sold that artwork to America, Fox wanted it for their advertising which is why you see it everywhere. Fox bought the painting to get hold of the copyright and they paid him a one-off fee of Â£1200 which at the time he thought was really good money. In terms of what that image is worth now you couldn't put a price on it but back in 1977 he thought he'd done quite well.
This is one of Tom Chantrell's apprentices, Tom Beauvais. Tom Chantrell died in July 2001. Tom Beauvais is still around. He was born in 1932. Joined Bateman Artists at the end of the forties and did his own posters. A lovely bloke, really nice guy. This, I think, is a reference photo for something called 'A Man In Marrakesh' which is a James Bond rip-off from about 1965. They would hire a studio, a couple of lovely female models. They'd take loads of silly poses and pick one for the poster.
I don't have a copy of the poster but that pose is actually on the quad.
That's Tom Beauvais's best known poster 'Butch Cassidy'. I tend to think he probably only got that because Chantrell was on holiday. Chantrell usually got the plum jobs because he was the boss. He was the art director for the agency. The fact that Tom BOVAY got that probably means that Chantrell was just away for a few weeks. I could be wrong but that would be my guess. A good piece of work.
Tom Beauvais 's stuff is a bit static, he doesn't quite have Chantrell 's energy. He's a great painter, Tom, but slightly more static style.
Another apprentice, Ray Youngs. He joined the firm in 1960. Again, a really nice guy. Did lots of designing. He wouldn't do so much finished art he just did the layouts. Here you can see the background Poor Cow, Carol White, that was one of Ray's designs. Lots of photo montage posters.
There was a gang of about half a dozen people working in the Bateman Artists studio. The apprentice system worked as you can imagine it did. Ray started in 1960 and he would have just been a tea boy to start with. Mix up the paints. Wash out the water pots. Getting the lunch. Running round with cups of tea and sandwiches.
Eventually he'd start finishing off little jobs. Doing little bits of designing. Getting more into it, an old-fashioned apprenticeship situation.
That is designed by Tom Beauvais, illustration by Tom Chantrell. There was a problem with this poster. It was banned because it ripped off Fox's 'Cleopatra', which was by an American artist called Howard Terpning. In the original 'Cleopatra' poster you've got Liz Taylor on the divan, Richard Burton behind her and Rex Harrison on the left. So they did a pastiche, a parody. Fox were not remotely amused and sued them for copyright infringement. It was actually upheld in court which means they had to scrap that poster and use that. That's an overnight Ray Youngs job. Ray designed that in four or five hours, banged it together very quick. It's a silk screen print so it's just flat colours - orange, yellow and day-glo pink. They had to use that poster because the original was suppressed.
Here is another, Eric Pulford. A contemporary of Tom Chantrell. A similar sort of career but vastly more powerful. Vastly more influential. The reason I think was that Eric not only was a good artist, he was a hell of a shrewd businessman. Born in Leeds in 1915, again an apprentice in commercial art who was working for a firm called Format, who did engineering illustration for the war effort. He was doing 3d versions of blueprints.
One of the directors of Format was a part-time publicity manager for Rank called Leslie Whitchurch and he got Eric to start painting local posters for the Leeds cinemas. He was very good at it. By 1942, by which point Rank is really got a good grip of the British film industry. It owns the Gaumont chain, the Odeon chain. It's got General Film Distributors, it's got Denham studios, Pinewood Studios, the processing labs at Denham. Rank really had the British film industry stitched up by the end of the Second World War.
They got Eric down in 1942 to set up his own design studio called Pulford Publicity. This was in conjunction with an advertising agency that Rank got control of called Downton Advertising. Initially Eric was working for Downton doing posters. Very quickly got very successful. He was employing a whole bunch of people. Some of them we'll see in a few seconds.
In 1963 he was in a position financially to buy out the agency. He actually bought control of Downton Advertising which is a really unusual thing. Normally it's agencies who buy out design studios. For an artist to buy out a big London advertising agency, it doesn't happy very much. That put Eric in a position to really call the shots and he did.
