Sir Stephen Tallents, the innovative public relations man responsible for creating the GPO Film Unit, establishing poster design as an important part of the Post Office’s marketing activities and introducing the Valentines telegram (among other things), was the subject of a talk given at the BPMA on 29th October 2009 by Dr Scott Anthony, Director of the MA in Modern British History at Manchester University and author of the BFI Classics book on Night Mail. This talk is now available on our podcast.
Tallents had a varied career before he joined the General Post Office (GPO). He served in the Irish Guards during World War I, but was badly injured in Festubert. Thereafter he returned to London and worked for a number of government departments until he became Secretary to the Empire Marketing Board (EMB) in 1926. The EMB’s purpose was to promote trade between British Empire nations and Tallents made full use of the modern media, setting up a film unit (led by John Grierson) and employing artists such as Edward McKnight Kauffer to design posters.
When the EMB was abolished in 1933, Tallents took up public relations work for the GPO, bringing the film unit and Grierson with him, and establishing a way of working which drew on the expertise of leading figures from the arts and communications industries in a consultative capacity. Kenneth Clark, then Director of the National Gallery but later most famous for the BBC TV series Civilisation, was one of many involved.
Dr Anthony’s talk examines Tallent’s career, showing how his many experiences and jobs led him to virtually invent public relations in the UK, and establish a long-lasting corporate identity and marketing strategy for the GPO.
Tallent’s work in the area of poster design will be one of the subjects covered in our next podcast, in which Dr Paul Rennie, Head of Context in Graphic Design at Central Saint Martins, London, will explore the history and development of poster art and communication at the GPO.