Monthly Archives: October 2011

A Postal View of London – GPO Poster Design

GPO Posters have played a significant role in establishing a dynamic relationship between the public service and its customers. For instance, they reminded people to use the postal service more efficiently and ‘Post Early’. Thanks to open-minded PR Officers like Stephen Tallents, GPO Posters also became a mirror of British graphic design particularly from the 1930s onwards. The GPO’s public relations department – the first government ministry PR department ever – saw the educational potential of poster design and combined it with a high standard of modern art. The Post Office offered employment to many artists and graphic designers; many of them helped shape the world of design and art during their careers. These included Tom Eckersley, Frank Newbould. and George Him and Jan Le Witt, better known as the Lewitt-Him partnership.

A Postal Guide to the Maze of London, 1951, Lewitt-Him (PRD0639)

A Postal Guide to the Maze of London, 1951, Lewitt-Him (PRD0639)

One example of how those campaigns were linked to creative design and the distribution of business information can be illustrated in the numerous posters advertising Post Office directories. This ranged from directories of the businesses and services available in cities throughout Britain to publications such as the ‘Post Office Guide’, ‘Post Offices in the United Kingdom’, ‘London Post Offices and Streets’, and ‘Postal Addresses’. They provided valuable resources for marketing and sales departments and were updated every year. The works of artists like Lewitt-Him, Alick Knight or M H Armengol illustrate how these campaigns succeeded in presenting a functional product with iconic images and ingenious designs.

London Post Offices and Streets, 1958, M H Armengol (PRD0758)

London Post Offices and Streets, 1958, M H Armengol (PRD0758)

Probably one of the most prominent posters is Lewitt-Him’s ‘A Postal Guide of the Maze of London’ (1951) which depicts a postman about to enter a stylistic maze of houses. The publication provides details of Post Offices, their streets and district numbers, hours of business and a listing of street names – a perfect aid for the postman’s journey into the intricate maze of streets. The partnership of the two Polish-born artists Jan Le Witt (1907-1991) and George Him (1900-1981) was a very successful collaboration in graphic design and they created several posters for the Ministry of Information during the Second World War and murals for the Festival of Britain (1951).

London Post Offices and Streets, 1958, Alick Knight (PRD0939)

London Post Offices and Streets, 1958, Alick Knight (PRD0939)

Other poster artists may have remained relatively obscure but their creativity had resulted in some fine GPO poster art. Alick Knight, for example, contributed to several Post Office campaigns, including for the Post Office Guide during the 1950s. Several of his posters feature drawings of iconic buildings like the one for the ‘London Post Offices and Streets’ (1958). Although these posters advertising the London Post Office Guides were designed to have an immediate impact and relate to a particular product, their designs give them a surprising agelessness and relevance to anyone living in or coming to London.

A Postal View of London: London Post Offices and Streets, 1953, H W Browning (PRD0698)

A Postal View of London: London Post Offices and Streets, 1953, H W Browning (PRD0698)

The BPMA have produced a new set of postcards featuring the London-themed posters in this blog. It is now available in the BPMA Shop and further Post Office Guide posters can also be found on our print-on-demand website.

London Post Offices and Streets, 1960, Carol Barker (PRD1072)

London Post Offices and Streets, 1960, Carol Barker (PRD1072)

– Jana Harnett, Marketing & Development Assistant

KGVI Overprints – Illustrating the Rise and Fall of Modern Libya

In wake of the recent demise of Muammar Gaddafi, as Libya attempts to build a multiparty democracy (an idea derided by the former leader as being for “donkeys”), the King George VI (KGVI) overprinted stamp registration sheets from this region provide a topical insight into the period of British control. It may come as a surprise to many that Britain was chiefly responsible for uniting Libya under a single monarchy following World War II. This story can be told through a recently catalogued collection of registration sheets, held at the BPMA.

In 1943 the Allies drove the Italians out of Libya (who themselves ousted the Ottoman Turks in the Italo-Turkish War 1911-12), ending Italian rule and the axis powers’ stronghold over the region. Under Mussolini’s fascist government, the Italians divided Libya into three provinces; Britain took military control of two of them – Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, while the French took control of the third region – Fezzan.

