Wednesday, March 04, 2015
Oliver grew up in Sefton Park where his sister Patricia was born in 1918. She subsequently married, in 1942, a Norwegian sailor named Finn Osker Gjersoe. She continued to live in Liverpool, although her death (in 2006) was registered in Warrington, aged 88.
Of Oliver's early career, little is known. After training at the Liverpool School of Art he moved to London. He was living at 16 Doughty Street, St Pancras, London W.C.1, when the Second World War began in 1939 and joined the St Pancras ARP as a Stretcher Bearer and served throughout the Blitz and subsequent air raids on London.
Brabbins then joined the Royal Navy and worked for the bulk of his service as an artist in the Royal Navy Film Unit, producing paintings and drawings for educational films.
After the war, Brabbins lived at various addresses in London: 23 Oakley Street, Chelsea [fl.1947/48], 71 Eardley Crescent, Earls Court [fl.1948] and Flat 5, 8 Avonmore Road, London W.14 [fl.1950/63] before he moved to 1 Trinity Crescent, Tooting Bec, London S.W.17, in around 1963 or 1964, which is where he remained until his death.
Some of the artists' early post-war travels can be followed through his paintings, which include a harbour scene at Oslo dated 1946 and a canal in Amsterdam dated 1947.
As the decade turned, Brabbins found work with other publishers, including Arrow Books, Modern Fiction, W. H. Allen (Pinnacle Books) and Scion Ltd. A painting of the Coronation was presumably executed in 1953 and one of Shoreham Yacht Club dates from 1954, proving that Brabbins did not limit himself solely to book covers during this period.
The trip may be responsible for the sudden appearance of a number of covers by Brabbins from a New York paperback outfit named Graphic Books. According to Kevin Smith's Thrilling Detective website, the company was "Run by Samuel Tankel and Zane Bouregy, Graphic Books was a short-lived New York publisher of paperback originals, mostly mysteries, that thrived from about 1949 to 1957. Now mostly recalled for their deliciously sleazy covers, not their literary merit."
The association did not last long, which was a pattern of Brabbins's work. The Canada trip may have been paid for by sales to Pan Books in early 1955, but his output for that company amounted to only a handful of titles. His brief contributions to Panther Books and Four Square Books may be explained by a lengthier and more productive association with Corgi Books, which was his main publisher in the late 1950s, although more research may reveal that he was also a prolific dust jacket illustrator for Ward Lock and Hodder & Stoughton, both of whom certainly published a few of his covers in the same period.
The changing style of book covers caused many artists difficulties in the 1960s. Some were able to adapt and find new markets; unfortunately, Oliver Brabbins appears to have struggled in his final years, which ended with his death on 15 June 1973, aged only 61.