He was designing most of the most important posters and he was controlling the other artists who did the other illustration.
I only met him once. He didn't have a lot to say for himself. Very tall, dour sort of bloke. All the people who worked for him respected him but he wasn't the kind of fella you would have gone for a drink with apparently. He kept himself to himself. Probably just very shy.
That's his wife Alma who is still around, I think she's 95 now. You wouldn't think so, you'd think she's in her sixties, an incredible ball of Yorkshire energy.
Eric did things like that, 'Oliver Twist', the classic David Lean version. He did a series of posters for that film, all of them fantastic pieces of work. 'Queen is Crowned', that's for the coronation, 1953 or maybe 52 I can't remember. That was one of his favourites, he liked it.
This is a guy who worked for Eric, that's John Stockle. John Stockle came onto the firm in about 1955. There was an agency called Dixons who had the Columbia and Disney accounts. John Stockle worked for them. In about 66 Eric bought called control of Dixons, he effectively took over Dixons, principally to get hold of the Columbia and Disney accounts. He also got John Stockle.
That's his last poster, 'White Mischief'. Another one, 'Watch it Sailor', a west end farce that was filmed by Hammer. He did a lot of that kind of stuff. He was influenced by a cartoonist whose name escapes me.
Here's another guy who worked for Eric, Vic Fair. In my opinion, Vic Fair is probably in terms of the art the most distinguished figure. Vic was a designer. He did his own illustration from time to time. Mostly he did designing. The thing about Vic is he had a real designer's sensibility. He never went for the obvious. He would try and do something a bit different. His posters really stand out. You always know when you look at a Vic Fair poster because they're just so distinctive.
He came through Dixons as well. At the time that Eric took over Dixons he was just an office boy, same as Ray Youngs. He was running around buying the sandwiches. Eventually got involved in the design and Eric very quickly realised he was a star designer.
'Vampire Circus' is one of Vic's. He likes juxtapositions. You can see the vampire's cloak becomes a skull. He's also got a filthy sense of humour. You may notice at the bottom left and bottom right you've got two phallics and he's just put those in just to amuse himself because that's the kind of depraved so and so that he is. He was always putting those sort of things in posters to see if anyone would spot them.
The tigers at the top come from a children's story book.
'Confessions of a Driving Instructor', one of the great classics of the British avant-garde from the 1970s. Obviously, a truly dreadful film but a huge box office success. You can't overestimate how much money these films made. A great deal. The figure driving the car looks a hell of a lot like Vic's wife Kate. I've never pointed this out to him because I don't know if he'd appreciate it but it does. Grabbing Robin Asquith's gearstick.
That's in the tradition of the saucy seaside postcard, the Donald McGill type tradition.
'The Hireling' is another one of Vic's. This is the sort of thing he would prefer me to be showing you. As you can see you've got Robert Shaw and Sarah Miles reflected in the rear view mirror, trapped if you like. There is Robert Shaw's sinister gloved hand at the front.
It's not a great example of what I'm on about but that's just different to a run of the mill British film poster. Most designers wouldn't have done anything that clever at all. That was what Vic's stuff looked like. There are many more examples in the book that we haven't got time to look at now.
Brian Bysouth. He's got a little black spot on his cheek. That's not actually there, Brian doesn't have a black spot on his cheek, that's just appeared on the slide. Brian was an illustrator. Joined Downton in 1958 did a little bit of design but mostly just illustration, he would do other artists' finished artwork for them. That is a Vic Fair design for 'Fort Apache: the Bronx'. He's in the midst of painting it. You can see reference stuff dotted around. There's a still there that he's used of Paul Newman. At the moment he's working on the police badge so you can see on the left of his board he's got an American one-sheet pinned up with a detail of the badge.