The British, as was commonplace throughout the empire and its many military endeavours, wasted no time in implementing the use of its postage stamps in these two territories. The first stamps used were overprinted ‘M.E.F’ (Middle East Forces) 1943-48 as used throughout British control of all former Italian colonies in the Middle East at the time (including Eritrea and Somalia).

KGVI 9d olive-green, overprinted 'M.E.F.' (Middle East Forces), registration sheet, perforated.  Registration date: 15 September 1942.

KGVI 9d olive-green, overprinted 'M.E.F.' (Middle East Forces), registration sheet, perforated. Registration date: 15 September 1942.

The ‘British Military Administration’ (B.M.A) started using its own overprints in Tripolitania (which included Tripoli) from 1948 to 1950, replacing those overprinted ‘M.E.F’.

KGVI 3d pale violet, overprinted 'B.M.A. TRIPOLITANIA 6 M.A.L.', registration sheet, perforated.  Registration date: 23 April 1948.

KGVI 3d pale violet, overprinted 'B.M.A. TRIPOLITANIA 6 M.A.L.', registration sheet, perforated. Registration date: 23 April 1948.

Following the UN Assembly in 1949 however, the British backed the resolution for Libya to gain its independence, placing Idris as-Senussi as the King within two years. Subsequently British control of the region was reduced to civilian control as the move towards an independent Libya began. The overprints consequently changed to’ British Administration’ (B.A) 1950-51.

KGVI Festival of Britain Issue, 10s blue overprinted 'B.A. TRIPOLITANIA 240 M.A.L.' registration sheet, perforated.  Registration date: 27 April 1951.

KGVI Festival of Britain Issue, 10s blue overprinted 'B.A. TRIPOLITANIA 240 M.A.L.' registration sheet, perforated. Registration date: 27 April 1951.

Libya Stamp - King Idris stamp – April 1952

Libya Stamp - King Idris stamp – April 1952

M.E.F overprinted stamps were used throughout British control of Cyrenaica, until 24 December 1951, when Libya formerly gained independence and Britain ceased all forms of administration in the region, including use of its postage stamps. The three aforementioned provinces therefore were combined to form the United Kingdom of Libya.

Libya’s downfall began in September 1969, when Gaddafi came to power following a military coup, where King Idris was overthrown, thus seeing the beginning of Gaddafi’s Arab nationalist, totalitarian, and brutal regime. The rest as they say is history.

Libya stamps: (L) April 1983, Gaddafi with Green Book, which set out the political philosophy of Gaddafi (recently burned by anti-Gaddafi demonstrators all over Libya), (R) April 1983 - Propaganda, April 1983

Libya stamps: (L) April 1983, Gaddafi with Green Book, which set out the political philosophy of Gaddafi (recently burned by anti-Gaddafi demonstrators all over Libya), (R) April 1983 - Propaganda, April 1983

Libya stamp May 1984 - Gaddafi propaganda

Libya stamp May 1984 - Gaddafi propaganda

– Stuart Aitken, Cataloguer/Collections Assistant

The distinctive films of Humphrey Jennings

Humphrey Jennings (1907-1950), is widely considered to be one of Britain’s greatest documentary filmmakers, with a distinctive style much admired by cinema-goers and critics alike. Born in Suffolk to a painter mother and architect father, he was creative in a number of fields before working in film: after attending the Perse School, he studied English literature at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where in his spare time he painted, designed sets, and also managed to find time to co-found the literary periodical ‘Experiment’, with William Empson and Jacob Bronowski (later to become well-known figures themselves).

A still from "London can Take It!", Jenning's documentary made in the early days of World War 2.

