Tag Archives: public relations

The Thin Red Streak: the Histories of The Times’ War Correspondents

Anne Jensen is the Archivist Assistant at News UK. This Thursday (20 February)  from 7pm-8pm, she will be giving a talk on the histories of The Times’ War Correspondents from the Crimean in 1854 to today. Tickets are still available. Here she gives a glimpse about what you can expect to hear about later on this week…

From the writing of a story in the field to its publication in the newspaper there is often a lot of drama. War correspondents have lied, smuggled, bribed and pleaded to get their dispatches to their editors by post, ship, runner, telegraph, phone, balloon, and pigeon.

The archive of The Times is full of documents telling these stories. The descriptive reports from the battlefields of the Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856) written by William Howard Russell, took weeks to reach London. An example of this was his letter reporting the arrival of the allied forces outside Sebastapol.  The letter was dated 4 October 1854 and it was published in the paper on the 23 October, almost 3 weeks later.

Russell

Letter from William Howard Russell to John Thadeus Delane, Editor of The Times, dated 23 April 1855.

The Crimea War was the first war in which the telegraph was to figure. Russell’s access to the telegraph was dictated by the military authorities and was sporadic and inconsistent and he continued to rely upon a mixture of overland mails, boat and telegraph when the opportunity allowed.

Through the Siege of Khartoum (1883-1885) it continued being difficult to get the news sent home to London. Frank le Poer Power sent messages via steamer and telegraph from Khartoum until the middle of April 1884, but then the telegraph was cut and all communication with Khartoum was lost. However, Power continued to send dispatches by runner, none were received by The Times until one runner successfully reached Musawwa in September. Three messages, written in April and July, were handed to the provincial governor, Alexander Mason, who forwarded them to Charles Moberly Bell, The Times’ Cairo correspondent. They were published in The Times on September 29, 1884 and told of an increasingly desperate situation.

An interesting postscript to this story was added in 1890, when one of Power’s despatches, dated April 14, 1884, was received by The Times. It had been delivered to Sir Evelyn Baring in Cairo. It transpired that the messenger who had been sent from Khartoum carrying the telegram had arrived in Dongola, the day before it fell to the Mahdi. The messenger was captured and imprisoned by the enemy, but not before he had successfully hidden the telegram in the wall of a house outside the town. Following his release from prison several years later he returned to the house, retrieved the telegram and took it to Cairo. As Moberly Bell had by now returned to London to become the Manager of The Times, the messenger delivered the document to Baring who forwarded it to his old friend Bell.

Khartoum

Handwritten telegram sent to The Times by Power on Easter Monday [April 14] 1884. This message did not reach The Times until 1890. The runner carrying the telegram arrived in Berber the day before the Dervishes captured it. On the fall of Berber he hid the messages in a house outside the town and returned to Khartoum. When Khartoum fell the runner was imprisoned for some years and subsequently returned to Berber, removed the telegram from its hiding place and delivered it to Sir Evelyn Baring, the British Agent in Cairo, who forwarded it to The Times.

The talk will also cover stories from the Siege of Ladysmith (1899-1900), where a telegram was captured by the enemy, and the Russo-Japanese war (1904-05), where The Times spent a fortune on wireless communication.

During the First World War the stories sent back from correspondents at the front were subject to strict censorship by the War Office Press Bureau.

At the beginning of the war Arthur Moore was sent to work behind the British Expeditionary Force. He found himself among the scattered remnants of the British Fourth division after the retreat from Mons, and was alarmed at what he saw.

On the 29th August 1914 he wrote, from Amiens, a dispatch and sent it to London where it arrived on Saturday evening. Both the acting Editor George Sydney Freeman and Henry Wickham Steed, the Foreign Editor, thought it unlikely that the dispatch would pass the censor. They applied their own censorship before sending it to the Press Bureau, from whence it returned two hours later.

Dispatch from Arthur Moore from Amiens. Copyright The Times.

Covering letter from The Times submitting the Amiens dispatch for censorship. Censor, F.E. Smith’s reply can be read on the covering letter.

