Archive for the ‘two’ Category

War on Whores

War on Whores

Collector’s Weekly is never dull. A few weeks ago it gave us an entertaining article about the art of the fairground shooting arcade target. Who would have thought those dismal little bits of tin, so hard to hit with a carefully unsighted airgun, could be so beautiful when their rusting, bullet-battered shapes are   treated as works of art?

In its latest edition CW serves up another dose of the unexpected, this time wartime posters from both the First and Second World Wars, exhorting servicemen to stay away from loose women.


CW had come across a 2014 book, Protect Yourself, by Ryan Mungia, featuring a collection of VD posters found at places like the US National Archives and the National Library of Medicine.  Mungia had been visiting the National Archives looking for photographs of wartime Honolulu when he chanced on a folder marked “VD posters”.


‘Inside,’ says Mungia, ‘I found a stash of 35mm slides of these posters, most of which ended up in the book. I guess you could say the subject chose me, since I didn’t set out to make a book on venereal disease, but became interested in the topic because of the graphic nature of the posters. The designs were really reminiscent of film noir or B-movie posters from the ’40s, those pulpy-style poster designs, and they also reminded me of the Works Progress Administration artwork, which I love.’


‘On any given day during World War I, there were approximately 18,000 men who were taken ill with VD,” Mungia explains. “So when we started gearing up for the next major war, the U.S. military launched a pretty aggressive propaganda campaign including posters, pamphlets, and films to try to curb those numbers and keep soldiers healthy and able to fight.’


Before the discovery of penicillin and other antibiotics, syphillis and gonorrhoea were serious illnesses that could kill as could some of the treatments prescribed for them. According to Ulrich von Hutten (1488-1523), a German knight who wrote about his trials with syphilis and its treatment with mercury. Patients were shut in a “stew”, a small steam filled chamber, for up to thirty days on end, having first been smeared from head to toe with a mercury-based ointment. Many died, but it was mercury poisoning rather than syphillis that killed them.

stay away

Less extreme but no less dangerous methods of administering mercury to syphillitics was to use the liquid metal stirred into hot chocolate, although one doctor warned that chocolate was too risky. A genius whose ideas today would almost certainly find their way onto crowdfunding websites was the doctor who sold underpants coated on the inside with mercury ointment. These fascinating facts come from a book The Wages of Sin: Sex and Disease, Past and Present by Peter Lewis Allen, which I thoroughly recommend.

Pre-sulfonamide Gonorrhoea treatments were scarcely less hazardous, utilising metallic compounds of arsenic, antimony, bismuth, gold, and mercury. Having become less of a threat since the invention of antiobiotics, resistant strains of Gonorrhoea have now emerged and some doctors warn it is now on the verge of becoming incurable.

wrath of god

But we digress. In its efforts to inform servicemen about sexual health, the US government first used advertisements created by the Works Progress Administration, mentioned by Mungia above. But these were easy to ignore, so they turned to comic book styles and realistic public service announcements.

Axis Agents

According to Mungia, ‘In the beginning, around 1941 or ’42, they hired a lot of artists through the WPA who had produced public-health posters a decade earlier,” says Mungia. “But there were several studies done to determine what kind of poster would be the most effective in delivering this message, and they concluded that people really responded to those which were more realistic and struck an emotional chord.


‘The WPA created beautiful posters that used a lot of bold shapes and colors, but they relied on symbolism. These studies showed that some guys were actually confused by the WPA-style posters. The military’s solution was to go to Madison Avenue and consult some successful ad men, and they had those guys produce VD posters. The style of the posters changed over the course of the war from bold and symbolic to more realistic, almost magazine-style advertisements.’

they are waiting



Although venereal diseases affect both men and women, and in general cannot be caught unless a member of one sex passes it to another, in these posters it is usually woman who is depicted as the seductive temptress (misogyny, of course, comes packaged with   Genesis) and sometimes even depicted as an agent of the enemy powers, a toxic handmaiden to Hitler and Hirohito.

Only one ambiguous image, perhaps not daring speak to its message out loud, seems to hint that men can catch VD from other men.


60s pop group squinty man with toothbrush moustache

60s pop group squinty man with toothbrush moustache

In my piece    about Paper Sun, Traffic’s debut single from May 1967, I noted that the song might have climbed higher than #5 had it not been for Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale, which hogged the top spot for several weeks and could not be budged.

As part of my Paper Sun research I looked for Procol Harum’s original performance on Top of the Pops.

