Saturday, October 08, 2011

Ronald Brett

I originally attempted to put together some information on Ronald Brett back on 3 December 2006, at which time I wasn't able to find much at all. There was a note on the web relating to "the late Ronald Brett, a well-known local artist" judging a children's design competition in 1994 for the Lingfield Wildlife Area, a wildlife reserve set up that year by Tandridge District Council, Surrey. And there was also a death register entry for a Ronald William Brett, born 5 December 1921, died 1994, aged 72.

At the time I was uncertain whether these bore any relation to the artist who had contributed to Swift Annual 4 (1957, frustratingly unsigned so I'm not sure what his contribution was) and the book listed below. I did discover that there was a Ronald Brett who drew advertising posters as early as 1933 (further examples can be found here, in 1937, and here, in... er..., and here).

Subsequently I've heard from Tony Budd, who shared some recollections about Ronald Brett, whose wife was Tony's Godmother. Brett was a close friend of his parents and Tony described him as "a very versatile commercial artist and his main work was advertising artwork and posters. I think he did some work on the famous "My goodness - My Guinness" campaign and seems to be mainly connected now with posters for Southern Railway. I know that he did some work on comics because I can remember seeing rough comic designs in his studio. At that age I was very excited to see that he did that kind of work but was disappointed that he was not working for the Beano or Dandy which were my favourites. He also showed me a cereal packet he had designed which included something you had to cut out with scissors and glue together to make a model of a house."

Tony noted that Brett had emigrated to Canada when he retired to join his daughter, Frances, a childhood friend of Tony's some seventy years ago.

"One of my memories of childhood was a large oil-painting of a man-of-war in full sail that was hanging above the fireplace. The story goes that he was going on his honeymoon and arrived at the docks to find that he had forgotten his passport. He telephoned to my father who drove down with it at top speed and they just caught the boat. The painting was his "thank you" present which is still treasured in the family. The incident would have been in about 1930."

To step back briefly, Ronald Brett began his professional career in 1926 when he joined a lithographic printing firm, Lochend Printing Co., as a junior. Lochend merged with Sanders Philips and Co. (The Baynard Press) in 1930 and Brett became part of the Baynard Press Studio. Between 1933 and 1936, he spent much time "on the road" obtaining print orders for the company. In 1936 he took charge of the Studio, supplying the various representatives with ideas and finished artwork.

In late 1938, Brett teamed up with A. E. Callam (previously the director of Askew Younge Studios) to form Brett Callam Designers. They took over the studio at Baynard Press as their nucleus, still working with and for the printing company. The war devastated all forms of the print industry and in early 1940, Brett joined Service Advertising Co. as a visualiser.

Late in 1940 he joined the Army, rising to the rank of Major in the Tank Regiment, serving with the 8th Army. "He strongly disliked Field-Marshall Montgomery for some reason," says Tony. "Although he was not an official war artist he did portraits of the top Tank Regiment officers which are on display in the Tank Corps Museum at Bovington in Dorset. His daughter went to the museum during [her recent visit to the UK] and donated a book (presumably connected with the Tank Regiment) for which he had provided the illustrations and the design of the front cover."

Demobbed in 1946, Brett joined Publicity Arts Ltd. as Chief Designer, was elected M.S.I.A. in 1948 and elected a Member of the Advertising Creative Circle in 1949. In 1950 he resigned his position with Publicity Arts and turned freelance.

In a leaflet he produced in July 1950 to introduce himself to clients, Brett said: "I now intend to put all the experience I have gained, both in printing houses and advertising agencies and studios, to the fullest possible use, and it is clear that as free-lance consultant visualiser this can best be achieved."

Over the years his clients included J. Arthur Rank, British Iron and Steel Corporation, Central Office of Information, British Overseas Airways, Thorn Electrical Industries, Vickers Armstrong, Southern Railway, Legal & General Assurance, The Gas Council and dozens of others. He worked on the famous Toucan posters promotion for Guinness and advertising for Rinso as well as railway posters. His daughter also recalls him working for Eagle Annual and Swift.

Ronald A. Brett had married Irene C. Hawkins in Bromley in 1936, his daughter Frances being born in Orpington the following year. In the 1950s the family lived in Crowborough, Sussex. Following his retirement, Brett only lived in Canada for about five years before returning to England.

Illustrated Books
Back from the Front by Sam Browne. Edinburgh & London, Oliver & Boyd, 1946.

(* With many thanks to Tony Budd and to Ronald Brett's daughter, Frances Humphreys, for their generous help with compiling the above information.)


  1. Ronald Brett also had another daughter Jennifer and a son Christopher that seem to have not been mentioned in this article.

  2. Only not mentioned because I didn't know he had further children ... a lot of these pieces rely on contributions from the public to expand our knowledge about artists, their backgrounds and their careers.

  3. Interesting information. I wonder if your dates are correct. If they are he was 5 years old when he began work. Born 1921 began his career in 1926!

  4. Geoff, the opening paragraph refers back to the original post from 2006. I think the post then goes on to prove that the "born 1921" is wrong. Unfortunately, I don't have the correct dates.

  5. Ronald Brett's granddaughter is the best selling Canadian author Helen Humphreys. She writes extensively about him in her latest book The Ghost Orchard.

  6. Ronald Brett is mentioned in a delightful book by his granddaughter Helen Humphries, "The Ghost Orchard: The hidden history of the apple in North America". She mentions that he also painted for seed catalogues. Contacting Helen might provide more information. I applaud your interest in documenting forgotten artists.



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