Archive for August, 2011

Frank Whittle & the first British jet planes.

August 30, 2011 2 comments

I read recently on my way into work, that one of Britain’s oldest surviving flying jet aircraft, a Gloster Meteor, has taken to the skies again after a £500,000 restoration project, bringing the total of remaining airworthy Meteors to 5 worldwide.

It may surprise you to know that this year sees the 70th anniversary of the jet engine’s first active service in the RAF, as it was in 1941, that this small step towards supersonic flight was first taken.

The patents for a jet propelled engine were submitted in 1930 by the brilliant engineer Frank Whittle (like me, a Midlander – born Coventry 1907, d.1996) but it wasn’t until 9 years later, after years of financial hardship and rejection both from industry and the RAF, that he finally managed to convince people of the merits of his new turbo jet engine, and get a testing programme properly funded and an engine installed onto an airplane. Without doubt, the advent of WWII had much to do with the focusing of the Ministry of Defences collective mind.

The first true British jet powered aircraft was the rather officially named E28/39 (sometimes known as the Gloster Whittle). It was a single engined plane designed by George Carter for the Gloster Aircraft Company in 1939, solely to test Whittle’s the new engine.

In essence, other than strengthening to take the additional forces imposed by the more powerful jet, this plane differed very little from a standard propeller driven one, with the concept of swept back and delta wing forms typical of modern day jet fighters, still some years into the future. The new engine performed so well during test flights over the summer of 1941 however, that The MoD commissioned 300 of them. Despite the single, centrally located engine of the test plane, Whittle had always intended that the production plane would have two engines, one in each wing, increasing both thrust and manoeuvrability.

When it finally saw active service in June 1944, The Meteor proved to be a very successful aircraft, achieving and holding the subsonic airspeed record of 616mph for two years between 1945 and 1947. In all just short 0f 4000 Meteors were eventually built between 1944 and 1954 with the aircraft being flown by nearly 20 different air forces, and it wasn’t until the advent of the classic and infinitely superior Hawker Hunter in the mid 1950’s, that the Meteor began to be phased out.

27b/6 – David Thorne

August 26, 2011 2 comments

My friend Darren sent me an email recently which introduced me to the exquisite humour of David Thorne.

Obviously something of a prankster, (although its obvious from his site, that he’s regularly called much worse than that) the email sent to me contained copies of 10 Formal Complaint Forms made out against Mr. Thorne by a rather sad sounding “co-worker” called Simon…. and once I’d stopped laughing, I thought I’d help spread the word….

Now whether the complaint forms are real or not is beside the point, what they is are very, very funny. I particularly liked the idea of Thorne overhearing Simon saying he would like a white iPhone, and then covering the one he has in Tipex, whilst “I’m too busy researching wasps” has to be one of the best excuses to get out of helping someone rebuild the office space that you’ve just dismantled, that I’ve ever heard.

The link above takes you to his own rather excellent site, 27b/6, which is full of lots of wonderful stuff. (Sad fact, and I swear I knew this without looking it up, the site’s name comes from the film Brazil, and is the form that Robert DeNiro tells Jonathan Price to ask for to prevent Bob Hoskins getting into his home)

Anyway, it seems that David Thorne is an Australian living in the US and is a man who has obviously honed his sarcastic email writing skills, to the point where he can produce a seemingly never ending stream of  letters to people about things that mostly wind him up.. a man after my own heart.

His site is definitely worth checking out if you have some spare time. There’s the one where he tries and fails to pay a bill with a drawing of a spider, but I really like this brilliant email exchange with a snowboard shop: after being sold rubbish gloves and refused a refund, he took out an ad in the local paper saying the shop was giving away 500 free snowboards.. and the relationship goes downhill from there…

Very clever & very funny….

It seems that a book of David Thorne’s writing has recently been published in the UK, although as the sticker on the front claims it contains everything that’s already online, I’m not sure why I should buy it…

Maybe I should write to Mr. Thorne and ask him, see if I can get into the inevitable second book…

William Gottlieb’s 1940’s New York Jazz photos..

August 21, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ll start with an admission… I’m not a fan of  the large majority of Jazz.

In fact there are certain things that I really can’t stand about it…. it’s noodliness, the insistence of playing on the off beat, the way every member of the band has to have a solo, the disjointed and fractured song structures, the almost wilful disregard for any recognisable rhythm…. I could go on (and often do, ask anyone who knows me)

But there are some aspects that I can most definitely appreciate about jazz;  the passion (bordering on obsession in many cases) the wonderful style and panache of the musicians (especially from this period, the 1930’s and 40’s) and the sense that the artists were doing it because they just had to..  it was in their blood.

