I appeared on BBC Radio 4s the Long View this morning. Discussing the advertising and posters of the 1929 election with Dr Laura Beers from the University of Birmingham, Danny Finkelstein from The Times, Tony Blair’s former Political Director Matthew Doyle and the host Jonathan Freedland was a brilliant way to pass the day.
One thing we didn’t have time to chat about was how some posters articulated Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin’s fear – a fear that had germinated following the General Strike – that society would fracture along class lines. Conservative posters showed all classes of British society enjoying the paternalism of Baldwin’s Conservatives. Such billboards provide a startling insight into a political leader’s mind.
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.
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.