On the covering note F.E. Smith, the head of the Press Bureau, had annotated: “I am sorry to have censored this most able and interesting message so freely but the reasons are obvious. Forgive my clumsy journalistic suggestions but I beg you to use the parts of this article which I have passed to enforce the lesson – re-enforcements and re-enforcements at once.”

A number of deletions made by Freeman and Steed had been restored by Smith and a couple of extra phrases had been added to the last paragraph in Smith’s handwriting, strengthening the dispatch’s conclusion. The annotation on the covering note was taken as an order to publish the dispatch and it was published, as amended by Smith, the next morning.

The dispatch caused quite a stir as it was the first time a newspaper had reported the gravity of the situation so openly.

Next morning, The Times published a sharply worded column by Freeman, which explained that Moore’s offending dispatch had been published not merely with the consent but at the request of the head of the Press Bureau. With this reply from Printing House Square attacks on The Times ceased.

Expenses claim by

Transcript of Philby’s list of the personal kit he lost on 19 May 1940 while retreating rapidly from Amiens the day before the German army captured the town.

In the very early days of the Second World War we come across a well-known name: Harold Adrian Russell Philby, better known as Kim, was appointed correspondent of The Times with the British Expeditionary Force in France on 9 October 1939. The documents held at the archives of The Times tell the story of the rapid retreat from Amiens, the main base for the British war correspondents, on 19 May 1940, the day before the Germans captured the town.

Philby lost his personal kit, when the war correspondents were taken to Boulogne and shipped back across the Channel before that town was captured on the 23 May 1940.

The expense claim which Philby wrote detailed, amongst other things a “camelhair overcoat (two years of wear)” and a “Dunhill pipe and pouch (six years old but all the better for it)”. A copy memorandum to the accountant shows that Philby was only paid £70 of the £100 16s he estimated as the value of the items lost.

Anne Jensen, Archivist Assistant at News UK

The talk will conclude with a look at present day war correspondence and coverage of the Iraq war in 2003.

Please book your space online or simply show up at the Phoenix Centre (next door to the BPMA Search Room) for 7pm to attend.

Tickets are £3 per person, £2.50 for concessions (60+) and accompanied children under 12 free.

GPO Christmas Posters

The tendency of many people to post letters at the very last minute poses a considerable problem to the Post Office and Royal Mail especially in the run-up to Christmas. The large volume of post, late in the day or only a few days before the Christmas holidays, has made the allocation of resources and the efficient provision of service much more complex and costly since the 1930s. When the GPO Public Relations Department was created in 1934, a poster campaign to educate the public to “Post Early this Christmas” started and some striking and wonderful poster designs were produced. We wrote about this successful campaign in a previous blog and now want to present some of our favourite poster images to set the mood for Christmas – and to remind you to “Shop Early – Post Early.”

Shop Early – Post Early poster (Holly Leaf) by Derek Hass from 1953 (POST 110/4243)

Shop Early – Post Early poster (Holly Leaf) by Derek Hass from 1953 (POST 110/4243)

From the 1930s to the 1960s, the Post Office commissioned well-known designers like Jan Lewitt & George Him, Tom Eckersley or Barnett Freedman for posters informing the public about the correct use of the postal service. Just like modern advertising campaigns, the designers used animals, striking colours and humour to get their message across. Tom Eckersley’s “Be First, Not Last – Travel Early – Shop Early – Post Early” poster from 1955 features a pantomime horse in two halves: the front half (“Be First”) is smiling, the back half (“Not Last”) frowning. Dogs, Cats, Reindeer, Doves and Owls were equally popular motives to educate the public and prevent the Christmas rush.

Be First, Not Last – Travel Early – Shop Early – Post Early by Tom Eckersley from 1955 (POST 110/1340)

Be First, Not Last – Travel Early – Shop Early – Post Early by Tom Eckersley from 1955 (POST 110/1340)

Post Early (Dachshund) by Leonard Beaumont from 1950

Post Early (Dachshund) by Leonard Beaumont from 1950

Santa Claus himself also appears in different shapes and sizes – “on wheels” with his beard flying in the wind (Manfred Reiss, 1952), skating on ice (POST 110/3213 John Rowland Barker c.1951), or flying over a smoking chimney with a bag of parcels (Eric Fraser, 1946).

