The Festival of Britain in 1951 acted as ‘a tonic for the nation’ in the aftermath of the ravages of the Second World War.
Though victorious, the country had been brought to its knees, and the festival was intended to celebrate imminent recovery. It is estimated that around half of the population were involved in celebrations across Britain, with millions visiting the Southbank alone. The events also inspired a new generation of creatives, with a new and refreshing ‘festival style’.
Here are five of the leading designers who worked on the Festival:
1. Abram Games
Born in 1914 in London’s East End, to Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe, Abram Games’s grit, determination and talent made him one of the most important and memorable graphic designers of the twentieth century. He served in the Second World War, designing several iconic posters from 1941 onwards. In 1948 he beat eleven other contestants to win a competition to design the logo for the Festival of Britain. The brief called for a design that reflected “Summer of gaiety and good looks”
2. Ernest Race
In 1942, prompted by shortages of raw materials caused by the war effort, the government introduced the Utility Furniture Scheme. This rationed furniture and encouraged designers to be creative in their use of materials. One of Ernest Race’s earliest designs for his eponymous furniture company used aluminium, which was widely available during the war. Two of Race’s designs were selected for the Festival: the Antelope and Springbok chairs were designed to be durable enough for indoor or outdoor use, and easily stackable. Both chairs were playful and symbolised a new era of design.
Married in 1942, Robin and Lucienne met at a party at the Royal College of Art (RCA). Brought together by a shared love of modern design, they spent the rest of the war teaching. The Festival provided the couple with an extraordinary opportunity and was a decisive moment in both of their careers: Robin was to design much of the internal seating for the Royal Festival Hall, whilst Lucienne designed a number of wallpapers and textiles. Most notable is the often imitated Calyx fabric, which drew inspiration from the modern aesthetic that was sweeping the world.
4. Philip Boydell
Another graduate of the RCA, Boydell served in the navy during the First World War. In the Second World War Boydell created the initial designs for one of the most memorable propaganda characters, the ‘Squander Bug’, created to discourage frivolous spending. In 1950 he created the Festival of Britain font, which was used for all official announcements. Designed in tall, slim letters it has been said to resemble bunting.
5. Peter Moro
Born in Germany in 1911 to a family with some Jewish heritage, Moro felt the effects of encroaching anti-Semitism. He moved to London in 1936, and worked for the seminal modernist architect Berthold Lubetkin. From 1941- 47, Moro taught at the Regent Street Polytechnic. He led the group who designed the interior of the Royal Festival Hall (Grade I listed) and worked with Leslie Martin on the ‘net & ball’ design for the carpets that run throughout (seen in the above image). The design reflects a visual representation of sound, mimicking the purpose of the hall.
Most of the art created for the Festival of Britain has sadly been lost or destroyed. Amazingly, a sculpture by artist Peter Lazslo Peri has been found. The Sunbathers were tracked down to a hotel in Blackheath, London. In 2017 we crowdfunded to restore the sculpture, and return it to permanent public display.
Written by Charlotte Goodhart