This is a small, but wonderful, object that combines many of my interests. It’s a souvenir silk scarf from London. It is printed with the famous London Transport Underground diagram, designed by Harry Beck. But, it is overprinted with the Festival of Britain (1951) emblem, designed by Abram Games.
My father worked in a small way on the Festival of Britain. In 1951 he was completing his national service in the Royal Engineers. They provided man-power to finish the site in time for the opening in May 1951. Our photo album at home had pictures of the Festival site, on the South Bank in London, shown as a kind of techno futurist seaside village fete…
Karen was the first person I’d met who knew about the Festival. Indeed and as always, K was ahead of me; she was already collecting Festival souvenirs. That was our first collection together.
The Festival emblem, a jaunty Britannia with bunting, was designed by the famous poster designer, Abram Games. So, the Festival directed me towards posters and graphic design history…
I became more interested in collecting posters and graphic design. In about 1992, someone showed me an old silk scarf that had been designed by a famous poster designer…and we started collecting scarves as bits of design and illustration.
When we began collecting all these things, there was no internet and there were hardly any books available. We had to collect the books and write them ourselves. I’ve spent thirty odd years writing about British design history, especially in relation to post-war reconstruction, the Festival of Britain, and the architecture of experience expressed as art in public, and graphic place making etc.
If you’re interested in all of that, London Transport are hugely important. The Underground diagram, by Harry Beck, is recognised as masterpiece and has become the visual default for transport system diagrams.
The standard work on Harry Beck and his map is by the designer, Ken Garland, another genius, and the author of the First things First (1964), manifesto.
All that in one object. Terrific.