For those of you who might be old enough to remember the occasion, although the Lunar Module touched down at 20:18 UTC on July 20th, 1969, it was over six-and-a-half hours later before Armstrong finally opened up the LM’s hatch and made his “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" speech. In the hours while we waited with baited breath for this magnificent event to happen (for television pictures of the occasion were being broadcast the world over), Oliver Postgate hadn’t been idle . . . he’d dreamed up the idea of The Clangers – pink-knitted aliens who spoke a language that sounded like a sliding whistle.
As Hamlyn Books were already producing Postgate’s The Pogles Annual, he’d hot-footed up from Broadstairs (East Kent) to put in a personal appearance in the hope that Hamlyn’s might now take this new creation of his on as well. With John Kingsford and I already struggling to put 24 Christmas annuals together in a year, what could the addition of one more do to hurt?
Although it was great to have John as my No.2, with the editorial department only three floors down from the eighth, I spent virtually every lunch break in the company of Chris Spencer and his work companion, Peter Robins. This was not in any way a slight to John, who lived only a few miles away in Twickenham, and drove home so that he could take his midday meal alongside his loving wife, Fay.
The pattern was invariably the same. Along with Chris (one of the two sub-editors in the Annuals Section, the other being Tessa Bridger), we would buy a total of 9 rolls and 6oz of spam from the delicatessen store just yards away from the front door of Hamlyn House. From there, we would either drive over to the River Thames, where we would assemble and consume our midday sustenance before calling into the local pub for a quick game of darts; or we would go slightly further afield to Richmond Park, where we would fill our stomachs while enjoying the company of our four-footed chums who would nonchalantly munch at the grass nearby.
Every now and then, Bob Prior would get in touch to ask if I could do this or that for him, which mostly I managed to do on a Saturday or Sunday. He had become involved with a pair of shady (sleazy?) individuals called the Gold brothers who published (amongst other things) top-shelf soft porn. These highly-educational booklets were A5 in size, with a full colour cover and 32 black and white pages that related in photo form such adventures as that of the milkman who happened to be on hand to help a struggling housewife with her groceries, and the reward he received.
They took about an hour – maybe two – to shoot; Bob paid me £10 for my time. It was he who did all the running around, finding the models and locations; he also organised the developing and printing of the exposed films. As there was no design required, he just handed over a set of 32 black and white prints together with the colour transparency for the cover. So were the brothers sleazy? To make their issued cheques legally binding, both brothers had to sign on the dotted line, so, if it came to their notice that a visitor in need of payment was approaching their office, one or other would step out the back door and hide somewhere until the contributor got tired of waiting.
Along with John Kingsford, I kept my head down and got on with my work. Perhaps we cut ourselves off more than I realised, for, after several months, I discovered that Brian Cullen and John Youe had been telling each other that they had no idea what we were up to, although there had been no complaints or criticisms over my designs when they were seen in print.
Not everything went as smoothly as it should, however. One rather expensive error had come about while producing the Daily Mirror Book of Football.
In Part One of this series, I spoke extensively of Theodore “Wil” Wilson, the representative from Syndication International who called in on a regular basis so that Shirley Dean might choose pictures for use in Girl. By this time, Wil had moved on and was now working from home, having started up a syndicating business of his own. In his place came Ron Ahrens, a smaller, wiry man of around 30, whose passion was to spend his Saturday afternoons squatting on the touchline of some football ground, snapping away with one or other of the cameras strung around his neck.
I believe this was when I first met Ron. He would visit me at Hamlyn House with the text already written and a pile of photographs all neatly filed and identified so that John Kingsford and I had few problems matching up the pictures to the text when it came to designing the pages. When you realise how little interest John or I had in seeing twenty-two strapping fellahs kicking a ball around, the idea of the two of us putting together a book on the subject seems even more ludicrous.