So when I came across this set of photos on Flickr recently, I was captivated by them. Taken by the American, William Gottlieb, the images document the jazz scene in New York City from 1938 to 1948, a time recognized by many as the “Golden Age of Jazz”.

Gottlieb was both a music journalist and a self-taught photographer who spent his life capturing the jazz greats, almost always in black and white. Upon his death in 2006, Gottlieb bequeathed his entire collection (over 1600 images) to the public domain, which is where I found them on a Flickr site here… There are many famous names in the collection: Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington to name a few.

The images I’ve chosen for this post are just some of the ones that appealed to me. I particularly like the fact that almost every single person in the photos is smiling…. New York must have been an amazing place during this time…

50 Years of London Architecture @ University of Westminster

August 16, 2011 1 comment

We went to see this exhibition last weekend. It’s in the Ambika Gallery in the basement of my old University (or The Polytechnic of Central London as it was back then), a huge almost triple height space that I remember housing the model shop and structural testing labs…

The exhibition itself is huge.. almost never ending. There must be well over 150 panels, each one with a couple of images of the building in question, and a small descriptive panel to one side. It seems it was originally shown last year (hence the 50 years bit) and this is simply an update to that first exhibition, but it’s well worth a visit if you get the time before it closes on August 25th.

I found it really interesting to start at 1960 and move slowly round through the decades and styles finishing up with today’s cutting edge proposals… and whilst looking at the wide range of stuff on show, it struck me that by far the weakest and least interesting period on display was the mid to late 1980’s, which was exactly the time I started out on my quest to be an architect… not sure if that’s significant in any way…

As to which of the many buildings on show would be my personal favourite, that’s a difficult one as there are just so many to choose from. So it might be easier to chose a favourite architect, and that would have to be Denys Lasdun, the genius who created The Royal College of Physicians (1964) a truly stunning and timeless piece of work, and a strong contender for the best building in Britain; the elegant flats overlooking St. James Park (1960); the controversial but beautifully made National Theatre (1976); the ground breaking Keeling House flats from the late 1950’s (included in this exhibition because of the excellent refurbishment by Munkenbeck and Marshall in 2001) as well as various buildings he did for the University of London.

Danny MacAskill – Bike rider extraordinaire….

August 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Another video and TV related post, I’m afraid (I do do other things with my evenings, honest) but I saw this guy on TV last night and just had to put his video where I knew I could find it easily.

It speaks for itself really, bike skills like I’ve never seen before…

There are lots of other videos of Danny doing crazy stuff on YouTube (this one filmed in Edinburgh is pretty awesome) but for me, the jump from one train track to the other with a 180 turn and the trick where he rides along the cable in the video below are truly amazing.. In fact I’m still not wholly convinced they didn’t use trick photography……

Banksy TV & Logorama

August 14, 2011 2 comments

We watched Banksy’s “Exit through the gift shop” last night on Channel 4, as the artist himself took control of the station for a few hours.

Not seen the film before, and I’m not wholly convinced it wasn’t a complete set up, designed to both take the piss out of the art buying public whilst simultaneously upping the status of both Banksy and Shepard Fairey (he of the ubiquitous Obey design)…

If you haven’t seen it, the documentary approach of the film revolves around the story of Thierry a French cameraman who started filming graffiti artists “back in the day”, before a chance meeting with Banksy provided him with an opportunity to make a film about the street art/ graffiti movement. The film as it turned out was so atrocious that Banksy himself persuades Thierry to give up film making and become a graffiti artist …. which he then does so successfully that he sells one million dollars of work over the week long period of his first ever show…

All very enjoyable, but I thought it all seem rather contrived, all fitting together rather too nicely… The internet is full of theories of course, but in the end it doesn’t really matter, Banksy wins either way…

If it was genuine then it was a good story and well worth watching. If it was a hoax, and the LA public fell for it, buying derivative work from an unknown artist, then more fool them. But you could also argue that if it was a hoax and the work really was by Banksy and Fairey, then paying a couple of hundred dollars for some of their work is probably a bit of a bargain…

Part of Banksy’s programming for Channel 4 last night, included this rather excellent short called Logorama,  in which almost every aspect of the beautifully crafted and animated film is a recognisable corporate logo…

See how many you can count before the land falls into the sea and everyone dies…

Monkey Tennis… Ideas for posts that never got off the ground

August 14, 2011 1 comment

Keeping this blog going has been far easier than I ever thought it would be.. I’ve tried keeping logs and diaries in the past but within a couple of months, the impetus has usually faded and the project slides quietly into oblivion until next christmas….

