Clearly, with my father being a compositor and printer (I still have very clear memories of visiting his place of work - Dams+Lock in Birmingham - and seeing and handling the metal typesetting ‘sorts’) and every page set by hand, it isn’t that surprising.
This has triggered all sorts of memories from my childhood… two of these involved watching BBC sport on the television.
I used to love watching test match cricket on the television (in black+white, of course, and featuring the likes of Peter West) and was intrigued by the handwritten, updated scorecards they used to put up on the screen at the fall of every wicket… beautifully and laboriously written out with traditional dip pens, metal nibs and bottles of ink! I used to try to emulate the behind-the-scenes mystery calligraphers – and wonder at how (comparatively) quickly they were at updating their scorecards compared with me doing the same on the dining table.
Actually, although I got to be pretty proficient at using lettering pens, I never really liked the style of lettering produced with a pen nib (I felt they were a “bit old-fashioned”).
My other television lettering fascination involved the production of the horse racing results! During the course of the Saturday afternoon “Grandstand” programme, they would show the racing results. Every result was shown on screen in the form of hand-written lettering (using italic, capital letters, I recall): first, second and third horses; their numbers, names and betting odds. These were produced at an amazing rate and all beautifully-crafted (with an impression that they were done using a brush… or am I imagining this?). Sadly, I haven’t been able to find an example of either the cricket scorecards or the racing results on the internet (maybe I’m searching in the wrong places? If anyone can come up with either of these, please do let me know!). I was so captivated by the racing result stuff that I can actually remember thinking it could be something I might do for a living!
Actually, it was the traditional typefaces that I was really interesting in.I was part of the “Remove” stream at school (taking O Levels in four years instead of five). Sadly, in order to do this the powers-that-be insisted that anyone in this stream had to give up Art (how scandalous is that!). Eventually (but not until the very start of my O Level year), I mustered up the courage to ask ‘special permission’ to do Art… and, after MUCH head-shaking and irritation, the Headmaster finally agreed to my request (I must have been much braver than I actually recall!). I decided to opt for lettering as the most practical way of making up for lost time… which involved setting out, drawing up and painting lots of different forms of lettering. I found it all quite satisfying and passed my Art O Level without difficulty (but abandoned lettering for painting, drawing etc for A Level… but that’s another story!).
When I first arrived at School of Architecture in Oxford, I can recall drawing up and inking in lettering for my initial projects… but then we discovered the wonder of Letraset (dry rub-down Instant Lettering)! It totally transformed our lives as architectural students… graphic design and presentation was an important part of our architectural education and I think we went just a little over-the-top with our Letraset (and, for penniless students, it didn’t come cheap!)!
I’ve continued to be fascinated by typefaces and calligraphy. In particular, Japanese calligraphy has always rather captivated me. There was a recent television series (sadly no longer available on iPlayer, it seems?) on the BBC entitled “Handmade in Japan” which included a section on calligraphy – including work/performance by (I think) Miyu Tamamura (see this YouTubeclip)… one day, perhaps, I’ll roll back the living room carpet and have a go!Computers, the internet and the digital world have long since taken over our lives when it comes to words, graphics, images et al… and it’s brilliant. But there’s just part of me that still yearns for some of the ‘old technology’, hand-produced stuff!
Photo: The cover from my 1984 Letraset catalogue (believe me, I had several others from the late 1960s onwards… all sadly binned!).