Some while later when all the copy had been typeset, the layouts completed and captions written, the book was ready to be sent off to press. We had one final job still to do. Each picture had to be identified with the name of the intended book; it had to have the page number written upon it showing where in the book it was intended to go—if there should be more than one picture on that page, they were given an “A”, “B” or “C” etc. on the back; and, finally, a rectangular box drawn in pencil on the photograph’s back telling the repro house the area that the designer wants to use together with the size that it is to be reduced or enlarged to.
These instructions on the rear of each picture had to be written on a hard surface or the impression made by the pencil could easily damage the photographic image. With 200 or more photographs going into the book, having to write the name “Daily Mirror Book of Football” on every single one . . . well, let's just say that there are other things more exciting to do in life.
Either John or I had the bright idea of rubber-stamping the title using a John Bull printing outfit that we’d found from somewhere – perhaps it had been sitting on some other designer’s desk. And, having rubber-stamped all the pictures, the book was sent to press. But . . . disaster!
John and I had failed to make quite sure that the ink was quite dry before placing each photo onto the growing pile. We learnt later that the repro house had had to spend hours retouching all the pictures where the image was spoiled by John Bull printing set ink. Hopefully the bodger given that task was fanatical about football!
With Bob Prior knowing that I had quite a library of animal pictures at my disposal, collected for the most part during my days at Century 21, he had secured a commission to supply somebody-or-other—I’m not sure if I ever knew who the publisher was—with enough material to print four animal books along the lines of those I’d produced while still working in May’s Court.
In the process of producing a book of this type, one cannot just size a picture willy-nilly and pass the instructions onto the repro house. In order to keep prices at a reasonable level, one needs to keep the number of varying proportions to an absolute minimum – in a book of 32 pages for example, there might be just three or four different proportional variations from the set of original 35mm transparencies. More proportions would result in the price of the book being increased—and there was quite a hefty charge from the repro house each time the operator had to alter the settings.
One invaluable piece of equipment was the Grant Projector, lovingly called “The Grant”. It was a mechanical contraption used to magnify or reduce artwork and project the image onto a sheet of semi-translucent paper so that it could be traced off. The “Grant” was about 20” wide by 20” deep and something in the region of 42” from its four brass, bed-like casters to the quarter-inch-plate viewing glass.
Apart from the main on/off switch that controlled the interior lighting system, there were just two controls: one that raised or lowered the interior platform onto which the item being viewed was placed; and the other that raised or lowered the lens assembly that brought the viewed object into sharp focus.
Later models had more powerful halogen lamps, but, in the 1960s, light came from eight 150-watt tungsten bulbs arranged in a circle, which offered fairly even lighting all round the item being viewed. These were placed in what looked like an inverted aluminium washing-up bowl with a large hole at its centre. It was at this centre that the lens was secured on a sort of three pin bayonet arrangement. By raising or lowering the platform, while at the same time raising or lowering the lens together with its assembly of eight bulbs, the object’s image was projected onto the quarter-inch-plate viewing glass anything between one third and three times its original size (33% to 300%).
There is many a designer who has shed a tear at the memory of these God-given contraptions.
THE SEVENTIES ILLUSTRATOR'S PRAYER by Raymond Briggs *
Our Enlarger,Roger Perry
Which art in College,
The Grant be Thy Name.
Thy Copy come.
Thy light be on,
In Art as It is in Design.
Give us this Way our Easy Bread,
And Forgive us our Tracepapers,
As we Forgive Them that Trace Off before us.
And Lead us not into Life Classes;
But Deliver us from Drawing:
For Thine is The Kodak,
The Polaroid and Pentax,
For Agfa and Agfa.
Coming soon: In Part Ten . . . now that I have introduced the Grant Projector, I need to discuss PMTs and reveal what happened when, sneaking into Hamlyn House after everyone else had gone home, I discovered that however hard I tried I just could not get out of the building again!
(* © Raymond Briggs; originally published in the Association of Illustrators magazine Illustrators in the late 1970s and reproduced from Mike Dempsey's Graphic Journey blog., as are the image of the grant projector and the cartoon by Arthur Robbins.)