With the blog though (and this is almost certainly because it’s not just about me and my day to day life) there seems to be a never ending list of stuff that interests me, and that I want to write about. Moreover, the amazing WordPress app on my phone allows me to write a quick draft as an idea, whenever and wherever I am, which I can then write up in more detail when I’m siting at the ‘pooter….

Not everything I’ve thought of turns into a post though, and just looking at the dashboard of my blog, there are currently 36 things waiting to be typed up, some of  which I have to admit probably never will… What seemed like a good idea at the time, can sometimes prove difficult to flesh out into a full blown post.

In fact some of these ideas remind me of the scene where Alan Partridge is pitching programme suggestions to Tony Hayers, The Chief Commissioning Editor at the BBC, and in desperation he starts making titles up; Youth Hosteling with Chris Eubank, Inner City Sumo, A Partridge Amongst the pigeons and the classic Monkey Tennis.

So, as a way of clearing out my dashboard, here are some of the ideas that never got off the ground…..

Plant a tree in ’73, Plant some more in ’74

I can clearly remember these campaigns from my childhood and I was convinced that there was a really clever logo designed to promote the events… Couldn’t find one anywhere, and then the moment was gone…

Bendy Tent Poles

While camping last year (and again recently at the Big Chill) it occurred to me that bendy tent poles and self erecting tents, were truly fantastic inventions and had completely revolutionised tent design, encouraging more people to sleep under nylon in the great outdoors. The interweb didn’t agree with me however, as all I could find about the development of bendy tent poles, were some pages where I could buy replacement ones….


Clothkits was (and indeed still is) a company that effectively sold flat pack clothes via the post… and my mum loved them.  She was excited when they arrived, she enjoyed sewing them all together, and as I remember it, we spent most of the 1970’s wearing orange and olive trousers with big printed swirly patterns on with bright purple T shirts. I’d hoped to find some embarrassing photos of me and my family but sadly they’ve all disappeared…


When me & A we were in S.E Asia, and Vietnam in particular a year or so ago, we had great fun making up these 3 line, 17 syllable poems to describe our surroundings…. and.. er… that’s it really….

Paper Robots

About a year ago, there seemed to be loads of paper robot kits around the internet. Some are really excellent, I’ve printed them out, folded up the card and made my own special little friends…. but once you’ve admitted that, what else is there to write….


The number of my own house, a fact which generated the idea for a post made up of images of properties with the same number… I’ve got about four photos so far after about eight months…  an idea about as thin as the metal numbers on my front door….

Alex Steinweiss

August 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Rather embarrassingly, here’s yet another seminal graphic designer whose name was unknown to me until I read his obituary over the weekend, whilst sitting in the sun at the Big Chill…

Alex Steinweiss (who died on 17th July aged 94) is generally accepted as the first person to have the simple, yet brilliant idea of putting records into a cardboard sleeve with artwork on and as a consequence pioneered the concept of the designed LP cover at a time when records still came in brown paper sleeves and were played at 78rpm.

During the mid to late 1930’s Steinweiss was working in the advertising department for Columbia Records when he suggested that putting something visually more attractive and distinguishing on the outside sleeve of the company’s 78’s might help them sell more…

His first attempt in 1938 was the rather excellent design above which did indeed lead to a dramatic increase in sales. Consequently Steinweiss became Columbia’s first Art Director (at the age of 22 no less) and never looked back, being involved in the design of upwards of 2500 sleeves, until his retirement to concentrate on painting in the early 1970’s.

Although the idea of having cover art was immediately recognised as being “a game changer”, it wasn’t until 1948 when Columbia Records introduced the world to the new higher quality, lower priced vinyl records, playing at 331/3, that the whole record buying thing really took off.

Steinweiss was also instrumental in designing and patenting what became the industry standard cardboard packaging template, although as an employee of Columbia he had to sign over the patent rights and never saw the financial benefits that this could undoubtedly have brought him.

There is an in-depth site of his work here, and an interesting Blog here if you’re interested but I’ll finish with a small selection of some of his wonderful covers….