Watching this old black and white footage, a faint and disturbing memory stirred: another group of the era, late sixties or early seventies (despite Sergeant Pepper, this was before groups started being called ‘bands’). Probably, like Procol Harum, they had been pushed into the limelight by an unexpected success, because I only remember seeing them on TOTP  once or twice.

I couldn’t name the group, nor the song. What I remembered about them was not their standard shaggy haircuts and pop star flamboyance, but their keyboard player: a gaunt man with a strange little toothbrush moustache and slicked back hair. He wore trousers hitched well above the waist,  a white  shirt and tie, and apart for his hands on the keys never moved at all. He  stared  straight ahead, oblivious to the beat and the capering of his band mates. Whenever the cameras found him he would give the TV audience a creepy leer.

Who was he and what was the group? I asked my wife if she remembered anything like that. It rang  a bell, she said: someone who looked as if he had stepped out of a Monty Python sketch.  Why didn’t I look on the internet. Yes, but where to begin?

This note takes its title from the search terms I typed into Google – 60s pop group squinty man with toothbrush moustache.  



This brought up a great many references to Hitler, Charlie Chaplin and moustaches.  I tried an image search. Bingo! 


My man was   in five of  the first fifteen images! His name is Ron Mael. He and his brother Russell founded the band Sparks.  The song was This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both  of Us, written by Ron and sung by Russell. It was #2 on the UK singles chart  on   5th May 1974. Here  they are  as I remember them   off the telly.


The best of us: Tony Brignull pays a personal tribute to David Abbott

The best of us: Tony Brignull pays a personal tribute to David Abbott


The day after David Abbott died last May, a writer of obituaries asked me for anecdotes about him. I refused, perhaps a little too roughly. The man was only doing his job, he pointed out. But I couldn’t reduce David to sound-bites. I didn’t want to hand him over to what Sylvia Plath called ‘the peanut crunching crowd’. So I’m grateful to The Drum for giving me this opportunity to express fully my appreciation of the man I consider, as so many others do, the best of us.

There are people alive today who have better right to call him friend than I do, those who partnered him and worked with him side by side: Eve, his wife of 50 years, Peter Mead and Adrian Vickers. These people loved him, but it so happens that I knew him longer than almost everyone else.

David Abbott by Julian Hanford

Portrait of David Abbott by Julian Hanford

We first met in 1964 at Mather and Crowther, his first agency and my second (I’d been a trainee at JWT). What a creative department that was: as well as David, there was Leonard Weinreich, Paul Arden, John Webster, Bob Marchant, Tim Smail, Chris McCartney-Filgate. While Fay Weldon, who had yet to write a novel, floated effortlessly above the storms like a clipper embarking on a longer journey, tossing off great lines like bunting.

Even then, David was seen to be cleverer and wittier than the rest of us. I assumed – wrongly – he’d already spent time in America because his writing seemed a generation ahead of ours. At a time when British advertising was fumbling around with jingles and slogans, David had already found a new voice for his clients, clear, conversational, friendly.

The creative revolution, still seminal in us, was in flower in him. His commercials for the Triumph Herald were simple, single-minded and charming: one demonstrated the car’s independent suspension by showing a driver following a girl down the steps outside the Albert Hall. ‘It lets you follow your inclinations,’ he wrote. In press ads he had the Herald turning inside a tennis court, and another out-turning (in-turning?) a London taxi.



Never laddish, never truly a lad at all, he enjoyed privacy and quietness. A part of him would have liked to have been one of the boys, I think. He valued friendship highly and needed it badly, but found it difficult to be pubby and matey. In the later years of his life he organised long lunches for his dearest group of friends at the Hellenic in Thayer Street, which he always paid for in a paterfamilias way, saying he had a fund for this as part of his going away package. I don’t know whether this was true or a fabricated excuse to be generous without being patronising.

He loved banter and witty word play. Frank Muir and John Cleese accepted him as an equal. One dinner party game involved using adverbs in a new but surprisingly inventive way. The winner, his I assumed, was ‘I love camping, he said intently’ though I never learned the question.

He was always lithe, helped by being tall, but I don’t think he ever went to a gym or did sports. He once turned out as a goalkeeper for the DDB soccer team but frankly he didn’t look the part, and was injured in the warm-up so didn’t play. It was the kit, I think. David never looked quite right in anything not hand-made, suit, shoes, sports jacket. In everything he did or wore he was elegant. It had to be the very best or he wouldn’t buy it. He had natural good taste, though where this originated I can’t guess because like me he came from a working class London family a million miles from Savile Row.

