Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The Art of Reginald Heade Volume Two

This second volume collecting the works of Reginald Heade offers a far greater insight into the breadth of his career than the first volume, which concentrated primarily on Heade's cover artwork during the dozen years after the Second World War. Little was known about his work prior to this, a situation now amply resolved thanks to the ongoing research of Steve Walker and Steve Chibnall, who also provide a detailed biography of Heade's life.

And a tough life it was, too. The illegitimate child of a barmaid, he was born Reginald Cyril Webb, his birth certificate blank where his father's name should be—although known to be a gypsy traveller named Joseph Heade. To confuse matters further, Webb used the name 'Heade' to sign his work and adopted the name from an early age. He eventually changed his name officially to Reginald Cyril Heade in 1945, but following the prosecution of Hank Janson in 1954, signed his later work 'Cy Webb'.

A talented artist from childhood, his earliest commercial work dates from 1931, his talents used by Faber & Faber, Hutchinson, Foulsham, Hodder & Stoughton and Collins. With the outbreak of war, and the swift collapse of publishing schedules, Heade found work where he could. Still contributing to major publishers—including Mills & Boon where he worked extensively—but also painting children's booklets, jigsaw puzzles and other commercial work.

In 1947, Heade was offered work painting covers by the burgeoning original paperback market. At the time he was struggling financially, raising a young daughter, Sally, with his partner, model Lily (Paddy) Walker. Heade was not a well man, suffering from a heart condition, a breathing condition made worse by his chain-smoking habit, and poor eyesight. He worked constantly, his studio shielded from the rest of the family home by a curtain, tubes of paint and reference volumes scattered around the room.

Then Paddy died and Heade found himself unable to raise Sally himself. Foster parents were found, but Heade would visit her on the south coast and she would spend school holidays with him. This unhappy situation left its mark. Heade was described as troubled and unhappy, his eyesight failing, his artwork attracting complaints for being salacious and the books they covered accused of being obscene. With the boom in paperback originals crushed in 1954 and his chief outlets shut down, Heade reinvented himself to produce increasingly detailed covers for Pan and Panther Books.

Sadly, Heade's career was cut short by a heart attack when he was only 56. Now, over sixty years later, his admirers are still trying to piece together a complete index of his work. The two volumes compiled by Stephen James Walker gather up a huge amount of work, including preparatory pencil sketches and colour roughs of book covers, illustrations and adverts, gold dust to any fan. Reproductions from original artwork mean that these pages contain the best reproductions many will have seen, far better than the often battered copies of books that most of us own.

One aspect of the book that we should all appreciate is that the authors are aware that more work remains to be discovered. Colour roughs exist with no accompanying dust jacket, and some publishers are still severely under-researched, thanks in part to copyright libraries removing dust jackets when the books were submitted. The hunt for Heade continues and, with luck, there will one day be enough material to warrant a third volume.

The Art of Reginald Heade Volume Two
. Telos Publishing ISBN 978-1845-83155-4, November 2020, 383pp, £50.00. Available from the publisher and via Amazon.

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