Friday, 16 January 2009

The Saturday Book

It's friday, but The Saturday Book, published between 1941 - 1975, was such a fulsome compendium of curiosities, that it would probably bring you right on to the following Saturday to read it from cover to cover. These days there is something rather quaint in imagining setting aside the weekend for enrichment of the mind, but The Saturday Book had all the earnest excitement, about pretty much anything, that might well have inspired the reader to gaze towards the new dawn and cry; "Let tomorrow come, I am ready!"

The 7th annual issue, designed by Laurence Scarfe, is contained within this stylish endpaper design. The lettering is an embellished stymie bold italic; a font so reminiscent of the post-war period, to which I set up a photographic record here.

And within this design there are so many of the motifs that Bevis Hillier pin-pointed in his indispensible guide to the decorative arts of the 1940s and 50s, Austerity Binge. Here are the allusions to the countryside, and traditional folk symbolism that was popular in the 40's, possibly inspiring a love of, and patriotic pride in "England's pastures green".

But equally, there is reference in the "dots" motif not only to the medieval jester (another folkloric signifier), but to the incredibly popular "molecular" design of the 1950's; a motif inspired by science and science fiction, and our awe of the atom. The molecular design seems to me one of the most interesting of the post-war motifs because it became a ubiquitous sight in the 1950s, symbolising a fresh kind of smart modern living, and yet had its genesis, perhaps, in the horror of WWII's final blow to Japan, and was then inexorably emeshed in the Cold War. It is strange to think you can look at the endpaper motif of the Saturday Book and trace within it's curves and dots, a frisson of terror, progressiveness in all it's complexity, and a particularly English sense of past, pastural pleasures. Please click on the image to view it at a larger size.

The Saturday Book often featured pieces from famous, fashionable writers of the time like Walter de la Mare and H.E Bates, but there were always odd articles, like "Men's Tears" which might ask why "Englishmen seem to have abandoned the art of crying, at least in public", by the The History of Underclothes author, C.Willet Cunnington.

The Saturday Book belongs to an era of publishing that relished the eclectic, and had a salon style approach to presenting items both serious and whimsical (The Black and White Budget, Liliput). There was breathing space for the absurd, and a mood of the contemplative. If one wanted to be critical, you could say that there was something very middle-class about the language and keen-ness of The Saturday Book, but within its rather English, non-confrontational and conversational style, The Saturday Book brought to readers an awareness and curiosity about things not necessarily found within the everyday paper. This is illustrated particularly in a section called "Votes for Women". A photograph of a woman being roughly moved along by policemen is accompanied by a piece of text that reads; "The old lady on the right was one of 75 suffragettes arrested in March, 1907, for a raid on the House of Commons". The old lady somewhat softens a critical "act of terrorism", as it would have been seen at the time.

Here are two more scans from The Saturday Book's regular Art sections. In the decorative "Toulouse-Lautrec" heading, multi-font madness, and "comedy Rubens" of the first page, here is an example of everything that I love about this publication.

1 comment:

Martz said...

Delightful and full of memory prompts. I am trying to find out which year in which Existentialism
an address by an undergraduate to his Maker which opened along the lines God must find it exceedingly odd that this tree continues to be when no one is about in the quad.
Also it contained a dog Latin poem bewailing In terrorem Motoris Bi,
Contra hos motores bos Domine defendi nos. Can anyone help please.
Martin Harriman