There were some things you simply couldn’t imagine David doing. Popping into M&S, grabbing something off the rail and saying ‘this’ll do’, buying a paper-back if a hardback version were available, turning right when he boarded an aircraft, checking into a two star hotel, renting a Mondeo, to name just five things I’ve done this year.

I never saw him drunk or silly or be anything less than dignified. To take drugs would have been unthinkable – and unnecessary. He was always alert and bright. He moved into a natural high by putting himself under pressure. When the agency was pitching for a new account he purposely refrained from starting his creative work until just a few days before the presentation. The deadline forced him into overdrive and he never failed to come up with something original and apt.

I observed him working in a similar fashion on the first BT (Bob Hoskins) scripts. He went at it day and night entirely focussed, each morning coming in with a new bundle.

He was particularly sensitive to human vulnerability – the little ways we express our insecurities, half showing, half hiding our love for one another.


His genius was to find incidents which introduced the product into our emotional lives originally and plausibly. The several ways a son expresses his thanks to his dad when giving him Chivas Regal, for example. The mum who goes on holiday ‘just for a couple of days’, for Yellow Pages. The man who always hands a phone call from a son straight onto the mum.

(Mums and dads feature frequently in David’s work. In a book of my poems I sent him the one he chose as his favourite was where Polonius, the interfering father in Hamlet, kisses his son goodbye, knowing he may not see him again.)

The empathy he shows in his advertising would have made him a fine novelist I believe. His first and, sadly, only book, The Upright Piano Player, tells how a retired businessman finds familiar territory suddenly hostile, a theme worthy of Saul Bellow. I’m sure his subsequent novels would have revealed similar insights into the fragility of life in new and profound ways. But they remain unwritten and we must accept that his great contribution to our culture was the application of his creative mind to advertising.

This was not for David a lesser achievement. ‘There is nothing immoral in selling beans,’ he once said. He was very proud of his work and kept several of his favourite ads framed in his office which was always, like his clothes, immaculate.

It’s generally held that he and I were better at print than TV. I think this is true. But he was so accomplished a copywriter, so supreme, that he mastered the medium at an early age and dominated it throughout his career. When in the 60s he worked at DDB New York for a year with such greats as Bob Levenson and Helmut Krone, it was not so much an education as a confirmation class.

I was once asked if I had anything David lacked. All I could answer was, “Yes, Neil Godfrey.” My partner Neil was the outstanding art director of his generation but David found in Ron Brown someone in the same league, and together they produced work so telling, so finely crafted it will never be surpassed.

He was easy in the medium, fluent, at home as a fish in water.  He pushed press advertising into new areas, bursting out of the accepted boundaries. His campaign for Sainsbury’s is the perfect example. 12 double page spreads a year, each one demonstrating a Sainsbury’s speciality. The client invited David to go into the store and choose the products he wanted to write about. Think of that. The trust, the freedom, the responsibility.



But look at the result. 40 or more great ads over four or five years. Note the style, the cohesion; how each one has ‘Sainsbury’s’ in the headline, how each new ad is a continuation of the last so that the campaign gained an onward transitive momentum. These ads became part of the magazines, part of our lives. It raised the freshness of the brand to a level equal to and possibly beyond Waitrose. I recall seeing the ad he wrote for their hot cross buns with some five hundred words of copy and marvelled at its bravura.

Were the TV commercials which accompanied the print campaign as good? Not quite. They were original in their own way. Dishes using Sainsbury’s ingredients were cooked in delicious close-up. They were intelligent, useful to customers and enhanced the brand. But were they in a sense moving press ads? Perhaps they were, but where’s the harm in that?

For David the product had to be central. He was always uncomfortable when a commercial flew off into film land. I remember in the early days at DDB we won the Lyons individual fruit pies account. Now these pies, though popular with the public, were not the peak of culinary excellence. The pastry left a clinging suety film in the mouth while the fruit filling was more like sugary jam.

David Brown, one of the very few copywriters to be equally good at press and TV, wrote a script with young American GI’s at training camp singing ‘Ma I miss your apple pie’ but David Abbott turned it down. I took it back into him and said, David I think you’re making a mistake, this can be great.’

