Maurice Rickards: ephemera and magazines

Maurice Rickards merged two images in the dark room for this image manipulation cover on Man About Town in 1959

Maurice Rickards merged two photographs in the dark room for this image manipulation cover on Man About Town in 1959

Maurice Rickards is one of the unsung heroes of graphic design. Although he wrote several books – and Michael Twyman completed his Encyclopedia of Ephemera – the godfather of modern-day ephemera is rarely written about. Even Wikipedia, that great hoover-upper of everybody else’s research and websites, has yet to acknowledge his existence. Only the Independent gave him an obituary (by Patrick ‘Book of Firsts‘ Robertson, a former chairman of the Ephemera Society who claims to own the largest private collection of vintage magazines in Britain).

Rickards trained as a photographer but collecting the fleeting printed objects of everyday life – particularly posters – was his joy and he appears to have made a living from his Fitzrovia basement studio as an illustrator, photographer and magazine designer. It was his enthusiasm that led to the creation of the Ephemera Society, its offshoot in the US and the Centre for Ephemera Studies at Reading University under the direction of Professor Twyman.

Maurice Rickards poster-style cover design for Man About Town (spring 1956)

Maurice Rickards poster-style cover design for Man About Town (spring 1956)

I never met the man, but came to some idea of his approach to design through the pages of Man About Town under the editorship of John Taylor in the 1950s (before it was bought up by Michael Heseltine’s Cornmarket). Later, when researching books about British magazine design and Alfred Leete’s Kitchener poster, I discovered his books on posters.

The spring 1956 poster-like cover of Man About Town is credited to Rickards, as is autumn 1958, so he was probably working as a freelance designer on the magazine in those years. I particularly like the latter example, which is described as being inspired by the squiggle shape that he came across.

Maurice Rickards ephemera-inspired cover design for Man About Town (autumn 1958)

Maurice Rickards ephemera-inspired cover design for Man About Town (autumn 1958)

The autumn/winter i959 issue at the top of this post was the last Man About Town under Taylor and perhaps that is why it gives a big showing to Rickards’ work. He had done several earlier covers designs but this one gives an opportunity for his ‘crackpotography’ ideas, along with a five-page article.  The text reproduces some of his ‘eccentricities’ in ‘Rickards’s howdoneit’, an article based on his book, Off-Beat Photography (The Studio, 1959), about image manipulation. In Man About Town‘s inimitable style, the magazine  describes that the woman sitting on Rickards’s head cover is easily explained:

It is not that we used a particularly small girl; it is merely that Rickards himself has such a big head.

Offbeat Photography by Maurice Richards

Offbeat Photography by Maurice Richards shows Rickards with an axe in his head on the dust jacket

In the article, the captions explain how each photograph was composed and how shadows were added using an airbrush or avoided. A man shown balancing on a glass using just one finger needed 50 or 60 exposures before Rickards got it right. A skull and Luger photo was for a book, named as Skeleton Island. In fact, this looks to have become A Twist of Sand (1960) by Geoffrey Jenkins and was made into a film eight years later starring Richard Johnson and Honor Blackman. The cover used a variant of the photo, without the gun.

Another photograph of what looks like the aftermath of a massive road accident  harks back to a poster campaign he did right at the start of his career in 1953 – Lives Matter. Three posters were commissioned by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, showing a woman collapsed over a telephone, a one-legged boy on crutches, and a little girl in the arms of a policeman. According to Patrick Robertson’s obituary, such was the horror they generated that they were banned by various local authorities, were defaced on hoardings and prompted ‘harsh letters’ to editors and MPs.

 

 

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