The Big Chill & Some Festival Programmes

August 11, 2011 2 comments

We have just come back from our annual trip to the Big Chill.

I love this  festival, I went to one of the very first ones in Norfolk back in ’96, as well as one at a rainy Lulworth and of course its current venue at Eastnor Castle in the Welsh Borders, about 9 times in all.  I have to be honest though, I wasn’t expecting big things this year… For varying reasons (all of them perfectly valid and some very sad) our usual group had reduced in size … to 2, Me & Little A, which in itself is not a problem, just a bit of a shame…. and the list of artists playing was not as inspiring as previous years

Anyway, despite my bad feeling, it was pretty excellent all in all. The expected stuff was as good as hoped, The Chems, Tom Middleton, 2 Many DJ’s, Wild Beasts, Mr. Scruff, Norman Jay etc, and there were the usual surprise finds: Congo Natty & Tenor Fly playing some of the fiercest Jungle we’ve heard in a long time, a DJ called Julio Bashmore whose rolling sound was perfect for Sunday night and Femi Kuti and The Positive Force giving it everything they had on Sunday afternoon. Dub Step and post dub step were definitely the flavours of the weekend, and although I do like the production values and the big noises, it really is no good to dance to at 2.00am in a tent..

Obviously we had nothing to do with Kanye West. I’m all for variety in life, and that’s always been one of the strengths of the Chill…  but second rate R&B stars that believe their own hype to the extent that Mr. West obviously does, don’t really have any place at an event like this…. and the moans we heard from people the  following day about his lateness and rants about what a tough life he had… suggested we had the right approach…

As for the festival changing now that it’s owned by Festival Nation, I would say that’s undeniably true. It’s not what it used to be, but is still pretty good. In fact we thought this year was an improvement on last year, especially in aspects such as a more low key/ less visible security presence, fewer hoards of out of it youths and the ease of getting in and out of the site (although this could have been connected to a very obviously lower number of people attending over the weekend)

I’ve been going to festivals for over 15 years now. I’m pretty sure I still have all the Universe/ Tribal Gathering programmes somewhere, and one day I’ll dig them out, and tell you all about Kraftwerk, Orbital, Laurent Garnier and Sasha & Digweed….. but until then, here are some of our collection of programmes on a string, representing 11 years of sitting in fields, wondering where the time went…

Out of This World & Frank R Paul at the British Library

August 3, 2011 1 comment

I recently went to the British Library to see the Out of This World exhibition. Its pretty good, very book/ paper based (as you might expect) but with lots of beautiful book jackets, magazine covers and illustrations spanning several hundred years. In my opinion however, all the really lovely ones are from the roughly 50 years between 1920 and 1970.

One aspect that shone out, and a name I had not come across before (although I, like most fans of Sci Fi, am familiar with his style) was the work of Frank R Paul.

Paul (1884-1963) was a Viennese émigré and an architect by training. He was a gifted technical artist, and had spent most of his early professional life producing science and building based illustrations mostly for magazines.

When Hugo Gernsback, the man responsible in 1926, for publishing “Amazing Stories”, the worlds first Science Fiction magazine, asked him to stretch his imagination for the cover art of his new publication, Paul rose to the challenge and over the next 30 years or so created some truly memorable Science Fiction images, in the process, almost single handedly setting the tone of the whole genre for many decades to follow, influencing many young readers who would later become masters of the genre, Arthur C Clark, Ray Bradbury and Philip K Dick to name but 3…

Frank R Paul is also credited as being the first person to illustrate in colour, both a flying saucer (November 1929) and an orbiting Space Station (August 1929) and whilst his style can’t really be seen as being anything but dated through todays eyes, his brightly coloured flights of fancy still amaze and enthrall…

There is an amazingly concise collection of Paul’s cover art here if you fancy some more.

As an aside, it’s the third time I’ve been to the British Library since Christmas, and do you know what, I really like it. Designed by Colin St. John Wilson in the mid 1970’s, the enormous structure took more than 25 years to build. To say that it generated mixed feelings when it finally opened in 1997 would be something of an understatement (the Idiot Prince’s description of it “looking like the assembly hall of a secret police academy” being the most often quoted).

It was however nominated for the 1998 Stirling Prize (sadly losing out to Fosters RAF Duxford Museum) and I would suggest that the building has mellowed and improved with age. The courtyard to the front offers a generous and sheltered place for a coffee, and the building itself is alive with light and people, working perfectly as one London’s finest contemporary Public Buildings.

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