The thing with Brian's stuff is it's incredibly detailed. Very, very finished. Masses of detail in there. He was quite slow. He used to take about a week to paint a quad. He's probably one of the more, I wouldn't say well-known, he tended to sign his stuff because he was in a position to. Eric would normally paint out the signatures of a lot of the posters that went through Downton because he didn't like other people getting the credit. He wasn't able to do that with Brian because Brian just got too successful in his own right.
He left Downton in 72 and started freelancing. Did a lot of work. A fantastic bloke. All of these artists are lovely people, they're so nice. There's a great film of Kirby in the gallery next door and you'll see from the film of Kirby that, again, he's just a nice bloke. These people are really nice people.
That was Brian's first poster, 'Tiger Bay', Hayley Mills being suffocated at the bottom there.
We've got another, his second one, 'Ferry to Hong Kong', about 1958. His style is still maturing. He was pretty young, he's only about 20 or 21 when he's painting these things. That's a later one, that's from 1974, it's a Disney film 'Island at the Top of the World', a live action thing. I remember going to see that at the cinema with my mum. Eric designed that so it's a fairly standard British poster. You've got a volcano exploding, an airship crashing into some vikings. Killer whales attacking people on a lump of ice, it's all going on. If that doesn't get you into the cinema, nothing will frankly. A good, solid piece of commercial illustration.
That won a design award in America that Eric went to collect and told everybody at the Hollywood awards that he had in fact painted which got back to Brian and Brian was not pleased about that at all. But that was Eric all over. That is Eddie Paul. Eddie Paul worked for Eric Pulford from the end of the war. He was a designer, apparently a lovely fella. Eddie died quite early, in 1964, when he was only 60. Designed an awful lot of posters. The reason he's cuddling Miss Piggy is because he worked on the Muppet movie and that was taken at Pinewood when he was going over there to pick up some reference stills or something.
That's one of Eddie Paul's designs. The second Bond film obviously. Eric claimed credit for that as well. The illustration is by Renato Frantini, an Italian, an important part of the overall story which I will try to tell very very quickly.
In the mid-fifties Rank overseas had a connection with the Roman film studios at CinecittÃ . The publicity for CinecittÃ Studios in Rome was run by a guy called Augusto Favali who ran a studio called Studio Favali. He employed the best of the Italian artists to do film publicity.
Eric started using the Italian artists. For two reasons. First reason, they were incredibly gifted. They were fantastic, they could do beautiful artwork. Second reason, they were extremely cheap because Eric was frightened of taking advantage of them. They were so good they could actually print the roughs, the layouts. They didn't need to ask for finished art. They would say, 'Give me a layout of this. That's not bad, we'll come back to it'. And then they'd print the layout and Eric would only have to pay the fee for the layout. and not the finished art.
The work was fantastic. Frantini, one of the most important names, born in Rome in 1932. He was brought over to England at the end of the fifties and he was doing massive amounts of work. He met a dress designer called Georgina Somerset Butler in 1960. He married her and she became Gina Frantini who was famously Princess Diana's main dress designer. The marriage didn't last too long because Renato couldn't keep his hands off the London ladies.
He liked to drink, liked to dance, liked the girls and eventually Gina got bored and got fed up and divorced him. Enormously important, because of the sheer volume of work he turned out and the quality of that work. Frantini was fast. He could paint a poster like that in six or seven hours. Remember Brian Bysouth would take about a week to paint a quad, Frantini could do it in a matter of hours.
Brian, when he was painting, would sit and he'd have his nose six inches from the board. Frantini would be standing up with a long brush, doing it at arm's length.
There's something about Frantini 's work that's very immediate. You can see that although it looks tremendously finished, he's actually done it very quickly and it leaps off the paper at you.
That is Fred Atkins. Fred was Eddie Paul's partner in a way. I don't mean romantically, I mean in a business sense. They both worked for Eric and they left Eric in 1968 to set up a company called Feref, called Feref because there were five guys - Fred Atkins, Eddie Paul, Ray Clay, Eddie Garlic, Frank Hillary - FEREF. Called themselves Feref Associates and they started nicking lots of Downton's work because they would charge less money. They were cheaper.