Travel Shop Post Early (Father Christmas) poster by John Rowland Barker a.k.a. Kraber from 1951 (POST 110/3213)

Travel Shop Post Early (Father Christmas) poster by John Rowland Barker a.k.a. Kraber from 1951 (POST 110/3213)

Post Early and get 20% off BPMA Christmas cards!

Buy your Christmas cards by the 19 November 2012 from the BPMA Online Shop and receive 20% off your Christmas cards order over £10 (before Postage & Packaging). Enter POSTEARLY2012 discount code at checkout, or visit our Public Search Room in London.

Solent Male Voice Choir

On Saturday 18th August, at 7pm, the Lumen Church will be hosting a summer concert alongside the BPMA exhibition currently on display there – The Post Office in Pictures.

Staying with the postal theme of the exhibition, we are delighted to announce that performing at the Lumen will be the Solent Male Voice Choir – also known as the Postman’s choir! This remarkable group of postmen formed the choir in 1961, whilst working at the Head Post Office in Portsmouth.

Solent Male Voice Choir

Solent Male Voice Choir

The idea came about when the postal workers found out how much they enjoyed singing whilst sorting the mail, and went on to form a choir. The original name of the choir was the Portsmouth Post Office Choir; whilst the name of the choir and its members, have since seen some changes, they are still proud of their roots as singing postmen. On the night they will be singing an eclectic repertoire from Verdi to Elvis Presley. There will also be a special ensemble performance in honour of the postal theme of the evening, of ‘Return to Sender’.

Before and after the choir performance, visitors will also be able to view The Post Office in Pictures exhibition on display at the Lumen Church. The exhibition showcases 30 iconic photographs taken from the vast archives of the BPMA, dating from the 1920s right through to the 1980s. The photographs focus in particular on the intrepid and unusual conditions often faced by postal workers as they deliver the mail. It is certainly fitting that both the exhibition and the choir can be enjoyed together, on what promises to be a fantastic evening.

Solent Male Voice Choir

Solent Male Voice Choir

The photographs in the exhibition are as pioneering as the postal workers they portray. In 1934 the General Post Office (GPO) established its Public Relations Department. Headed by the entrepreneurial Sir Stephen Tallents, its aim was to promote good relations with the public, to provide a guide to postal services, and to gather and interpret customer use and opinion to help shape the work of the GPO.

One of the key tools used by the PR Department to reach and engage with the general public was through photography. In order to supply the Post Office Magazine with interesting, professionally-produced photographs, members of the GPO Photographic Unit began to accompany the magazine’s journalists, creating visually appealing, informative and often humorous articles recording daily life in Britain.

From pastoral climes to the industrial heartland of the county, The Post Office in Pictures shows the Post Office doing what it does best – serving the nation in times of need and in times of leisure.

Please join us for what promises to be a fantastic evening of music and photography.

Doors open at 6.30pm on Saturday 18th August. The Choir begins at 7pm, with an interval scheduled. Free entry, donations welcomed. Visit our website for further information on the event.

The Post Office in Pictures exhibition runs at the Lumen Church until August 31st 2012.

The Post Office in Pictures

In October our new exhibition, The Post Office in Pictures, will open in Swindon. The exhibition will showcase a selection of inspiring images sourced from our vast collections.

In 1933 Sir Stephen Tallents was appointed Public Relations Officer to the General Post Office (GPO), and so began a major project to promote the range of postal services to the British public. One initiative was the establishment of The Post Office Magazine, intended to give a sense of shared community, camaraderie and endeavour. In order to do this, the GPO employed photographers to create beautiful, informative and often humorous photographs of the Post Office at work.

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 in The Post Office in Pictures offer a fascinating set of windows on Britain from the 1930s to 80s – including some of the more unusual, unexpected and unseen activities of The Post Office and its people.

One of the images to be featured is ‘Basket Delivery’, a striking image from 1938 showing a postman at Greenock Promenade in Scotland. The postman’s basket contained mail from the Canadian Pacific Railways liner, the Duchess of Bedford. Beginning its journey in places such as New Zealand and China, the mail once unloaded was then sorted in the open air ‘sorting office’ of the Princes Pier before being despatched for delivery across the United Kingdom. We love the composition of the image and the beautiful cloudy sky.