In 1934, Jennings joined the GPO film unit, where he worked with colleagues such as John Grierson and particularly Alberto Cavalcanti, and developed an experimental style that became instantly recognisable. Having helped to organise the International Surrealist Exhibition in London in 1936 it’s no surprise that the movement influenced his work: he strove to see the extraordinary in the everyday, stating that ‘to the real poet the front of the Bank of England may be as excellent a site for the appearance of poetry as the depths of the sea’. This sensibility was perfect for his work for the General Post Office, and is evidenced in films like ‘Penny Journey’, where the seemingly simple journey of a postcard is followed with a focus on the behind-the-scenes processes that enable its arrival, and, most famously, ‘London can Take It!’, a film that celebrates London’s enduring spirit, resilient even during the Blitz.

GPO Public Relations Department poster - "Visit the Post Office film display - Free" - a projector is projecting an image of a GPO badge. (POST 118/506)

Many of Humphrey Jennings’s films (alongside other GPO classics) feature on the compilation GPO Film Unit DVDS ‘Addressing The Nation’, ‘We Live In Two Worlds’, and ‘If War Should Come’, available from the BPMA shop.

Or if you want to see even more of his work, a brand new compilation released by the BFI features some of his GPO work as well as his other films. ‘The Complete Humphrey Jennings: Volume 1’ is available from the BFI shop.

The mystery of Miss Gibbs

In 2003, Francesca Millican-Slater bought a second hand postcard for 50p. The postcard, sent from Lincoln to London was addressed to a Miss L Gibbs of 62 Douglas Buildings, Marshalsea Road, Borough. Sent on 15 July 1910, the message on the back simply read:

Be careful tomorrow. A.C.

This message and the woman who received it became an obsession for Francesca, but how much can you uncover from just a name on the back of a postcard? What happens when you start tracing a history that isn’t you own? And why did Miss Gibbs have to be careful tomorrow?

With the release of the 1911 census, Francesca found out more than she ever thought possible. Hear all about it on 3 November when Francesca Millican-Slater gives a talk at the BPMA. For event and booking details see our website.

Pedal Powered Postmen from the Past

From Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd October 2011, Bloomsbury’s open spaces and venues will be coming alive with an amazing programme of dance, music, arts, guided walks, theatre, workshops, talks, secret sessions and much, much more as part of the Bloomsbury Festival 2011. BPMA is delighted to be taking part in this year’s Festival.

Children’s Activities

On Saturday 22 October we will be running sessions throughout the day from the children’s tent in Russell Square. We will be using a vintage postman’s parcel tricycle from the Learning team’s handling collection and offering an array of family activities, including the chance to:

  • Take part in a postal pop quiz
  • Make a craft keepsake to take away
  • Meet a postman from the past
  • Find out more about BPMA

If weather and technology permits, we hope to be able to ride the tricycle around the square to attract attention, with Access and Learning Manager Andy Richmond dressed as a postman from the past. Find out more on the Bloomsbury Festival website.

Our parcel tricycle

Our parcel tricycle

Letter Writing and Mailart

Other events of interest are Letter Lounge, a workshop at the October Gallery to write the letters you never have time for, and 2 to the power of 10, a mailart project at the Orange Dot Gallery bringing together 32 contemporary Bloomsbury artists and creative types.

The Bloomsbury Festival is completely free to attend – we hope to see lots of BPMA support there on the day!

UK A-Z Part 1

New stamps issued today by Royal Mail celebrate some of the United Kingdom’s best known and most loved landmarks. UK A-Z Part 1 consists of 12 1st class stamps featuring iconic structures from The Angel of the North to Lindisfarne Priory.

The Angel of the North – a contemporary steel sculpture designed by Antony Gormley, located just outside Gateshead.

Blackpool Tower – a tourist attraction in Lancashire. It was opened to the public on 14 May 1894 and was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Carrick-a-Rede -a rope suspension bridge near Ballintoy, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Originally built by salmon fishermen, the bridge links the mainland to the tiny Carrick Island.

Downing Street – probably the most famous front door in the world, 10 Downing Street is the headquarters of Her Majesty’s Government and the official residence and office of the Prime Minister.

Edinburgh Castle – dominating the skyline of Edinburgh, this castle is positioned atop the volcanic Castle Rock. There has been a royal castle here since the reign of David I in the 12th century.

Forth Bridge – a cantilever railway bridge over the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland. It was opened on 4 March 1890.

