Swashing down Hill Street

Near the top of my personal list of typefaces never to be used is Bookman. (Also present: Souvenir, University Roman, Eurostile.) So it was with some pain that most weeks throughout  the 1980s I sat through the opening credits in order to watch one of the best TV cop shows of all time. I refer, of course, to Hill Street Blues, whose creator Steven Bochco has recently died.

Great TV it might have been (as indeed was its successor, NYPD Blue) but I only just forgave the producers the use of (ugh) Bookman Bold Italic, with extra swashes, for the title sequences. Most episodes started with the day’s briefing, given by the desk sergeant, which always ended: ‘Let’s be careful out there.’ A good motto for life.

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Blaming the Brits

As a Brit living in Ireland I’m used to being blamed for everything that ever went wrong over here. These include Oliver Cromwell, the Famine and pints of Guinness being poured in one go without a respectful pause.

This attitude is now being extended to the forthcoming Irish referendum on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution, the clause which grants ‘the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.’

The result of this clause has been that women who, for whatever reason, decide that they need an abortion are forced either to travel to the UK or another country or – and this is becoming even more prevalent – order suitable ‘abortion pills’ off the internet, and administer them to themselves. It is, as the phrase goes over here, an Irish solution to an Irish problem.

The government has at last decided to act, and is proposing a very sensible change to the constitution which will remove the above clause and substitute one which allows the Irish Oireachtas (parliament) to bring in a new bill. This, the government has stated, will allow unlimited abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy. Another sensible decision, since this allows there not to be a special clause covering pregnancy as a result of rape or incest.

However, this sensible change is being opposed tooth and nail by the ‘pro-life’ lobby, and the above posters are now being installed around Dublin. The implication in them is that the new proposal is being foisted on an unsuspecting nation by the Brits and their Godless ways, trying to ‘bring abortion to Ireland’.  I hope this narrow nationalism will be soundly defeated on 25 May and I’m pleased to say that my 22-year-old daughter and her friends, who are currently studying abroad, have already booked flights home in order to vote.
Together for Yes
Home to Vote

How the Guardian tabloid masthead has evolved

Two weeks into the Guardian’s redesign as a tabloid, it’s interesting to see how the masthead has evolved. Here are the mastheads from the first five days:

Safe to say, there is a lot going on in all of them.

But it seems that now it has been decided to change things a bit – mainly by introducing a faint blue tint into the background. And on both Monday and Tuesday, the number of other items in the box was reduced considerably. Here is yesterday’s masthead (6 February):

The words The Guardian have been lifted slightly to leave space between them and the four fine rules which separate the masthead from the splash headline below. The typography is restricted to two shades of blue and black.

However, today (7 February) – bang! All the clutter is back, and the colour palette for the typography has been wildly expanded.

It’s a design which is obviously evolving.

I’m still not sold on the type used in the masthead itself. It was described on the first day as being specially drawn for the purpose. To me, it looks too much like that ghastly 70s kitsch typeface, ITC Tiffany Heavy:

I know the individual letterforms aren’t much the same, but it is the overall effect which immediately reminded me. Each to their own, I suppose.

Shome inconshistenchy shurely

Reading Frank McNally’s Irishman’s Diary in last Wednesday’s Irish Times, I spotted what I thought might be a change in the paper’s policy on swearwords.
But it would seem the answer is ‘No’, because here is a piece in yesterday’s sports section by Keith Duggan.

Maybe the sports subs use a different stylebook than those on the op ed page?
The publications which are most coy about swearing are of course the tabloids, which add asterisks to the most low level profanities. So we get Trump’s remarks about Africa and Haiti described thus in the Daily Mail:

Knowing that the Guardian is much more relaxed about using swearwords, I checked out its style guide, and was amused to see that the use of asterisks or blanks was condemned by no less an author than Charlotte Brontë.

If it was OK by her back in the 19th century, then I reckon it should be OK for the Old Lady of D’Olier Street in the 21st.

 

Happy Christmas, 41 years ago

Old guys and nostalgia freaks like me love blogs like The Radical History of Hackney. A year or two ago, I donated an almost complete run of issues of Hackney People’s Press to John, the blog’s compiler, in the sure knowledge that he would give them a good home and find them useful for reference.
John has obviously been working through them, and has just posted a summary of the issues we produced in 1976. The first issue of HPP for the year didn’t get published until May, when I got together with one or two people in a hopeful attempt to get it back and running again after an absence of several months. I’m glad to say that a few people came forward, and throughout that long hot summer we managed a few more editions, culminating in a November/December Christmas special. One of the new people involved was called Tony, and it is him that is posing in the Father Christmas outfit on the cover shown here.
One page in the Christmas issue was a spoof Hackney Gazette, which we subjected to biting satire based on its normal diet of gruesome court cases.

