Friday 1 June 2012

Xenophon's Adventure by Geoffrey Household (The Bodley Head, 1961, Bernard Blatch Cover and Illustrations) and Two P. M. Hubbard Children's Novels Join Beautiful British Book Jacket Design

Just for a change, today's additions to Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s are all children's books. They aren't, however, by authors who are generally recognised as writers of children's fiction; the bulk of both writers' backlists are comprised of, respectively, spy thrillers and suspense novels. Their names will, however, be familiar to regular readers of Existential Ennui, as I've written about them extensively; and the designer of the jacket of this first book – and illustrator of the interiors, too – is an artist who's already appeared in Beautiful British Book Jacket Design...

Published by The Bodley Head in the UK in 1961 as part of the publisher's series of retellings of heroic tales, Xenophon's Adventure is one of only a handful of children's titles Rogue Male author Geoffrey Household wrote during his fifty-year career. It was originally published by Random House in the US in 1955 under the title The Exploits of Xenophon (Household based the book on a story from the seven-volume Anabasis), with illustrations by Leonard Everett Fisher, but for their edition, Bodley secured the services of Bernard Blatch, who designed the dustjacket and provided interior illos; Blatch also designed the jacket of the 1961 Heinemann edition of Frederick Karl's The Quest, a copy of which I found in a Lewes charity shop a few weeks ago and promptly added to the Beautiful British Book Jackets gallery.

I bought this first edition of Xenophon's Adventure in Camilla's in Eastbourne – where, on a previous visit, Rachel picked up her 1965 Collins first of Agatha Christie's At Bertram's Hotel – for £6.50, which, considering non-ex-library copies are listed on AbeBooks for anything from £20 to £100, was a very reasonable price indeed.

The other two children's books I've added to Beautiful British Book Jacket DesignAnna Highbury (Cassell, 1963) and Rat Trap Island (Cassell, 1964) – are both by suspense novelist P. M. Hubbard, and are the only children's novels he wrote. If you follow the links you'll find my original posts on the books and the cover designers, but I've rephotographed the two wrappers from their original appearances; the Anna Highbury jacket was illustrated by Graham Byfield, while the Rat Trap Island one was illustrated by John Strickland Goodall.

And I'm still not quite done with the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s, because next I'll be reviewing three novels by one of my favourite authors, Patricia Highsmith, all of which, in their Heinemann first editions, boast terrific dust jackets, two of which are little-seen online, and third of which, I believe, has never been seen on the web...

Thursday 31 May 2012

Agatha Christie's At Bertram's Hotel, Desmond Cory's Feramontov and Timelock, and Roald Dahl's Sometime Never Join Beautiful British Book Covers

One would have thought, having reached a new milestone of 60 covers in the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery, that I might perhaps rest on my laurels, or at the very least pause for a moment's reflection. But oh no. I'm plunging merrily onwards, and have now added another four dust jackets to the page, beginning with a jacket designed by a man who already has one wrapper in the gallery:

Published by Collins in the UK in 1965, this is the British first edition of Agatha Christie's At Bertram's Hotel. As with the Agatha Christies I showcased yesterday, this copy isn't actually mine – it's from Rachel's splendid collection of Christies – but I wanted to include it in the Beautiful British Book Jackets gallery because its wrapper was designed by Brian Russell, who also designed the jacket for the 1962 Frederick Muller first edition of Desmond Cory's Undertow, which joined the gallery last week. And if you compare the two, there are definite similarities: the ever-so-slightly askew typography and rough edges on the black sea on the Undertow front cover are echoed by similar treatments on At Bertram's Hotel.

And speaking of Desmond Cory, a further two Cory jackets – for Johnny Fedora spy novels – have also joined the gallery, rephotographed from their original appearances on Existential Ennui: Klim Forster's cover for the 1966 Frederick Muller edition of Feramontov, and Abis Sida Stridley's one for the 1967 Muller edition of Timelock. Those two probably have more in common with the, shall we say, less subtle, less nuanced school of jacket design which would come to prevail in the 1970s, but there is, I feel, enough of the playfulness of the 1960s about them to warrant their inclusion, and with Timelock there's an additional link to At Bertram's Hotel: Sida Stridley's photographs illustrated the 1965 Woman's Own serialisation of the novel.

