I have been staring at this poster by Gerald Spencer Pryse for a while trying to think what it reminded me of. Obviously Pryse took heavily from Christian art, but the words from Blake’s famous poem also fit well I think.
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
I’ve written about the above poster before. It’s a striking design from 1910; the boldness of the central image marked out by a thick black line from the custard background. The piercing grey/blue eyes of ‘The House of Lords’, contrasts with the wit of ‘the people[’s]’ quiff. They all combine to create something of an ocular feast. The only thing lacking in the poster is a signature. I have no idea who designed it. A couple of days ago, however, someone put me on to a collection of posters in the Mundaneum in Belgium. You can see one, among the institution’s many examples, below. It is a Conservative poster mocking H.H. Asquith, Liberal Prime Minister from 1908 to 1916. The poster simply asks ‘where is’ the cheap bread Asquith promised. The similarities between it and THE GLUTTON! are striking. The familiar layouts with their central image on a single block of colour, the – for want of a better term – fleshiness of the skin, and that thick black out-line. WHERE IS IT? is signed E Huskinson. This is Edward, a cartoonist, editor of Tatler from 1908 to1940 and regular poster designer for the Conservative party. But THE GLUTTON! is a poster for the Budget League, a pressure group linked both ideologically and through its leadership with the Liberal party. Was Huskinson designing posters for both sides in the years before 1910? I have never before found an artist working for two opposing parties, indeed, many were overtly partisan; but this didn’t mean it didn’t happen. Is THE GLUTTON! a Huskinson design? Was he conducting work for both parties? Any thoughts?
On Thursday 14th June, academics and advertising professionals gathered at the People’s History Museum in Manchester to discuss the past, present and future of political communication. The conference, sponsored by the Centre for British Politics, also marked the end of the exhibition Picturing Politics: Exploring the British Political Poster curated by PhD candidate Chris Burgess, who also organised the conference.
Most contributors focussed on the communication between political parties and the people, specifically how the former have tried to influence the later. What was immediately apparent is just how varied such communication can be. David Thackeray explored the communication between local candidates and electors in the form of election addresses. This set the mark for many of the papers as a strong theme emerged of the importance of communication previously ignored by historians. Nick Mansfield’s paper on political banners demonstrated that during the twentieth century these often-beautiful objects had a role in extra parliamentary democracy, single-issue pressure groups, and even intra-party communication. Mansfield’s findings demonstrate that there is much more to banners than the expression of nineteenth century masculine trade unionism. Jon Lawrence showed that even in those halcyon days before spin-doctors, politicians used their dress to speak to the people. An image of James Ramsay-MacDonald wearing a lounge suit and smoking a cigarette demonstrated the Labour leader’s modernity. Questions after Lawrence’s talk naturally led to discussion of that most iconic/infamous political garb, Michael Foot’s donkey jacket (which wasn’t a donkey jacket), which provoked many delegates to look at the guilty object during lunch as it is on display in the Museum. James Thompson also spoke of the visual, vividly describing the spectacle of Edwardian London County Council elections. Thompson argued that campaigning in the Edwardian period was as much about sight as about sound. He vividly spoke of a parade of floats used to persuade people to vote including a man standing on a ship with the accompanying slogan ‘one man one boat’, certainly the pun of the day.
Posters often literally loomed large in many papers. Stuart Ball referred to posters in his analysis of Conservative communication in the inter-war years. Former Saatchi employee and current researcher Graham Deakin examined the well-known poster Labour Isn’t Working and how it helped establish the 48 sheet bill board in elections after 1979. Rachel Grainger also focussed on Labour Isn’t Working, applying semiotic method to unpick the posters meaning. Chris Burgess also spoke in detail about Labour’s poster Yesterday’s Men and how it contributed to the formation of political communication during and after the 1970 election.
One of the key points that emerged from the discussion was the role of ‘professional’ or commercial advertising in political communication. Both Jon Lawrence and Stuart Ball highlighted media management as key to communication in the inter-war period. This was a theme picked up by Dominic Wring on his paper on Herbert Morrison, Labour and the 1937 London election, describing that as Labour’s first ‘professional campaign’. Jim Aulich found modern techniques outside the party structure. He demonstrated the sophistication of left-wing material designed to promote Soviet Russia to the British people during the Second World War. In the final paper of the day Simon Cross explored the changing nature of the party election broadcast. Cross’ paper provided a neat ending in that it argued that while much has changed with PEBs over the course of the second half of the 20th century strong continuities were evident. Indeed, a line emerged throughout the conference that while parties and communication experts often claimed to be innovating new techniques, in reality there was much reinvention.