He replied, ‘I may be wrong but I have to back my judgement. If I’m right seven times out of ten that’s a good average.’ He then wrote a commercial which anticipated his Sainsbury’s films: it showed the pastry being rolled, apples peeled, filling being spooned in, pastry pricked and sugar sprinkled. Whether it was better than the homesick American soldiers we’ll never know, it doesn’t matter. What it shows is how close David always wanted to keep the product central to the action.

Later in his career he also learnt to find that moment when the product intersects with the customer’s emotional life. His J. R. Hartley film is justly famous for its humanity. I also think his Bob Hoskins films for BT celebrate not only the telephone but communication as an essential part of being human.

A critic once called David’s advertising middle-class. No dropped ‘aitches, no missing ‘t’s’, no ladettes on hen parties, no lads in bars. Personally, I think David was right to avoid these cheap insinuations into contemporary life. We British have always been aspirational, and for many the middle-class is where we aspire to be, whether we admit it or not. But let’s not allow this debate to hijack my tribute. The point is, he never patronised the consumer, never used a cliché, never wrote a dull line.


He couldn’t bear vulgarity. He hated the word ‘gobsmacked’ and the brand name FCUK. He spoke publicly against the latter earning himself some brickbats. This incident possibly inspired the hero of his novel, Henry Cage, who as I’ve said, suddenly finds his world become unfamiliar and menacing.

His genius could be infuriating. Once, going on holiday, he asked me to look after The Economist. I got each creative team writing more of those wonderful posters. By the time David returned I had a bundle of 45, but none of them were up to scratch. Within a few days David came up with two new brilliant ones. Had he done them before he went on holiday, during or after? I’ll never know.

He couldn’t resist working privately on the briefs he gave others. Martyn Walsh and I were trying to do a concept where one man gives a bottle of Chivas to his friend and gets an ordinary bottle of scotch in return. For weeks we tried dozens of layouts but each one fell short. Then David came in and said. ‘Hey, how about this?’ He held an ad with a bottle of Chivas in gift paper with the headline, ‘Funny how people forget to remove the price tag’. At such times all you can do is applaud, then go into darkened room and bang your head quietly on your desk.

Nothing I can write here can capture the achievement of his career or the brilliance of his copywriting. You will have to flick through the D&AD annuals to see the evidence. Goodness knows there’s enough there to fill a book. It will remain forever a testimony to his unique talent. My aim in writing this is to give you a flavour of the man.


He was good and kind and generous and courteous and very funny. His principles were not something he kept for a rainy day but tools which informed his behaviour every day. You’ll have heard how during the financial crisis he refused to make a single person redundant, how he declined to advertise cigarettes.

At its worst our business can be gimcrack. David proved it can be decent, have integrity, be of real help to commerce. He showed that a state of friendliness is best between seller and buyer, and that with infinite care it can grow into a state of mutual affection. He always told the truth but made it interesting and vibrant and witty.

When a friend of mine died his widow wanted to buy a car. ‘Get a Volkswagen,’ I said, ‘I’ve seen them made.’  Instead she bought a Volvo (then at AMV) because she said, ‘I’ve read the advertisements.’

At the 50th anniversary of D&AD I was given a white pencil for being the most awarded copywriter and David said some very kind words about me, even though we both knew the voting system did not truly reflect our relative abilities. I wrote to David saying that he was one of three men who stood above everyone else (the other two being John Salmon and John Webster) and that I was happy simply to have my name mentioned in the same breath.

I also wrote some years ago that there are a number of us who consider ourselves the sons of Bill Bernbach, the founder of DDB and leading light in the creative revolution, but that in my opinion only David would pass a paternity test.

In losing David Abbott we’ve lost our standard bearer. He made us feel proud to work in the business, and me proud to know him.

Tony Brignull is a former CDP and DDB creative director and D&AD’s most awarded copywriter of all time.

Whose beautiful launderette?

Whose beautiful launderette?

“Launderette” was a commercial for Levi 501s. Made in 1985 by Bartle Bogle Hegarty it starred Nick Kamen and first ran in the UK. Very clever, very memorable. It made Nick famous, increased Levi’s sales by 800%, won lots of prizes and regularly topped the list of British viewers’ favourite commercials. Watch carefully.



Advertising ideas famously have many parents. It’s hard when projects are discussed collaboratively over and over again to remember exactly where each thought came from. Ideas emerge out of one another; as another adland cliché has it, “An idea doesn’t care who has it”. Clients and agency bosses don’t either, but with so much at stake, people in creative departments are jealously protective of anything that looks remotely like an original notion. They go out of their way to avoid being accused of plagiarism and have long memories for famous work. But sometimes not long enough.