Fred did lots of film posters. He's still around. He's down in Sussex now, aged 80. That's his 60th birthday, you can see a card there that Brian Bysouth's done for him, with Fred's enormous bum on various chairs. He's a huge bloke, he's a right giant.
That's one of Fred's designs from 1956. The illustration is by Bill Wiggins who was one of Eric's staff artists at Downton. Bill Wiggins did a lot of work, very traditional British style of illustration. It's good solid technical competent stuff. Perhaps not incredibly exciting, kind of English storybook sort of look to it. Very traditional.
There is Renato Frantini. A big man in every way except in stature. He was actually only about that high apparently but he had a real presence. He completely charmed Gina off her feet and everybody who knew him said he had a real impact. If you walked into a room and he was in there he was the guy you looked at. Had a real charisma, Frantini.
That's from about 1970 which was around the time he left England. He left England partly because his marriage had collapsed and partly because he was losing a load of money through tax. By 1970 he was being paid a fortune. About a grand a shot, a thousand pounds a poster which in the late sixties was a lot of money. A lot of money. He was losing most of it through tax.
That's another one of Renato Frantini's. Eric Pulford design. Very free, he's done that really quickly. Smashed it on there.
He went to Mexico City where he drank himself to death in a matter of two or three years. Nobody's really clear why. He liked the good life but he just started drinking really heavily. He was at a beach party in the summer of 1973 when he collapsed. Everyone thought he was larking around. He'd in fact had a massive heart attack and died on the spot. He was still only 40 years old. In a way, Frantini's life embodies the bohemian genius stereotype of the art world.
Arnaldo Putzu, friend of Frantini 's. Couple of years older, he'll be 80 in two weeks time. Still around, still painting in Rome. He came over in 1967 I think and worked for Downton and later for Feref and this is a photograph in Feref's offices in summer 1973. He's painting the British poster for 'Bless This House', you can probably just make out Terry Scott and Sid James, Sally Gee and Robin Asquith. It's a traditional British comic poster.
Arnaldo was very quick. Not as quick as Frantini, he would take about two days to paint a poster. He did some of his own designing but mostly from designs by Eddie Paul. Probably Arnaldo 's best known poster, 'Get Carter'. A great British gangster film, we're probably all familiar with it. The interesting thing there is you'll notice Michael Caine is wearing a floral dressing gown. You might wonder why because he certainly doesn't wear one in the film. I went to Rome to meet Arnaldo last year and asked him about this but he couldn't really remember. He did say that at the time he was putting a lot of flowers into his designs just to liven them up.
In the film Michael Caine wears a black mackintosh. Black background that wouldn't really have worked so he's put him in a kind of a nice floral dressing gown. Probably just as a joke. It got printed and I think it's fantastic, that kind of quirkiness you wouldn't get these days.
What a great poster that is. You can see the brushwork on Caine's face. The way it's just been sploshed on. Wonderful.
There's Feref, that's the management team. Frank Hillary. Ray Clay. Barry James did a lot of his own posters, he came on at a later date. There's Eddie Paul again. That's Eddie Paul's son Ken. That's Paul Ratcliffe. Those were the management team. At the back behind Eddie Paul you can see 'Return of the Jedi', the third Star Wars film which is illustrated by Josh Kirby who is the guy who is the subject of this talk and I will eventually get on to him. I'd better move forward quite fast.
Eddie Paul designed that and Josh Kirby did the finished art.
'The Living Daylights'. Why have I selected this? In many ways, this is the end of an era. This was the last major British poster to feature a painted illustration. It's by Brian Bysouth from a design by Brian himself and another guy called Mike Bell, who has also worked for Feref. I'm going to have to spend a few seconds talking about this because it is important.