At the bottom of this page is a happy picture of HPP workers sitting on the ground at that summer’s Hackney Marsh Fun Festival folding copies ready for sale. Tony is the guy at the front, holding up a copy for the camera. Behind him facing right is a considerably thinner and hairier figure: me at the age of 26.
Forty-one years ago, eh? A lot has changed since then, but I’m still here, and at this festive season I wish you a very happy Christmas.

Respect and respectability

I am reading and much enjoying Lynsey Hanley’s book, Respectable, about social class in Britain. Like her, I read Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy at quite a young age although with my solidly middle class background I did not feel, as does Hanley, that Hoggart could have been writing about my own childhood.

However, it’s not the content that I want to write about here. Rather, it’s the book production standards which display a slackness one would not have expected from a firm like Penguin. Here is a spread:

Just how did the quoted matter on the left hand page slip through the proofing process? You would think that anyone with half a book production brain would spot that it is set in Times – especially so when there is quoted matter on the right hand page, set correctly in Bembo. In case you think I’m being unnecessary picky, there are actually several instances of this in the book – I’ve chosen to show the one where there are two pieces of quoted matter on a double page spread.

The typography in the book is actually very classical in style and quite nice, and I’m glad to see that Penguin still provides the typeface name on the title page verso. Quite why the book is set in a typesize of 11.76/14.76pt is, however, a bit of a mystery. How would you happen on such an odd size?

Mass book production has always depended on fast turnaround but you do expect good practise from the firm whose high standards were set by one of the greatest 20th century typographers. Hans (‘Half-Point’) Schmoller would not have been amused.

Aitken and the ABC case

[L-R] Tony Bunyan, Duncan Campbell and Sarah Kavanagh speaking at the Arnolfini in Bristol, an event organised to mark the 40th anniversary of the ABC Campaign

The event in Bristol a couple of weeks ago to mark the 40th anniversary of the Aubrey-Berry-Campbell official secrets case was a good chance to catch up with many people I hadn’t seen for a good number of years. I was also quite surprised by the large number of bits of ephemera which I designed for the campaign. Stickers, posters, badges, the ‘souvenir programme’ which we produced for the 1978 Old Bailey trial and a few more I had totally forgotten about. The product of many nights Letrasetting headlines and pasting up artwork, and there they all were, projected onto the backdrop behind the speakers in a never-ending slideshow.

One was for this Conway Hall meeting, held in April 1977, an event I remember well.

Some people might be surprised to see Jonathan Aitken’s name as a speaker at this meeting, given that he is most famous now for being convicted of perjury following the collapse of the libel case he brought against the Guardian in 1995. However, he had himself been on trial in 1971 for breaching the Official Secrets Act, along with the editor of the Sunday Telegraph, the newspaper itself and a retired army colonel who had been an observer in the Nigerian civil war in the late 1960s. All the defendants were eventually acquitted on all charges. (The best summary of the case that I could find online is actually from the New York Times.) The judge told the court that the Telegraph’s report did not contain ‘a word affecting our national security.’ and that the result should make the Government consider whether the broad terms of the act had ‘reached retirement age and should be pensioned off.’ The case against Aitken was brought by a Labour government and Attorney-General, and it was the same combination who brought the 1977 prosecution against Aubrey, Berry and Campbell. That might have been the party political reason for Aitken speaking in support of a campaign which had previously only been backed by left-wing Labour MPs (such as Neil Kinnock, Jo Richardson and Robert Kilroy-Silk(!)).

After the case, Aitken wrote a book, Officially Secret, published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson in 1971. I have a copy of this, which I see from the stamps inside that I bought from a LB Hackney sale of withdrawn library stock in 1986 for 25p. The cover was designed by Craig Dodd, who also worked on covers for other publishers in this period. (See these posts on Existential Ennui: The Dame, The Right Stuff and The Shooting Party.)

There is another link between the Aitken and ABC cases. One of the defence counsel in both was Lord Hutchinson QC, who died yesterday at the grand age of 102. In his obituary in today’s Guardian, Geoffrey Robertson QC (who was a junior counsel in the ABC case) recalls how Hutchinson found out about the jury-vetting in the latter case, in a story which he also told at the Bristol event:

On the opening day of the ‘ABC’ trial in 1978, Jeremy discovered by chatting to an incautious Old Bailey clerk that the prosecution had made a clandestine application to a subservient judge to ‘vet’ the jury panel. This practice had been secretly used in ‘political’ cases and Jeremy’s advocacy blew it up into a national scandal. A pupil barrister (now Mr Justice Nicol) was dispatched post-haste to the LSE library to borrow a copy of Bentham’s Elements of the Art of Jury-Packing, which Jeremy used as the basis for a blistering attack on the weak Labour law officers who had approved this obnoxious form of secret policing.

By the time the ABC case came up for trial, I was working for the National Council for Civil Liberties as its publications officer. The very first item I produced in this new job was a pamphlet called Justice Deserted, written by one of NCCL’s legal officers, Harriet Harman, and LSE professor John Griffith. The foreword was by EP Thompson, no less, and I recall having to ring the great man himself to give him instructions as to where to post his text. Heady days indeed.