A postman pushes a hand cart with a large GPO basket on it along a promenade, Greenock.

A postman pushes a hand cart with a large GPO basket on it along a promenade, Greenock. (POST 118/851)

To accompany the exhibition, the BPMA has produced a fantastic range of greetings cards featuring iconic black and white photographs from our archives, including ‘Basket Delivery’. The cards are now available from our online shop.

The Post Office in Pictures exhibition is open at the Post Modern in Swindon between 6 October and 5 November 2011. Find out more on our website.

Picture Post

The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) is proud to present Picture Post, an innovative community outreach project run in collaboration with Holborn Community Association, London, and Artsite Ltd, Swindon.

Family groups in both regions will work with artists and photographers to produce artistic responses to fascinating photographs from the BPMA collections.

During the 1930s-40s, the General Post Office (GPO) began using photography to support their newly established public relations activities. These promotional images were used in the Post Office magazine and on posters, travelling exhibitions and displays promoting the GPO.

Postman delivering mail to Kent hop farm, 1935 (POST 118/467)

Postman delivering mail to Kent hop farm, 1935 (POST 118/467)

The photographs show sorting clerks busy at work, fleets of motor vehicles, historic letter boxes, notable GPO buildings, engineers, travelling post offices and, of course, postmen and women delivering letters across Britain – from blitz-torn London to remote lighthouses.

In August 2010, the BPMA was one of four nationally important collections to benefit from the Designation Development Fund, administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives (MLA) council. The BPMA received £40,000 from the fund to improve conservation of the photographs, as well as access and understanding of its collections.

Picture Post was developed to increase access to the photography collection, and enable different groups to learn more about them, and postal history in general.

The London sessions are led by the BPMA in collaboration with staff and families from the Holborn Community Association and photographer Dan Salter. So far, these have involved using the museum handling collection of uniforms to recreate favourite photographs, and arts and crafts activities using photos for inspiration.

Choosing favourite photos

Choosing favourite photos

Charlie interpreting his favourite photo

Charlie interpreting his favourite photo

Rahim models postman's uniform

Rahim models postman's uniform

Dan setting up Charlie as Moses Nobbs the mail coach man

Dan setting up Charlie as Moses Nobbs the mail coach man

The artistic responses created by the families in the sessions will form part of a new travelling display, which will tour community spaces in London and Swindon during 2011.

Archive photos and images from the project can be viewed on Flickr

Discover Session: King George V A-Z

by Vyki Sparkes, Assistant Curator 

King George V

King George V

Take three curators, a museum collection, 26 letters and a royal reign…. Inspired by the former Royal Mail advertising campaign, ‘Think of a Letter’, the museum curators have decided to tell the story of the Post Office during the reign of King George V through the 26 letters of the alphabet.

On the 10th June we will be holding a special, one-off Discover session at our Museum Store. Like all our Discover events, this is an in-depth session which gives you the rare chance to get close to some of our fantastic museum objects. Even if you have visited one of our open days before, you are bound to see and learn something new from our collection.

Use the Air Mail the Fastest Mail, designed by Frank Newbould

Use the Air Mail the Fastest Mail, designed by Frank Newbould

Massive social upheaval marked the reign of George V, such as the First World War, the Easter uprising, enfranchisement of women and the Great Depression. The Post Office also underwent huge change, from the takeover of the telephone system and development of airmail to the first commemorative stamps and the rise of public relations. In exploring this period through the letters of the alphabet, we hope to provide a fun yet informative session – expect a bit of friendly competition between Julian, Chris and myself as we see who will keep you most enlightened and entertained.

What will we do for each letter, especially the dreaded last three? You can probably guess that A will be for Airmail, but what about X, Y or Z? We can tell you that they won’t be for Xmas broadcast, a tradition started by King George V, Ypres, a battlefield in the First World War or Zeppelinpost. Find out what we decide is the best use of all the letters by coming along.

For more information and to book your place on the Discover Session please see our website.