Illustration was getting more and more expensive. Brian Bysouth was paid as a one-off fee, Â£3000, to paint that poster which is probably the biggest single payment there has ever been for a British poster. Frantini at the most would earn about Â£2000. In terms of inflation adjusted Frantini possibly beats that.
Â£3000 - a huge amount to pay an artist. By the mid-eighties cinema in this country was in the doldrums. Attendances had dropped catastrophically. At the end of the war in 1946 annual admissions to British cinemas were 1635 million, which to put it in perspective meant that every single person in the country, every man, woman and child was going to the cinema, on average, once every ten days. That's how popular it was at the end of the war.
You fast forward to 1984, less than forty years later, attendance had dropped to 54 million. That's less than 4% of the post-war high. That means that every single man, woman and child is going to the cinema less than once a year. Once every ten days to less than once a year. Catastrophic drop. Cinemas had closed. Six out every seven British cinemas had closed by the mid-eighties. Those that were left were really run-down. I'm sure we can all remember those days. Really grotty run-down ABCs and Odeons.
There simply wasn't any money left in illustration to pay the artists. Also, at this point, computer graphic design is coming in. We're getting programs being created that allow you to merge photographic transparencies on a computer and create a poster, literally on a computer screen with a thing called Photoshop.
It's much quicker, it's much cheaper. There's no money left for film publicity because the cinema is in such a dire strait.
So illustration on British posters just ends. Very suddenly over a period of perhaps three or four years in the mid-eighties. Most of the artists simply retired. Tom Chantrell did his last film posters in '85. Eric Pulford retired in 1984. Went down to the South Coast to sail his yacht. Arnaldo Putzu went back to Rome in 1985 and just painted portraits for a living which he still does today.
Frantini was dead. Eddie Paul died in 1984. Vic Fair carried on working but what was just doing photographic stuff. Brian Bysouth carried on working but was mostly just doing photographic stuff. The majority of the artists retired in a very short space of time. Those that hung on did about another nine, ten years and then retired themselves.
So that is the end of an era. The guy we're talking about today is Josh Kirby. There is an exhibition of Josh's work next door at the Walker gallery. Probably a lot of you have seen it already. If you haven't gone yet I strongly recommend that you do. Josh Kirby was born in Waterloo in Lancashire in 1928. Studied at Liverpool School of Art in the late forties after the war. By the end of the forties was just doing portraiture. In 1950 he painted Liverpool's Lord Mayor. He didn't want to get involved in that because it was very staid and very stuffy and that wasn't what he wanted to do.
He moved down to London and started doing film poster work for Eric Pulford. Working for Pulford Publicity. So he would have been getting the jobs at Temple Bar House on Fleet Street which was where Downton was based. Taking them to his studio which was in Battersea, in a converted pickle shop, doing the finished art.
Those are a couple of portraits of Peter Finch, probably from the late fifties. I don't really know. They were auctioned on Ebay on the internet last year and I was lucky enough to actually buy one. The one on the right. For I think about Â£40 which is pretty good for an original piece of art.
What else have we got by Josh. These are images of the original art. These aren't the posters, these are the artworks. Again, these are all taken at the auction that took place I think about a year, two years ago. A double bill. Probably designed by Eddie Paul who was the guy cuddling up to Miss Piggy if you remember. So that's Josh's finished art.
'The Beachcomber'. I think that one is Eric Pulford. Robert Newton there who liked a drink.
'Stranger's Hand'. There's Trevor Howard. I like that one, that's a nice one. I actually bid on that but I didn't win it. I think it went for about Â£120, more than I could afford.
'Act of Love'. Kirk Douglas. Again, that's the actual finished art.
'O'Rourke of the Royal Mounted'. These all date from around '52, '53. Josh Kirby obviously kept them and at some point somebody got hold of them and they were sold off a couple of years ago.
There's a gap with Kirby's career. He stopped working for Eric around 1957 and started doing book jackets. Book jackets was a big market from the end of the fifties onwards. From the end of the fifties, paperbacks were coming into vogue and they all had illustrated covers.