The day ended with a round-table discussion. The panel included advertising executive and blogger Benedict Pringle (www.politicaladvertising.co.uk), ad-excutive and former head of the Lib Dem online campaign in the 2001 and 2005 elections Mark Pack (www.markpack.org.uk) Jon Lawrence, Stuart Ball, and academic and co-author of the latest Nuffield election study Philip Cowley. Professionalisation, in the form of the influence of US advisors, was a topic that concerned the panel. There was a general puzzlement as why British parties relied so heavily on such figures, given the radical difference between UK and American electoral conditions. Naturally, the future of campaigning came up and Mark Pack made the point that now the most widely read adverts were text messages. Phil Cowley also emphasised the contemporary importance of direct mail to political parties – and how little interest there was in studying this form of communication amongst journalists and academics alike. Those looking to research some new evidence for their PhD, take note.
The conference ended with a lively but inconclusive discussion on the political merits of Banksy’s work, provoked by a question from the floor.
To coincide with the end of the poster exhibition at the People’s History Museum, on the 14th June there will be a conference on Political Communication at the museum. A host of academics, advertising executives, and journalists have agreed to contribute. It is £25 for the day including lunch, and there are a limited number of places for post-graduate students. To see the conference timetable and register follow this link http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/cbp/centre-activities/parties,-people-and-elections-political-communication-since-1900-call-for-papers.aspx.
The above poster is the collection of the People’s History Museum. Its been confusing me – and others – for a while. It is by Gerald Spencer Pryse, who produced posters for Labour from around 1910 to the 1930s. It’s obviously a Pryse, whose style, somehow more artistic, marked him out from other poster produces of the period. The mystery lies with the absence of words. One of the defining things about posters – certainly it defines the best posters – is the interaction of the text and image, the interplay between the verbal and visual. Words both develop the pictorial message of the picture, but also anchor its meaning. Without words the image is entirely in the eye of the beholder, the text wrests some control back.
There is a another poster in the PHM collection, again by Pryse, similar to the above, but an image of male clerks, again without words. What were these posters for, who were they aimed at, what do they mean? I was working in the archive the other day and found this article.
The two posters formed, with a third larger design, a triptych. Pryse often worked in this form, two out-flanking posters with a larger one in the centre. Suddenly all has meaning, the text of the middle poster relates to the outside two. ‘Labour stands for all who work’. Suddenly ‘all’ is a much more encompassing term.
The Boris campaign launched a series of posters this week. There are nine examples in the group and each feature a different pledge from the Mayor’s nine-part plan. At the bottom of each poster is a picture of Boris. Johnson has always presented himself as slightly dishevelled, which does separate him from his glossy Westminster cousins. In this respect his method is not unlike Harold Wilson whose Gannex wearing, pipe smoking, affability marked him out against the aristocratic Douglas- Home or the taciturn Ted Heath.
However, the new Boris posters take something from Labour’s 1997 campaign. Then the party famously handed out pledge cards to the electorate.
Benedict Pringle over at political advertisingis not a huge fan of the new Johnson posters; they are phenomenally uninspiring, dull even. But it is interesting to note that just as in 2010 when David Cameron sought to present himself politically and stylistically as Blair, Johnson is also borrowing techniques from that 1997 campaign.
Of course, Johnson and Cameron are very different characters. But Johnson’s pledges demonstrate another senior Conservative seemingly in thrall to the techniques of New Labour circa 1997.
In conjunction with the Picturing Politics exhibition I’m organising a conference to be held on the 14th June. If you fancy submitting a paper proposal, here is the Call For Papers.
Parties, People and Elections: Political Communication since 1900: Call for Papers
Date: 14th June 2012
Location: People’s History Museum, Manchester
The way politicians talk to the people, and how they do so has undergone a dramatic change since 1900. The demise of the mass platform, the birth of radio, cinema and television, and the advent of new social media, has radically reshaped how parties and people interact. Furthermore, increased centralisation, ‘professionalisation’ and the use of experts schooled in the techniques of advertising have all affected what parties say and how they say it.
The conference, sponsored by the Centre for British Politics at the University of Nottingham, will explore how parties spoke to the people. It will analyse what these communications looked like, and what (if any) impact they had on the people. The conference aims to be inter-disciplinary and we invite papers from those working in the fields of history, political science, political communication, cultural studies, and art history. In addition to the academic content, the conference aims to include advertising executives and politicians who have participated in past election campaigns.
Confirmed participants include Professor Jim Aulich (Manchester Metropolitan University), Dr Stuart Ball (University of Leicester), Graham Deakin (Advertising executive), Dr Jon Lawrence (University of Cambridge), Dr Nicholas Mansfield (UCLan), Dr Mark Pack (former Head of Innovations at the Liberal Democrats, www.markpack.org.uk), Benedict Pringle (advertising executive www.politicaladvertising.co.uk ), Dr David Thackeray (University of Exeter), Dr James Thompson (University of Bristol), Dr Dominic Wring (University of Loughborough)
The conference complements the exhibition Picturing Politics: Exploring the Election Poster in Britain at the People’s History Museum Manchester, 12th November 2011 – 17th June 2012.
Please contact Chris Burgess to submit abstracts (250 words) by 2nd April 2012, or for further details firstname.lastname@example.org