Post Office: Publicity artwork and designs

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist (Cataloguing)

POST 109 is now available for browsing on our online catalogue. It contains original artwork produced for posters and leaflets, as well as designs produced for a variety of purposes, including greetings telegram forms, logos and logotypes, vehicle livery and postal equipment. Material includes paintings and pencil and ink drawings, as well as photographs, transparencies and annotated final proofs.

Much of the artwork in the series was commissioned by the Public Relations Department, which was first created in 1934, under the first Post Office Public Relations Officer, Stephen Tallents. Right from the conception of the department, it assumed responsibility for commissioning designs for posters, which it considered to be a vital part of Post Office publicity; it did this initially in consultation with a ‘Poster Advisory Group’, but from 1937 it operated in its own right.

A postman wheels his bike down a country lane

Sketch for rural postman: artwork for a poster, by John Nash, 1935

The department approached leading artists for the production of posters of two kinds, known respectively as ‘Prestige’ and ‘Selling’. ‘Prestige’ posters fell into two categories: those specially prepared for distribution to schools and those for display in Crown Post Offices and non-public offices in Post Office buildings, they were intended to be more formal in style, eye catching rather than persuasive. ‘Selling’ posters had a direct ‘selling’ appeal and were intended to persuade the beholder to use a particular service or buy a particular product.

POST 109 includes a number of adopted poster designs, but it also contains examples of commissioned artwork that was rejected. Artworks include an Edward Bawden poster about the Post Office Underground Railway (later known as Mail Rail)  (below), John Nash’s watercolour depicting a rural postman (above left), an oil painting by Edgar Ainsworth showing a night scene at a sorting office (POST 109/507), and George Charlton’s Interior of Travelling Post Office (POST 109/375).

A drawing of the Post Office underground railway, a driverless train system which carried mail under the streets of London

Post Office Tube Railway: artwork for a poster, by Edward Bawden, circa 1935

The collection also includes rejected designs by artists more usually ‘favourites’ of the Public Relations Department, such as Tom Eckersley (POST 109/15) and Jan Lewitt and George Him (POST 109/602-605 and below).

A poster design depicting a postman dragging a giant envelope

Post much earlier this X-mas: Artwork for a poster, by Jan Lewitt and George Him, 1950

The Public Relations Department was also instrumental in commissioning artists to design forms for the Greetings Telegram Service, which was introduced in 1935 as a means of revitalising the telegraph service.

Greetings telegrams were to be associated with special occasions and as such, designs had to be particularly attractive, with an element of luxury, this was encapsulated in the golden envelope designed to accompany the form.

POST 109 includes many examples of adopted designs; for example, the design produced by Margaret Calkin James for the first ever greetings telegram form, issued in July 1935 (below).

Bordered with a red and black design, the telegram form has a clean centre for typing the message

Margaret Calkin James' design for the first ever greetings telegram form, issued in July 1935

It also includes a number of unsuccessful designs, including one produced by Clifford and Rosemary Ellis (below), two by Alan Reynolds Stone (POST 109/649 and POST 109/659) and one by Rex Whistler (POST 109/692); Whistler also produced two other designs for greetings telegram forms that made it into print.

Featuring a decorative border with bows and stars.

Greetings Telegram artwork by Cliff & Rosemary Ellis, 1937

Other items in POST 109 include artwork for the familiar GPO monogram, produced by Macdonald Gill in 1934, pillar box designs by Tony Gibbs from 1977 and artwork produced by Ben Maile for inclusion in the book: First Post: From penny black to the present day (Quiller Press, 1990).

GPO Poster Design

Post much earlier this Christmas

Jan Lewitt and George Him's 1942 poster on the topic of posting during the festive season.

Our collection of GPO posters has proved to be a popular topic on this blog, with design enthusiasts, postal historians and many others united in their admiration for the work of artists such as Barnett Freedman, Jan Lewitt and George Him, Edward McKnight Kauffer, Peter Huveeners, Hans Schleger (Zero), Tom Eckersley, and Hans Unger. Their work and that of many other artists can now be explored in greater depth in our new podcast GPO Poster Design.

This podcast is a recording of a talk given at the BPMA last November by Dr Paul Rennie, Head of Context in Graphic Design at Central St Martins College of Art. The talk covers the development of public relations, poster art and communication at the GPO, and the advances in technology which enabled poster designers to work with new and innovative printing techniques.