Have another look at the Levi’s “Launderette” commercial, then watch this:


Uncanny. The Hamlet ad was made by Collett Dickenson Pearce in 1968, probably one of Alan Parker’s early  forays into film shot in CDP’s basement. In those early days the Hamlet music – Bach’s “Air on a G-string” performed by Jacques Loussier – played throughout the ad. Only later would its first notes coincide with the moment of disappointment, revealing to the audience that they were watching a Hamlet commercial. A double-joke. I wonder who thought of that refinement?)

The Levis commercial is a straightforward lift  of the Hamlet, right down to the man’s white boxer shorts. It has the women on plastic chairs, the expressions of delighted shock. However in the Hamlet film the sixties girls really are sixties girls, whereas the Levi’s commercial has eighties women playing fifties girls and the film has acquired the inevitable couple of cheeky American kids with a gum-habit and backwards baseball caps.

The Hamlet commercial has all the innocence of its era: Twiggy coat dresses, Biba, Sergeant Pepper, and cigars at four shillings eightpence halfpenny a pack; it must have cost hardly more than that to shoot. The set is a row of washing machines and four chairs, and like many of Alan Parker’s early films it was probably made in CDP’s basement. 

The Levi’s ad transfers the scene to the  New York of cliché. It has an expensive set and screams the production values of the knowing and self-regarding eighties. Of course it also has Nick Kamen, who is sexier than the gent in the bowler and despite the clear borrowing and added kitsch it’s the Levi’s ad that people remember.

I prefer CDP’s original.

Inventing history

Inventing history

In the early eighties I worked as a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather in London. One of my clients was Shell UK, and I often had to boast about how many million pounds Shell had invested in the North Sea, or paid in tax to the exchequer.

Inserting the figures supplied by the client would have meant finding and re-reading the brief, something I could rarely be bothered to do. However, rather than write £XXX, which to me looked untidy, I would insert ad hoc amounts, leaving it to the account director to correct them. Thus I’d claim that Shell had spent £1,952 million on Brent Charlie, or invested £24.46 million planting trees over its gas pipelines, these sums being derived from mathematical constants such as the year of my birth and the agency phone number.


One day a new brief arrived containing a figure that I recognised as the date of the Great Plague of London. I asked the account director where he had got it. He said he had found it in a newspaper article.

‘It’s wrong,’ I said. 

‘No it isn’t.  I double checked. Their source was one of our ads.’

After many years in advertising I switched to writing fiction of another sort, never dreaming that I could ever again be accused of falsifying history.

The other day I came across An Honourable Murder, a thoroughly-researched article about legal aspects of the infamous Nanavati murder trial, which took place in Bombay in 1959. The defendant, a handsome naval officer called Kawas Nanavati, had shot dead his wife’s playboy lover, and more than half the nation thought he had done the right and decent thing.

As the Nanavati case is at the heart of my novel The Death of Mr Love, I read the article with interest.

‘Blitz, the popular weekly tabloid owned by newspaper baron Rusi Karanjia,’ the article’s author Aarti Sethi wrote, ‘ran a parallel trial by media that not just acquitted Nanavati, but indeed celebrated the elegant Commander. . . Blitz sold the case as a classic story of love, betrayal and the restoration of honour. It recounted how the dashing naval officer had met his wife in England [and how she] had been tricked and seduced by the villain Ahuja, whom Blitz described bitingly as “a symbol of those wealthy, corrupt, immoral and basically un-socialist forces which are holding the nation and its integrity to ransom”. [6]

Strong words, and ones I knew well, for I had used them in The Death of Mr Love. With some indignation Sethi continued: ‘Blitz exhibited none of the discretion that is normally reserved for the dead. “Some”, it wrote, “may attribute this sickening event to the heat of the season, but this is a mistake. Persons such as he do not share the lot of the common man. They live in a world of privilege. For their sins, their outrages, their crimes, they and they alone are to blame”. [7]

Now this sneering passage I knew even better, for every word of it was my own. I had composed it as a small fiction set inside a larger one. It had taken me a long time to capture the snotty righteousness of Blitz’s prose and I had been quite proud of it at the time, one of those small achievements that no one but the author of a novel will ever notice or appreciate.


Turning to the article’s footnotes, I discovered that quotations [6] and [7] had as their source The Death of Mr Love, by Indra Sinha.  

