Saturday, April 18, 2015
London Night and Day: Illustration of the Month
In contrast to my illustration last month, this month’s offering is from a well known illustrator and author. Osbert Lancaster (1908–86) was probably best known as a cartoonist and had a small but important influence on the development of British political cartooning through the daily ‘pocket cartoons’ he did, for decades, in the Daily Express. But Lancaster had more strings to his bow. He was an enthusiastic traveller, and recorded some of his impressions – of Greece especially, in books such as Classical Landscape With Figures and Sailing to Byzantium. Both of these books are funny and perceptive and have interesting things to say about the places he visits and the buildings he looks at and draws. He also wrote a number of books on architecture, illustrated with his own cartoons. Pillar to Post is probably the best known of these. Others include Drayneflete Revealed and Progress At Pelvis Bay – their titles are true to their lighthearted tone.
London Night and Day is a book Lancaster illustrated but didn’t, as far as I know, write.* My illustration is the cover of the first edition, which came out in time for the Festival of Britain in 1951. The book shows you the sights of London, through the prism of a 24-hour day, introducing different aspects of the city at appropriate times – shops in the morning, some cultural sites in the afternoon, theatre in the early evening, clubs later, and so on into the early hours when the market traders of Billingsgate are at work, offloading their piscatorial produce.
Lancaster’s cover encapsulates the architectural side of the book, though not the omnipresent human side of it (perhaps the influence of the publishers, The Architectural Press, was at work here). But even without Lancaster’s tweedy, hatted human characters, the cover is appealing. Its simple flat-colour drawings sum up a world of London architecture, from Thames-side warehouses to Regency terraces, and a lot of what the book describes, from parks to theatres, churches to shops. The diagonal division into night and day is a lovely touch and the lettering in the central panel works very well – particularly the way the illustrator has made use of the light and dark division of the cover to allow the word ‘NIGHT’ to appear black on white and the word ‘DAY’ to be reversed out of grey.
For anyone interested in this sort of thing, it’s worth looking out for a copy of London Night and Day. I already have two, one a slightly later edition with the Festival of Britain material removed and a higher price (five shillings instead of three and sixpence: inflation city). But you don’t have to haunt the secondhand bookshops. Old House Books have thoughtfully done a reprint that’s surely worth a purchase by any lover of London. Hurrah!
- - -
*Note No author’s name is given, but the title page credits one Sam Lambert as the book’s ‘editor’. No one I’ve asked knows the identity of Sam Lambert. Did Lancaster himself write it? Or some of it? Is ‘Sam Lambert’ a portmanteau name made up of the names of two or three writers (it has a bit of ‘Osbert’ in it, of course). Who knows?