If you enjoyed our exhibition Designs on Delivery – GPO Posters from 1930-1960, which can now be viewed online, or our last podcast in which Dr Scott Anthony discussed the pioneering work of Sir Stephen Tallents’, the GPO’s – and indeed Britain’s – first public relations officer, we think you will enjoy Paul Rennie’s talk.

Be first not last - Post early for Christmas

A poster promoting early posting for Christmas, designed by Tom Eckersley, 1955.

Some of the posters referenced in Paul Rennie’s talk can now be found on Flickr. For more on poster design from this period visit Paul Rennie’s website or read the blog Quad Royal.

2010 File Openings

by Gavin McGuffie, Catalogue Manager

Last year I blogged on the 2009 file openings at the BPMA. At the start of every year we make a batch of Royal Mail Archive material available to public research for the first time. These are files that reached the thirtieth anniversary of their closure the previous year, so for last year files which contain material dating up to and including 1979.

This year we’ve opened about 180 files and descriptions, particularly material from the following POST classes: POST 19 (Postal Business Statistics), POST 52 (Stamp Depot), POST 69 (Royal Mail Board and its Predecessors), POST 73 (Regional Administration and Operations) and POST 122 (Registered Files, Minuted and Decentralised Registry Papers). Below I’ll tell you about one or two things which caught my attention while opening these files.

POST 65/178 is a copy of an interim report by the University of Warwick’s Industrial Relations Research Unit into the ‘Post Office Industrial Democracy Experiment’. This involved union representatives from the Council of Post Office Unions being appointed to the Post Office Board for two years. Among the conclusions of the report which focus primarily on the “conflicting interests of management and unions” is what its authors’ call a “paradox . . . that within the Board it was often the management members who stressed conflict and the union nominees who espoused the theme of unity”.

Continuing on the subject of the Board, matters discussed in recently opened POST 69 Board minutes inevitably include many industrial relations issues, particularly the Post Office Engineering Union’s claim for a 35 hour week. Others issues that interested me included the acknowledgement that the “standard of [Post Office] design was a serious responsibility” and that the “double-line alphabet [designed by Colin Banks] and visual identity programme already being implemented . . . [was] the best way to achieve major design impact” (Management Board minute, M79/9), matters relating to developing technology and computing having “widespread and far-reaching implications throughout the Post Office” (Board minute 79/53) and a proposal to acquire St Botolph’s Church as a “wing of the existing National Postal Museum to present visually a comprehensive picture of the development of the British postal services.” (Management Board minute M79/38)

POST 108/55 is a memorandum from the Marketing Department to the Controller of Press and Broadcasting on the imminent publication of the Williams Committee Report on Obscenity. It suggests how best to deal with potential criticism of a “low profile” 1978 change to Post Office procedures for “incoming overseas postal packets containing material which might be deemed indecent or obscene, and which Customs and Excise release to the PO” by which such “postal packets will receive treatment identical to that for any other postal packets opened for Customs inspection and released by them”, i.e. it will be “forwarded to the addressee”. It stresses that ”our defence must be that: our function is to provide postal services, not to act as a watchdog”.

A file in our archive on the Reputation of the Post Office (POST 108/74)

The Reputation of the Post Office (POST 108/74)

Another POST 108 (Public Relations Department) file (POST 108/74) that intrigued me is a report by MORI on the ‘Reputation of the Post Office’ comparing it with 66 other major businesses in the public and private sector. Perhaps unsurprisingly among its key findings was the “widespread appreciation that the Post Office is more than simply postal services and telephones. Two out of three felt that it had more to offer … that the High Street Post Office serves a useful social function.”

The 1979 files and many more can be found using the BPMA’s online catalogue. To view these files please see our Visitor’s Guide.

Barnett Freedman, Stephen Tallents and the making of the Jubilee Stamp

by Scott Anthony 

Historians often remember King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935 as a jamboree, a day when the British collectively bunked off from the economic, political and social strife that beset the nation between the wars.

The Silver Jubilee stamp designed by Barnett Freedman was central to the popular celebrations. Philately played a large part in King George V’s popular appeal, and by an odd twist of fate Jubilee day fell on the 95th anniversary of the launch of the Penny Black. It was apt that King George’s Jubilee stamp would become one of a long 20th century line of everyday collectables.