Glastonbury Tor – a hill at Glastonbury, Somerset, which features the roofless St. Michael’s Tower. The site is managed by the National Trust and has been designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. It is believed by some to be the Avalon of Arthurian legend.

Harlech Castle – located in Gwynedd, Wales, Harlech is a concentric castle, constructed atop a cliff close to the Irish Sea. It was built by Edward I during his conquest of Wales.

Ironbridge – a village on the River Severn, at the heart of the Ironbridge Gorge, in Shropshire. The village developed beside, and takes its name from, the famous Iron Bridge, a 30 metre (100 ft) cast iron bridge that was built across the river there in 1779. The bridge was the first cast iron arch bridge in the world.

Jodrell Bank – and an internationally renowned landmark in the world of astronomy. The giant Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank has been quietly probing the depths of space since 1957. It is still one of the biggest and most powerful radio telescopes in the world.

Kursaal – a 20th Century entertainment venue that was at the cutting edge of architectural design. The Kursaal in Southend, Essex included the latest attractions and rides in its heyday before World War II. After a post-war decline, the building was redeveloped in the 1990s and is now a listed building.

Lindisfarne Priory – a monastery on the tidal island of Lindisfarne off England’s north-east coast (also known as Holy Island). It was founded by Irish born Saint Aidan c. AD 635 and was the base for Christian evangelising in the North of England until the 9th Century.

Two different pictorial ‘first day of issue postmarks’ are available for this issue, featuring Edinburgh Castle and Blackpool Tower.

UK A-Z Part 1 stamps and products are available from the Royal Mail website. UK A-Z Part 2, covering letters M to Z, will be issued in April 2012.

The Post Office in Pictures opens

Our photo exhibition The Post Office in Pictures is now open! It showcases a selection of inspiring images sourced from our vast collections.

Down Wapping Way

Down Wapping Way, 1935 - Part of the Post Office Magazine series ‘The Postman Everywhere’, which demonstrated the wide ranging experiences of postmen across the country. Postman Mr J Anthony is shown here in an area of Wapping, East London. The author of the accompanying article described the area as ‘narrow, dirty and unsalubrious...’ (POST 118/252)

From strange creatures sent through the post, to the daily deliveries by land, sea and air to every corner of the country, the photos featured offer a fascinating series of windows on Britain from the 1930s to 1980s – including some of the more unusual, unexpected and unseen activities of the Post Office and its people.

Public House & Post Office

Public House & Post Office, c. 1989 - A pint, a pie... and a pension at the Swan public house in Little Totham, near Maldon, Essex. Publican’s daughter Christine Baxter serving a postal customer in the bar of her parents’ pub. (010-018-002)

The exhibition is at The Post Modern Gallery in Swindon until 5 November. The Gallery is open from 11am to 5pm Monday to Saturday – for full details see our website.

Special drop-in events accompanying the exhibition include:

Explore The Post Office in Pictures
Wednesday 12 October, 6pm to 8pm
Craft Session & Late Opening
Join us for an evening exploring crafty connections between the photographs on display and a range of arts and crafts techniques. Enjoy a glass of wine, see practical demonstrations, and then have a go at something yourself, inspired by the fascinating images featured in The Post Office in Pictures.

The Post Office in Pictures Family Fun Days
Wednesday 26 and Thursday 27 October, 11am to 4pm
Half-Term Activities
Come to The Post Office in Pictures during half-term for a host of free family activities:

  • Put yourself in the Picture and create your own magazine front cover with you as the star! Use real post office uniforms for added authenticity.
  • Create your own Finger Puppet Postman from felt, and make a cap badge or armband based on what you can see in the exhibition. Real objects will be available to handle for added inspiration.
  • Why not bring along your camera to the fun day and take part in our Photographic Scavenger Hunt? Pick up the clues from the Post Modern, search Swindon for the postal items and snap as many as you can, and then return to the gallery to record your time – the fastest family over the two days will win a fantastic prize.

For more on The Post Office in Pictures see our online exhibition. Large versions of the images from the exhibition can be seen on Flickr. Photos from the exhibition are available to buy from our Print on Demand website.