A step back into 1960's advertising in the UK

A couple of years ago I found myself stumbling through a second hand shop in the West Country and in the process ended up buying a job-lot of about thirty editions of ‘The Illustrated Carpenter & Builder’ for about £3.50.

Of course, as a designer, I didn’t buy a whole bunch of these to gain an understanding of what the building trade was like in the 60s but for an insight into what the design and advertising industry looked like. The snapshot in time is fascinating so I’ll share with you a few of the gems that this find unearthed.

In the days before Homebase and Travis Perkins and B&Q, industry suppliers used to advertise their individual product offerings direct to tradesmen through these pages, and leafing through the pages you can spot some brilliant vintage ads, and some peculiar strategies too. Evo-Stick for example advertises it’s flooring adhesive by using the headline “...who says little girls can’t go on the tiles?”. Obviously children slipping on unsafe tiles was a problem in the 60s, but looking back from relative comfort in 2015, this headline just sounds plain weird!

Long before the days of ubiquitous full colour printing in magazines, C&P was confined to black and white throughout. Advertisers had the added option of using an extra colour: Red. It goes without saying that all logos at the time had to operate in a single colour but I’ve always wondered what happened when a brand’s secondary colour wasn’t red? Interestingly Black & Decker stuck to black and white, possibly because their trademark orange wasn’t available, but Marley (who are still going strong under the name Marley Eternit) use black and red as their corporate colours, so were fine to print both. 

In terms of headline typography it’s largely a battle between the classic fonts of the era such as Clarendon, Helvetica, and Franklin Gothic. All make good use of the strength of their heavier weights with the economy of their condensed variants to fill the available space with high impact. A font choice of note is Hope’s Windows’ use of the Albertus typeface. Used on many a road sign in London, it’s highly distinctive due to it’s sharp minor-serif edges and straight ascenders. Deriving from the type of letters seen carved into metal or wood in the early Twentieth Century, it stands out for it’s uniqueness and elegance amongst the crowd of condensed fonts. 

My favourite ad in the whole set is one for Marleyglaze. Marley emphasises the clear transparency of its vinyl sheeting by coupling the headline ‘“I see” said the pigeon as he settled on Marleyglaze’ with an image of a pigeon sitting on the sheeting. A leftfield concept choice for sure but it really stands out amongst the crowd of conventional advertising. 

Of course, since the 60s the technology we now use for design has developed immeasurably but, in many ways, so too has our tastes. Tretobond Building Adhesives’s use of a scantily clad female model, coupled with the headline ‘Smart men appreciate economic coverage… in any shape or form’ is indicative of a lot of the sexist undertones found in the advertising work of the era, and certainly wouldn’t pass the taste-test of today. 

Next time you find yourself passing the RKH offices with some time to kill, do pop in and have a browse through them as the collection now reside in our in-house.