HERE’S JOHNNY!

 

So far, so what.

I went to Portsmouth for the foundation course and on to Canterbury for three years Graphic Design. It was a year before Ian Dury turned up to be a Fine Art tutor. He formed Kilburn and the High Roads and looking back, it was a fun place to be. I was there with madly missed Geoff Appleton, who should have been on the Fine Art course, but the authorities thought he should be an illustrator. Which indeed he turned out to be, with great distinction.
I’ve always been a designer who likes to draw. Long before stock photography became a quick way of showing a client a visual, and naturally, before designers were hidden behind their Macs, design was a chatty, fun business..

I love the Mac and its universe of essential tools, the software that enables me to do so much that was inconceivable when I started in the early 70s.

Now I can set type, import images and retouch them without having to wait for a courier, or a type rep from Apex or Conways, or the airbrush salesman (one of whom, a true gent from DeVilbiss, found himself fretting, in his shirtsleeves, trying to help me create a silver plate on a Procol Harum in-store display – he left at eight, telling me to eat properly and sleep well, otherwise I'd get an ulcer. But I was, and remain, an overtime glutton). 

When the Mac first started hushing-up the graphics studios, an air of thoughtful creativity took over. Gone were the days (before mine, even) of the jovial, post-pub lunch pranks from the pissed paste-up artists, blowing perfect smoke rings out of Cow-gum tins and Christ knows what else... In New York, in Mad Men days, a bored Madison Avenue agency art crew apparently enjoyed fishing for pigeons from its corner of a sky high playpen... What larks.
    
The cool studios like Pentagram, of course, were famously creative and quiet; but not as hushed and thoughtful as the ubiquitous flat screen makes everyone today. I know that fun has left a lot of studios, like it's left a lot of things. You can tell by simply looking at what's going on in posters, shopfronts. You can see that designers aren't looking at each other over a pile of markers ("Who's got the Barely Beige?" you'd shout at least twice a day; that hue being the one for flesh. Flesh itself being far too orange for, er, a real flesh look.)
I worked with John Bonis, who was the only person in London capable of holding a light to Barney Bubbles, of Stiff Records fame. His Island posters were legendary; witty, well designed fun. We did ads by the ton, too. If he couldn't think of an idea he'd just start drawing and one morning held up a huge cartoon of a man running with fish for feet.  "What am I going to put for the headline?" he asked; the client having just arrived. "Put your skates on?" I said hopefully, looking up, probably, from a badly airbrushed platter. All smiles, he lettered it in; infallibly; in his perfect rendition of Franklin Gothic. Demi Bold Condensed.
So, now I'm working on the Chalke Valley History Festival programme and I'm loving it. Loving making the images work with the titles and having fun (yep, that word again) against the rather serious but adaptable Univers. Clients often confuse wit with a lack of gravitas, but humour used properly, shows confidence. One of the 80s most brilliant designers, David Stuart, co-wrote a book, A Smile In The Mind, that showed examples of this elusive magic being caught and used properly. Er, hem. My design partner at the time, Paul Rodger, and myself, both featured, albeit modestly.
So, thanks to my Mac I'm writing this in the vague hope that it will be read and understood, and people the world over will think, "That was funny. He's very clever, he'd be great for..." But then you have to join the weird, awkward virtual parties of the social media, like the wel cul Facebook, like the dreary Linkedin, or the glossy, designery one like Google+ (Facebook for professionals) where most people who talk loudly about nothing much still get high-fives from others who want to be their friends. I'm with him. He's like so fun. Mmmm. But he's actually not. He's got a cat. Oh, it's fallen asleep...
We'll just wait and see if there's somebody... maybe a Barney Bubbles; a quiet genius, biding his time and just waiting for someone to hear their laconic, wry aperçus. 
Someone like me, or you, but we're never going to take over that party, but we never wanted to, really. Now where's that Barely Beige? Anyone?