Finally, having set a precedent with the inclusion of Cecil Walter Bacon's lovely jacket for the 1970 Geoffrey Bles edition of P. M. Hubbard's Cold Waters, I've decided to add another wrapper which falls just outside the established remit of the gallery: that of the 1949 British Collins edition of Roald Dahl's Sometime Never – again rephotographed from its original appearance – designed by Stephen Russ, if only to illustrate that there were, of course, lovely dust jackets being designed before the 1950s, as there were after the 1960s. But I still stand by my assertion that the '50s and '60s were a golden age for wrapper design, and I'd suggest that you'd find more beautiful book jackets from those two decades than you would from the years either side – as I'm hopefully demonstrating.

And there are still more dust jackets to come, as I'll shortly be adding three jackets from children's books from the early 1960s – although the authors in question will already be familiar to regular readers of Existential Ennui...

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Kenneth Farnhill Dust Jackets for Agatha Christie Novels Third Girl, Endless Night and By the Pricking of My Thumbs (Collins, 1966/67/68) Join Beautiful British Book Covers

So then, as well as adding Kenneth Farnhill's splendid dust jacket for the 1964 Michael Joseph first edition of P. M. Hubbard's Picture of Millie to the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page, I've also now bunged in three further Farnhill wrappers, bringing the total number of covers up to sixty. All three new additions wrap Agatha Christie first editions from the mid- to late-1960s, and while in comparison both to Farnhill's earlier Hubbard wrapper and to many other wrappers in the Beautiful Book Jackets gallery, they're quite simple designs – bright, flat colours and bold typography combined with a decorative motif (or no motif at all in once instance) – they are, to my mind, and in their own way, iconic. Certainly when I think of Christie novels, it's jackets like these that spring to mind, rather than, say, Tom Adams's more celebrated paperback covers.

All three Christie covers, I should point out, are courtesy of the lovely Rachel; I don't own any Agatha Christies myself, but hey: what's hers – as in Rachel's, not Agatha's – is mine, although I'm not sure the reverse is necessarily true. You can see the covers in question below, along with back covers and cases/jacket flaps for reference, but I'm not quite done with Agatha Christie yet, nor P. M. Hubbard, nor indeed the subject of last week's posts, Desmond Cory. Because I'll shortly be adding yet more wrappers to Beautiful British Book Jacket Design, including a Christie jacket by a designer who's already made it into the gallery, plus some children's novels, and more besides...

Third Girl by Agatha Christie (Collins, 1966), Kenneth Farnhill jacket design

Endless Night by Agatha Christie (Collins, 1967), Kenneth Farnhill jacket design

By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie (Collins, 1968), Kenneth Farnhill jacket design

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Picture of Millie by P. M. Hubbard (Michael Joseph, 1964): Book Review, Dust Jacket Design by Kenneth Farnhill

This second of two books by cult British suspense novelist P. M. Hubbard I'm showcasing is even scarcer than the 1970 Geoffrey Bles edition of Cold Waters I posted yesterday; at present there are only five copies of the book in question, in any edition, listed on AbeBooks. And not only that, but it's the rarest (and most expensive) of those editions that I've managed to acquire...

First published by Michael Joseph in the UK in 1964 (and by London House & Maxwell in the US that same year), Picture of Millie was Philip Maitland Hubbard's second novel for adults, following his 1963 debut Flush as May. To my knowledge there's only one copy of the Michael Joseph first of the novel available online at the moment, offered by an American dealer for around £100, but crucially the listing isn't accompanied by any pictures, so this is, I believe, the first time the Joseph dust jacket has been seen on the web. It was designed by Kenneth Farnhill, who designed many wrappers for Joseph, Collins and other British publishers from the 1950s to the 1970s, including a good number of Agatha Christie novels – on which more anon – and Sarah Gainham's Night Falls on the City.

