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What do they talk about?

  • Author: BACON, Cecil W (artist)
  • Publisher: Geographical Magazine, London
  • Engraver: Taylowe Ltd, Slough
  • Date: 1951
  • Dimensions: 44 x 66 cms


Cecil W Bacon’s amusing pictorial map published by “Geographical Magazine” as a promotional piece for the 1951 Festival of Britain

About this piece:

What do they talk about?

Colour-printed map. Traces of vertical & horizontal old folds. Overall fine condition.

This amusing & engaging pictorial map of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was designed as a promotional item for the famous 1951 Festival of Britain. With the support of Esso Petroleum it was marketed as a free supplement with one of the 1951 monthly issues of the Geographical Magazine, the mouthpiece of London’s Royal Geographical Society (RGS). It was also available direct from the Geographical Magazine for a price of 2s 6d, post free.

Published under the direction of Professor E G R Taylor, the map’s author was the well-known poster designer & commercial artist, Cecil W. Bacon [1905-1992], whose initials appear in the lower right-hand corner. Born in Sussex & later trained at Hastings School of Art in the mid-1920s, Bacon had moved to London in 1926 where he began work with a commercial studio & advertising agency. He turned freelance in 1929 and was married the same year. Signing his work “CWB”, he was soon producing striking posters for Frank Pick’s London Underground, British Railways, the Post Office and other prominent national organisations. His long association with The Radio Times began soon afterwards, and over the course of many years his superb line drawings and scraperboard illustrations frequently graced its covers. Those from the early 1950s period, such as Festival of Britain [1951] and The Queen Returns [1954] are especially fine & striking. During the Second World War his talents had been gratefully employed by the Ministry of Information. In the post-war years he also became a well-established book illustrator & designer of book covers, which were particularly well-suited to his distinctive scraperboard designs.

The text in the lower left cartouche explains the background and context for the map:

Most people talk about the place where they work – the pit, the office, the mill – some of prices, the season’s prospects, the government. Many talk of their holidays, sports or enthusiasms, others – of themselves. And everyone talks about the weather. Here is a map-guide to local conversation gambits when touring Festival Britain.

The aim of the map is to provide a cross-section of local and regional sound-bites which together comprise “the British national conversation” in early 1951, as the Festival of Britain opened amid great public excitement & anticipation.

The Festival was funded by the incumbent Labour Government as “one united act of national reassessment, and one corporate reaffirmation of faith in the nation’s future.” It was a nationwide celebration, taking place on the Centenary of the famous 1851 Great Exhibition, whose aim was to cast off the overriding sense of austerity & gloom that still hung over much of post-war Britain and to showcase the country’s remarkable progress and achievements, particularly in the fields of science, technology, architecture & industrial design. At the centre of it all was the South Bank Exhibition Centre, located beside the River Thames in Central London, whose Festival Hall, modernist Dome of Discovery and 300-foot high needle-like futuristic Skylon quickly captured the public imagination. A vignette of it here dominates much of Greater London.

The map cleverly highlights the social & recreational fabric of post-war Britain as well as its rapidly changing industrial landscape. Rationing of many basic foodstuffs was still widely in force and though most factories had quickly ceased wartime production in 1945, much of Britain’s manufacturing output continued to flow overseas as successive Governments sought to bring in foreign currency and reduce the balance of payments deficit: Whisky for Dollars, a note amid the stills of Speyside comments pointedly.

There were also determined marketing campaigns by the British Travel Association (in which Kerry Lee’s pictorial map posters played such a key role) to try and encourage tourists to visit the historical delights of post-war Britain: note the tourist bus, outdoor ramblers & well-heeled tourists visible in the central Midlands, the Pennines & Scotland. Bacon also highlights the numerous “trippers” & visitors increasingly drawn to country’s summer seaside resorts & unspoilt coastlines, many of these female holidaymakers now sporting daring two piece swimming costumes! Outdoor sport & recreation are much in evidence too.

As well as traditional industries – mills, steel factories, motor works, coal pits & blast furnaces – many new heavy industry & infrastructure projects are also clearly in evidence – the new Esso oil refinery at Fawley; factories in South Wales; power stations in Essex & Lincolnshire; a coal mine & nascent industries in Eastern Scotland & expanding forestation and hydro-electric schemes in both the Scottish Lowlands & Highlands. In Northern Ireland, the Harland & Woolf shipyard completes the final preparations for the commissioning of Audacious-class aircraft carrier, HMS Eagle, whilst in Bristol Bacon highlights the recently unveiled Bristol Brabazon airline, a 100-seat passenger plane for the new post-war era of transatlantic air travel (sadly scrapped the following year!).  There is much evident pre-occupation with the rural economy & farming: Ewes, Rams, Lambs & Sheep, Heifers, Crop & Livestock Prices, discussions over switching from food production to tree planting & forestation; and for dairy producers, endless discussions on Milk yields & the “Milk cheque”.

And everywhere discussions on that perennial British obsession: the weather….

A unique & entertaining cartographic summation of the “national conversations” taking place in Britain in this 1951 Festival year.

In the wake of Tim Bryars & Tom Harper’s popular book on 20th Century maps (which features an illustration of Bacon’s map on its cover) this has become an increasingly sought-after & collectable item and is ever more frustratingly hard to find, especially in the fine condition of this particular example.

Refs: Tim Bryars & Tom Harper: A History of the Twentieth Century in 100 Maps, pp.124-125; Obituary for Cecil W Bacon (Independent newspaper, 1992)