So this is how history is written. Unless someone takes the trouble to check the Blitz archives (which reside in a dusty Bombay building near the Excelsior cinema under the custody of a sweet man called Mr Vohra) or unless they read this piece, those two quotes will henceforth be as much part of Blitz’s history as if Karanjia had sweated over them himself – and I still can’t remember which of us wrote the first one.

The Honourable Murder: The Trial of Kawas Maneckshaw Nanavati, by Aarti Sethi
The Death of Mr Love, by Indra Sinha

Years ago I wrote to Graham Greene to ask if he would pass on the secret of a delicious sounding dish mentioned in Our Man in Havana. Back came a charming reply. ‘I am sorry that I don’t remember where I got the recipe for Granny Brown’s Ipswich Roast. I think I must have invented it.’

Ben Wilson, London’s brilliant chewing gum artist

Ben Wilson, London’s brilliant chewing gum artist

Look well, next time you’re out in London, and you’ll see that the streets are covered in pale splats that look like bird droppings. In fact they’re the remains of people’s spat-out and trampled-on chewing gum.  London councils spend more than £4 million a year trying and failing to clean gum off their pavements. They’ve tried high pressure steam guns, and chemicals of all sorts, but nothing works. They’ve begged chewing gum manufacturers to change their recipe, and been told it’s impossible. They’ve cajoled the masticating public with ”gum targets” stuck on lamp posts (a truly revolting idea), and threatened them with fines. All to no avail.

It takes a certain kind of genius to see people’s spat-out globs of chewing gum as the means of beautifying a city. Artist Ben Wilson is that sort of genius. Where others see streets splattered with gummy eyesores, Ben sees thousands of tiny canvases.


“Lots of people have created the chewing gum, on the pavement, and I thought I can work with the gum.”

Sitting in his favourite Muswell Hill cafe, he envisaged small jewel-like paintings, like badges, that would glow on the pavements, mystify passers by, and celebrate the lives of the people who used the streets.


Unlike grafitti artists, he could paint his little masterpieces openly. “If I were to paint on walls or the pavement itself, I’d be breaking the law, but they can’t accuse me of causing criminal damage because the criminal damage has already been done, by the gum . . . I paint on chewing gum because I can’t be arrested, and there isn’t a plaque next to it telling you what it is and why it’s there, so people can create anything in their own imagination.”


Ben’s works are dotted all over London. Several can be found outside the Royal Academy. The Royal Society of Chemistry recently asked him to paint depictions of each of the 118 known chemical elements.

He also takes commissions from people in the street, who live or work nearby and includes their names and short messages. A picture can take anything from two hours to three days to complete. Each one is photographed and catalogued.




Alive, alive, O!

Alive, alive, O!


I am supposed to be writing an article about cyberspace and the creative imagination, but the mind wanders – cyberspace is a labyrinth in which you stray at your peril. Around any corner await discoveries so stunning that work is forgotten for a few minutes, sometimes hours.

The Wellcome Institute’s Image Award Winners for 2010 have just been announced and the resulting gallery of pictures, accompanied by videos, interviews and scientific background is completely beguiling. I must now return to my article, but it gives me real pleasure to lead you astray, so without further ado, here is the diving beetle leg I promised:


More astonishing and beautiful images from the Wellcome Collection. These were the winners of the 11th Wellcome Image Awards – announced on 23 February 2011 – “recognising the creators of the most informative, striking and technically excellent images among recent acquisitions to Wellcome Images.

The images – not all are photographs – were chosen by a panel of expert judges who, let it be remembered, are not just looking for composition, technique and beauty, but for scientific usefulness, but most, like this photograph (below) of the retina of a baby Zebra danio, danio rerio, are quite breathtaking.


Here is a confocal micrograph of a cavefish embryo at around five days post-fertilisation. The embryo has been stained with an antibody against a calcium-binding protein (in green) to show different neuronal types and their processes in the nervous system. This staining also reveals taste buds, which are located around the mouth and along the body of the cavefish.


[Below] Confocal micrograph showing the expression of different fluorescent proteins in the stem of a thale cress seedling (Arabidopsis thaliana), the first plant to have its entire genome sequenced.


Painting with light, the Wholeo dome

Painting with light, the Wholeo dome

‘I don’t remember,’ says artist Caroling (real name Caroline Geary). ‘when I first encountered the phrase, “stained glass is the ‘handmaiden’ of architecture”. The idea, which permeated the stained glass world, got stuck in my mind like a porcupine quill. After all, painting escaped servitude years ago. It finally dawned on me that glass needed not only to become portable, but also to become revolutionary.’