Picture of Millie is set in the West Country resort of Pelant, where Paul Mycroft has taken his family on holiday, and where the seaside idyll is broken when Paul's children spot a body washed up on the beach. The corpse is Millie Trent, wife of Major Trent, and a topic of prattle and chatter among the holidaymakers due to her perceived easy virtues. Paul takes an active – and partly professional – interest in the police investigation into her death, talking to the men and women who knew her, slowly building up, well, a picture of Millie, although in truth we actually learn more about the various denizens of Pelant – vacationers and locals alike – than we do about the recently deceased Mrs. Trent.

It's a curious book in Hubbard's canon. There's little of the underlying menace that characterizes many of his novels, nor indeed of his preoccupation with remote, rural locales, although there is a lot of messing about in boats, which is another of Hubbard's abiding concerns. But what's really noticeable if you're familiar with Hubbard's work is that, in contrast to many others of the author's male leads, who are often amoral, occasionally unhinged, and frequently capable of violence (see later novels like A Hive of Glass, Cold Waters, etc.), Paul is essentially a decent sort. He has a mildly roving eye (Hubbard memorably describes a well-built teenage girl as being "virginal, massive in sky blue"), but he loves his wife and family and there's no sense of him straying from the straight and narrow – unlike some of the other husbands in Pelant, who may, or may not, have succumbed to Millie's charms.

Indeed, in the way it picks away at the repressed mores of the English middle classes – their frosty marriages, gossiping and habitual over imbibing – Picture of Millie brings to mind a less farcical version of Fawlty Towers, although there are one or two more unsettling sequences which hint at the Hubbard to come, especially towards the climax, which sees Paul pitched into the broiling sea and fighting for his life.

Kenneth Farnhill's evocative wrapper for Picture of Millie will, of course, be joining my Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery – along with the jackets in my next post. Because it just so happens that I have to hand some of the other dust jackets Farnhill designed in the 1960s, this time for novels by perhaps the most famous crime writer of them all...

Monday 28 May 2012

Cold Waters by P. M. Hubbard (Geoffrey Bles, 1970); Dust Jacket Design by Cecil Walter Bacon (C. W. Bacon, or CWB)

After a second series of posts on Desmond Cory and his Johnny Fedora spy thrillers – and a Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s interlude – this week I'm returning to another Existential Ennui favourite: cult British suspense novelist P. M. Hubbard. I've had two runs of posts on Hubbard thus far – the first in May 2011, the second in November 2011 – and I've two further Hubbard first editions to blog about now – both very scarce in any edition, and the never-before-seen-online wrappers of each of which will be joining the aforementioned Beautiful British Book Jackets gallery. That said, however, this first book shouldn't, strictly speaking, really qualify for the gallery, but its jacket was designed by an illustrator who, aesthetically, very much belongs to that '50s/'60s heyday of dustjacket design...

First published in the UK by Geoffrey Bles in 1970 (a year after the US Atheneum edition), Cold Waters was Hubbard's ninth novel (including his two children's novels), and is a typically, quietly menacing tale set on a remote island (shades of the earlier A Hive of Glass there) in Scotland. Wyatt James's Annotated P. M. Hubbard Bibliography notes that the narrator, a married London businessman named Giffard, "is one of those cynical, depressed, but over-curious types the author does so well", and that "being that sort of Hubbard hero" Giffard sleeps with both his employer's wife and the maid.

In common with many of Hubbard's novels, copies of Cold Waters are thin on the ground: there are currently only seven listed on AbeBooks, all bar one of those being the Atheneum edition – the exception being a Bles first in Australia. The terrific dustjacket on the Bles edition was designed by C. W. Bacon, who is, in fact, illustrator Cecil Walter Bacon (who also signed his work as "CWB"). The list of jackets Bacon designed from the late-1930s to the early '70s is impressive, but he's perhaps better known as a poster designer – including many for London Transport – and for his long association with the Radio Times. So while his wrapper for Cold Waters may date from 1970, stylistically it's very definitely in keeping with other jackets in Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960, which is why I've now added it to the gallery.

The second Hubbard dustjacket I'll be showcasing, however, does fall within the established '50s/'60s remit of the gallery, and wraps around a very early – and in some ways atypical – Hubbard novel – one which is pretty hard to come by these days...