You can see it all next door at the exhibition. Kirby did a lot of book jacket work so his film work receded quite a bit.
Through the sixties Kirby came to specialise in fantasy illustration. Science fiction and horror. Monsters, ghouls. That was what he liked. He loved that kind of stuff. Again, this is all in the exhibition next door. He started working for Feref in about 1971/2. Generally speaking the work he was given as a freelance was for fantasy films. That is not a fantasy film but that's one of Josh's earliest jobs for Feref. This is from 1972. It was the film version of Henry VIII from the popular tv series some of you might remember.
That's Keith Michell there with his lovely costume.
'Warlords of Atlantis'. Again, I saw this at the cinema in 1978 when I was 11. I remember the poster outside the Walsall ABC cinema. Again, Josh Kirby. Fred would have given that to Josh precisely because it's got monsters and stuff in it. Josh Kirby got the fantasy film work from Feref. A great poster.
'Wombling Free'. This is a truly dreadful film. The Wombles were hugely popular on British telly in the seventies. In 1977, Rank decided to re-activate its film unit which had been dormant from the end of the sixties. It had been dormant because they were just losing money.
Partly because the audiences were declining and partly because Rank were making bad films for the most part.
They decided to come back with a whole batch of films. A few of which are really good. There's a remake of '39 Steps' by Don Sharp. Great film. Vic Fair did the artwork. Fantastic artwork. A remake of 'The Lady Vanishes'. Perhaps not so good. 'Riddle of the Sands' was one of them.
And they did this, which was a version of The Wombles. For some reason they decided to have people in life-size Womble costume in it but I don't know if any of you have seen this but oh my God it's bad. A terrible film. You really wonder what Rank were playing at.
It's a fantasy film so it was given to Josh. It's unsigned. I'm pretty confident it's his work. A, because it looks like his style and also because it's the style of work Feref were giving to Josh. That pattern in the rain is very typical Kirby I think. The way he's done the reflections in the water.
'BMX Bandits'. We're finishing with a touch of class. A film that cashed in on the big BMX craze we all remember from the very early eighties. This is from 1984. It's an Australian film. Can anybody spot the now internationally known star hiding on this poster? No? That is Nicole Kidman who eventually got off her bike and married Tom Cruise briefly.
I thought it was kind of a funny one to finish on. For two reasons. Firstly, I think, I can't be sure, but I think that's probably Josh's last film poster. 1984. There were very few illustrated film posters appearing after that date and that's the last one that's definitely his. He's signed it there, Kirby.
It's just silly isn't it? It's a silly poster for a very silly film. What energy. What excitement. I wasn't a BMX person, I had a large red chopper bike myself. But if I had had a BMX that is the kind of film I would have wanted to go and see.
Film posters today, if I'm going to leave you with one thought, people perhaps take film posters for granted. Next time you go to your local multiplex have a look at the film posters. They're terrible. Boring. Photomontaged by people with no imagination. There's no design sensibility. There's no energy. No life. They're very, very dull.
Obviously there are exceptions. We're generalising. But the end of the tradition of British painted posters which came very suddenly around '85, '86 was the end of an era. We've lost something. Film's always been good, bad and indifferent. You've always had bad films and good films, but the posters are not good anymore. They're just dull and I think that's a pity. I did this radio interview this morning on Radio Merseyside and one of the questions the guy asked me was 'Do you think it will ever come back?'. The answer is I think not because it would be just too expensive now. The distributors are too used to paying cheap prices for computer composed designs. If they were going to start employing professional designers and illustrators it would be costing them a lot more money and I don't think they'll want to bother doing that.
You could make an argument that they're kind of old-fashioned anyway. Maybe painted artwork now just looks old-fashioned. But it's gone for good and we should all buy my book and celebrate it. We should also go next door and have a look at the Josh Kirby exhibition.
Thank you very much.