‘In 1967, after seven years of designing for studios, doing stained glass free-lance and for fun, I was profoundly dissatisfied with what I or anyone else had done in the medium. Stained glass might be a wonderful medium for colour, but what is colour? Colour is vibrations, the light from atoms and stars, a basic language, the stuff of communication! You can touch stained glass and the fingers receive communications. The colour shines into your eyes, penetrates the skin, and even colours up your shadows. The colours seem to float in a thick space. It is an unusual space.



‘What a great idea, I thought, to surround myself with this inside-out space. I wanted not to look at a window, but to be in a window. I needed control of all the light. I would make panels on the arcs around me. The radius of the arc was seven feet, the distance my fingers reached up while standing on tip-toe.’


ARTIST CAROLING COMMENTS: On a bright hot morning, movie-makers looked around in Wholeo Dome. Here are some favorite details: a feather stuck in easterly “Breathe In”, a spectrum cast by the old military tank prism in the south, etched panels leading westerly to “Death End”, spirals of the “Essence of Being” in the north. Clouds leading the eye afar, illuminating the textured glass membrane of the dome, while intense colors project into your cells. The rich sense of depth permeates the whole. Looking up, patterns entangle. Looking down, colored light reaches, bathes, and sinks into pebbles. Not only eyes but auras mingle.


“Anima”, Virginia Peck’s painted Journal III, is published

“Anima”, Virginia Peck’s painted Journal III, is published

This piece was written as a Foreword for “Anima”, the printed edition of the third of Virginia Peck’s handpainted journals, which was published on December 3, 2010.

Reception 17:00 – 19:30 at Gallery 1581, Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis, 1581 Beacon Street, Brookline, MA 02446. Telephone: +1 (617) 277-3915.


Once, in a car boot sale, I found an old novel. Its cover was mostly torn away revealing a title page with a handwritten dedication, slowly dissolving in an English drizzle-mist: a wretched sight to anyone who loves books. All books are valuable. There is always something interesting about them. If not the text it might be an engraving, or the type, or the old advertisements you sometimes find before the endpapers.

I picked up this damp, unloved novel and found to my astonishment that it was one of my own. The blue blurring lines had been written for a friend. Such humbling moments are no doubt good for us, but not too often. I still have that book. I’m looking at it as I write this, and thinking that such a miserable tome could have no kinder fate than to be picked up, not by its author, but by a stranger, a passerby with a rare and restless genius, who would give it new life as a ravishing work of art.

You’ll gather I’m a fan. I admire – no, love – nay, adore – Virginia Peck’s hand-painted Journals, but I don’t believe a word of her story.

Virginia says that one day, finding a discarded copy of Natural Light, a novel by Ethel Gorham, she was seized by the idea that she would take it home and use it as a sketchbook. Virginia had not read the novel, and was not interested in trying to make images out of what was written on the page. Rather she would begin workinging by instinct, almost with eyes closed, waiting for what would come, and when shapes appeared in the paint, in the layers of colour and the brushstrokes, she would work with them, and let them become whatever wanted to emerge.




Her first Journal quickly filled with marvellous images. A blue lady stares out at us with startled eyes. What is she seeing? Driftwood sculptures are heaped together, a ring of them, like dancers, or a wood-henge washed in by the tide. Bacchantes abandon themselves to dance watched by a pair of still Pharoah hounds. A pensive youth, looking a lot like Raphael’s portrait of Agnolo Doni huddles next to an exotic tribal face. What is going on here?




I first saw these pictures as small images, neat rectangles on a web page. Even then they filled me with excitement. Inside were wonderful things, fizzing with life and energy, and so exhilarating to paint that Virginia found herself unable to wait for the pages to dry, and had to start working in a second book.

 Journal II (John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman) seems more reflective, but is no less brilliant. A mad tiger lifts its head and cries defiance, there’s an excellent frog and a zebra caught in a maelstrom of colour. Most of the pages are given to dancing couples and pairs of heads. Two nudes rest against a wall. I could swear that the one on the right is pointing a gun but her hand is empty.





This vanished website

This vanished website

It was taken abruptly off-air a couple of years ago when the server it was on was compromised. I’ve finally found the copy that was made before it vanished, but instead of being a WordPress xml file the copy runs on a virtual machine. I now have to work out how to get the data off the virtual machine and back on the web, but there will be some content here soon.

