Monday, May 9, 2011

South Bank, London

Festival of Britain (2): Festival Games

I’m particularly pleased that Abram Games’s Festival of Britain symbol survives on the Oxford Street building in the previous post, as it’s good to be reminded of the flair of Games’s design – especially as the symbol has been simplified – and in my opinion sorely mangled – in the current reworking for the Festival anniversary celebrations. For those who don’t know the symbol, or don’t recall its details, here it is reproduced on the original guide to the South Bank Exhibition, and, in another 1951 iteration, on the Festival Souvenir Weather Forecast, provided so that people knew what to wear as they strolled, or dashed, from the Dome of Discovery to the Lion and Unicorn Pavilion.

The symbol is very much of its time, of course. It’s patriotic, its stylized Britannia presiding over the points of the compass rendered in red, white, and blue. It’s celebratory and bunting-bedecked. It could be stuck into a Festival map like a pin; or be placed like a finial at the top of a stylized maypole to advertise the Festival pleasure gardens; or float in space like a presiding spirit. Its combination of flatness and solidity, in tandem with that very 1950s Festival lettering, helped it exemplify the kind of modern design the Festival embraced – up to date and whacky, but with more than a toe planted in tradition. And such a combination of modern and traditional is worth celebrating, it seems to me.

For those who are interested in such things, I got my copy of the weather forecast when I bought the exhibition guide secondhand (I’m not quite old enough to have gone to the original Festival). The forecast is for 28th May 1951, when the outlook for the London area was “Mainly cloudy, Chance of some showers later. Rather cool.” Quite so.

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There's more about Abram Games here.


Blue said...

Rather cool, (in the modern sense) Mr Wilkinson, rather cool. Quite so, indeed.

I was six at the time but remember being fascinated by that logo when I first saw it. Looking back it probably was the first piece of art/graphic design that caught my eye - if so, it began a process that has never stopped.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks for your comment, Blue. I can remember, at about the age of six, staring at some printed type and realising for the first time that all the A's, E's, and so on were all exactly the same, and being amazed by this, and wondering how it was done.

Andrew said...

Perhaps the widest current use of the Festival of Britain symbol - and the place where I certainly saw it first - is on village signs in Bedfordshire.

Here is an example:

As I understand it, Bedfordshire county council erected a similar sign in every village in the county in 1951.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks, Andrew. Fascinating to see the symbol reproduced in this way.

Peter Ashley said...

I was given a pair of these Bedfordshire Festival plaques by a sign manufacturer in Lowestoft. The Games' logo had a streak of black paint on it, but this has been successfully removed. Many of these signs still exist, but the plaques tend now to be vinyl, and the village name typestyle has been altered to be less successful. But what a fabulous and appropriate way for a county to celebrate.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: And what marvellous things to have. Even better than a Souvenir Weather Forecast!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Oh - and another thing. It's good that locally distinctive signs still survive in some places. Though all too often they're being replaced with standardized mass-produced ones now