Less appreciated now is Freedman’s extraordinary artistic ambition. Freedman’s design utilised then cutting-edge printing techniques to give the stamp something approaching a three dimensional texture, while his use of shading was designed to make it appear as if light was emanating from the King’s head. As well as a sentimental appeal, for contemporaries the stamp had an almost sci-fi attraction that attracted a degree of controversy.

George V Silver Jubilee stamps by Barnett Freedman

George V Silver Jubilee stamps by Barnett Freedman

“By taking full advantage of the photogravure process and getting a brilliance of effect hitherto unknown in our stamps”, sniffed The Manchester Guardian, “Freedman has sacrificed what is to some an essential quality of design.” In short, when it came to stamps, the newspaper critics of the day where stuck firmly in the flat earth camp.

However, the popular success of the Jubilee stamp marked an important step towards resurrecting the reputation of the lithograph. Artists like Freedman along with Paul Nash, Edward McKnight Kauffer and Graham Sutherland believed that the lithograph enabled mass production while keeping the artist in close personal touch with his audience. Something of Freedman’s working methods can be seen in the GPO Film The King’s Stamp. As the rhetoric of the day went, “in the modern age good art should not be the exclusive property of museums”.

Under the direction of Sir Stephen Tallents, Britain’s first public relations officer, the General Post Office had similarly sought to imbue everyday objects with rare aesthetic value. From Rex Whistler’s Valentine’s Day Telegram to Giles Gilbert Scott’s Jubilee Telephone Kiosk to the bright bakelite phones Tallents placed in Victor Saville musicals, Freedman’s stamp was part of a wider upsurge of what might be best described as a brief moment of Civil Service idealism.

Tallents’ triumphant commissions had also finally secured Freedman’s public reputation. Born of Jewish Russian émigrés in the East End of London, Freedman had begun attending night school at St Martins aged 15, while by day working on the design of tombstones (for a stone mason) and then war memorials (for an architect). After winning a London County Council arts scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art, Freedman eeked out an existence teaching and designing book covers. Notable successes included Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoir of an Infantryman and several books by Tallents’ friend Walter de la Mere. Indeed, Freedman would later design the Tallents family Christmas card.

The Post Office’s commissions brought Freedman’s methods to a mass national audience and secured the 33 year-old employment from the most far-sighted and prestigious corporate sponsors of modern art in 1930s Britain; London Transport, Shell and Crawford’s advertising agency. Freedman’s exacting style now playfully emphasised the importance of road safety, modern agricultural methods and the importance of beer drinking to sporting success. He also found minor celebrity as the violin player providing the musical accompaniment to William Simonds’ puppet show.

A Barnett Freedman illustration from The Post Office: A review of the activities of the Post Office 1934

A Barnett Freedman illustration from The Post Office: A review of the activities of the Post Office 1934

Most importantly, Tallents professional patronage sealed an ongoing personal relationship with Freedman. Both were part of a generation for whom the 1935 Jubilee was indeed a rare jamboree, as Britain was buffeted by successive wars and economic crisis. Post-war austerity required Freedman’s acceptance of an ever greater teaching load, the pressures of overwork, stress and relative poverty contributing to his untimely death at the age of 57.

Tallents and Freedman shared an interest in Alfred Stevens, a cult hero of British art typically held up at the time as a victim of Victorian vulgarity and short-sightedness. Amongst their last letters Tallents pointed out to Freedman that the flat (in Canning Place, Kensington) where he designed The Jubilee Stamp was adjacent to the one in which Stevens had designed his ill-fated Wellington monument.

It was a quirky and amused exchange, but Freedman could have been forgiven for thinking that not all the comparisons with the “British Michaelangelo from Blandford Forum” were entirely happy ones.

Many thanks to Jeremy Parrett at the Sir Kenneth Green Library, Manchester Metropolitan University for his assistance with this article.

Scott Anthony is a Research Fellow at the University of Manchester and author of the BFI Film Classic Night Mail. On 29th October he will be talking about the GPO’s patronage of art, design and film under Tallents at the BPMA.