Precious Greek manuscripts now readable online

Precious Greek manuscripts now readable online

The British Library has digitised more than a quarter of its Greek manuscripts (284 volumes) and made them freely available online at The groundbreaking project was funded by a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. Researchers have access to high quality digital images of a major part of the Greek manuscripts collection, with metadata which enables them to search using key words.

The British Library holds over 1000 Greek manuscripts, over 3000 Greek papyri and a comprehensive collection of early Greek printing. These collections make the Library one of the largest and most important centres outside Greece for the study of over 2000 years of Hellenic culture. The Greek manuscripts contain unique and outstandingly rich information for researchers working on the literature, history, science, religion, philosophy and art of the whole of the Eastern Mediterranean in the Classical and Byzantine periods.

The Greek manuscripts that have been digitised provide witnesses of the rich culture of the Greek-speaking peoples from the time of the Iliad and Odyssey throughout the Hellenistic, early Christian, Byzantine and Ottoman eras and beyond. They are fundamental to understanding of the Classical and Byzantine world.

Highlights include:

The Theodore Psalter

theodorepsalter– Produced in Constantinople in 1066, this highly illustrated manuscript of the Psalms is arguably the most significant surviving manuscript illuminated in Constantinople. It is one of the greatest treasures of Byzantine manuscript production and of pivotal importance for the understanding of Byzantine art. Made for Abbot Michael of the Studios monastery there, it is named after its scribe and illuminator, the monk Theodore who produced 435 marginal illustrations that act as a commentary on the text of the Psalms.

Illuminated Gospels

-A late 12th century gospel book which is rare because of its integration of images of Christ’s life into the Gospels. Whereas portraits of the evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, became a traditional feature of copies of the Gospels in Greek, narrative images were much less frequently included. This manuscript contains 17 narrative images of the life of Christ and the saints in addition to the four evangelist portraits.

Dialogues of Lucian


– This early 10th century manuscript is the oldest surviving manuscript of the works of second-century author Lucian. The text of the Dialogues is accompanied by marginal commentaries, or scholia, in the hand of the first owner of the manuscript, Arethas of Patrae, Archbishop of Caesarea from 902. They illustrate the deep interest of a prominent Byzantine churchman in classical antiquity and its pagan literature.

Babrius’s fables

– The discovery of this manuscript on Mount Athos in 1842 gave rise to the first edition of Babrius’s fables in 1844 and this manuscript remains the principal source for this text. It contains 123 Aesopic fables and was corrected by the great Byzantine scholar, Demetrius Triclinius.

Breviarium Historicum

breviarum copy– A late 9th-century manuscript of the history of the Byzantine Empire from the death of the Emperor Maurice in 602 to 713, by Nicephorus, Patriarch of Constantinople. Only one other manuscript of this history survives and is kept in the Vatican Library. These two manuscripts preserve a very rare attempt by a Byzantine author to write what would be accepted as proper history.

Scot McKendrick, Head of History and Classical Studies at the British Library, said: “This website offers everyone, wherever they may be in the world, the opportunity to engage for the first time with over 100,000 pages of newly digitised, unique manuscripts which provide direct insights into the rich written legacy of the Greeks of classical antiquity, Byzantine times, the Renaissance and beyond. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which funded this project, has generously agreed to fund a second phase and we look forward to presenting a further 250 manuscripts in full in 2012.”

Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, said: “The British Library has one of the world’s great collections of Greek manuscripts. This is exactly what we have all hoped for from new technology, but so rarely get. It opens up a precious resource to anyone – from the specialist to the curious – anywhere in the world, for free. We should all be very grateful to the generosity of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and to the enterprise of the British Library. I’m looking forward to a new wave of fascinating and important work on this material, made possible by this new electronic open access.”

For more information please contact
Julie Yau, Arts Press Officer, British Library
+44 (0)20 7412 7237 /

Notes to editors

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world’s greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library’s collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation. It includes: books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (, an international philanthropic organization, makes grants in the areas of arts and culture, education, health and medicine, and social welfare. While prominent in its support of Greek-related initiatives, the Foundation’s activities are worldwide in scope. The Foundation funds institutions and projects that exhibit strong leadership and sound management and that have the potential to achieve a broad and lasting impact. We encourage grantees to collaborate, and we work closely with them to monitor their progress. In addition, the Foundation actively seeks to support projects that facilitate the formation of public-private partnerships as effective means for serving public welfare.