Following my move from the film-poster studio, I’d got a job in a busier kind of place, Jupiter Studios deep in the West End. Strangely it related to my previous place of employment which had been called Titan Arts. (And we all know that the most famous Titan was Saturn, later succeeded by his own son, Jupiter).
The move was an unwise one though. The kind of work I was given had none of the rich diversity that film posters gave me. What they required was more in the realm of “idealised” figures in “idealised” settings. Any straight lines had to be done with a ruling-pen with absolute accuracy, whilst the mannequins that paraded within such smooth designs had to look elegant and stylish. One of my earliest tasks was to draw a modern shop-front including modern-looking pedestrians. What I provided them with was not exactly what they were expecting.
For a start, I’d never worked with a rulingpen before, so consequently all my straight lines resembled “a string of beads” with numerous blobs of ink along them - hardly a high-tech job. Worse was to follow: the characters that ambulated before such imperfect graphics were either provocative or dysfunctional in one way or another way or another by representing women as lewd Eastern goddesses or men at home in the bell-towers of Notre Dame Cathedral!
The first memory that I have of him was during an art department meeting to discuss the progress of my artwork for Dune Messiah. After I’d spent no less than seven weeks working on it, with so many alterations and moments of intense frustration, the department’s members were at last more or less agreed that the finished version was about right.
I can clearly recall that moment when around a dozen people had eventually come in to view the picture and all seemed to be unanimous in their approval of it, yet no-one had actually made a decisive remark to settle the matter. It was at that precise moment that their silent contemplation was suddenly shattered by a loud voice proclaiming, “Jesus Christ, that’s fantastic!”
Simultaneously we all turned around to see who it was. He was a tallish young man with sandy hair and a kind of theatrical look about him. Cecil clearly knew his identity, and seemed to breathe a sigh of relief at his uncompromising outburst, declaring, “Well, that’s the reaction we were all hoping for,” before saying to me, “Bruce, this is Peter Haining the editor, so if he likes it, that’s good enough for all of us and your efforts have been worthwhile.”
After that introduction I quite often had interesting chats with him, but regret that we never had much time to talk about his speciality, ‘the supernatural’, a subject that I’ve had more than a passing interest in over the years. In fact it was probably thanks to Peter - behind the scenes - a few years earlier, that I was given the rare privilege of viewing a real classic in soundless cinema.
The film was The Cabinet of Dr Cagliari and it was the theme for Peter’s anthology The Black Book of Doctor Cagliari which I was asked to illustrate the cover to. Preparations were made for me to attend the art department at a fixed time when the owner of the film would be present to screen the antique masterpiece for me.
It was the first time I’d seen all of the curtains for the tall Victorian windows there drawn over in the daytime, followed by nervous whisperings in the dark. Then, with the fragile projector rattling its flickering imagery onto the silver screen, we were all shown a piece of cinematic history none of us would easily forget. Its distorted, almost ‘Lovecraftian’ perspectives combined with chilling scenes of somnambulist starkness combined into a suitable colour picture for the book cover itself. It was quite an experience.
I’m happy to say that a few weeks later my completed artwork pleased all of the parties involved.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s,
New English Library were the UK’s most
exciting publisher, with ranges of paperbacks
aimed at the teenage market covering
subjects such as skinheads, hells angels,
dope-smoking hippies, as well as excellent
lines of horror and science-fiction
They were the easiest company to deal with- from the moment that I first entered their Art Department; the atmosphere was extremely casual, with no sense of tension or high powered intensity.
And what a SF cover to start with! The cover blurb says it all - “The most famous fantasy novel of all time!” and also “Hugo Award winner.” My very first book cover design for them though was for The Square Pegs (later to be used for a full page illustration in Mayfair magazine.) That was before a week’s holiday in the Scottish highlands. When I returned home, a letter was waiting for me from Cecil Smith’s secretary Anna Freeman, saying they had an urgent cover commission waiting for me. And the rest is history as they say.
Letter from Frank Belknap Long
Haining was the noted editor and anthologistwidely credited with popularising US style paperbacks in the UK and for reviving
the horror genre.
What I clearly remember about Bob Tanner is that he always made sure that I got my cheques on time if the Accounts Department were dragging their feet a bit. At both NEL and Star he hated inefficiency. Two incidents I can clearly recall about Bob - both at NEL.
One of the editorial team was somewhat shaken by his impulsive reaction towards untidiness and clutter. He related to me how Bob had suddenly decided that the editor’s desk could do with a ‘clean sweep’ so with his forearm he wiped the desk-top clean of every unnecessary item in one almighty swipe. Goodness knows how he’d have reacted to my studio!
On another occasion, when I was in the office of Pat Hornsey, casually chatting about the next issue of SF Monthly, she suddenly snatched the cigarette she was smoking her mouth and hid it in a nearby drawer (still alight) “Why on earth did you do that?” I asked her. She replied, “Because Bob Tanner is on his way - I can hear him in the corridor - and he doesn’t approve of smoking.”
My own personal recollection of him is that he was like a human dynamo, always keeping things moving as the ideal Managing Director. I was frequently grateful to hear him say over the phone, “It’s not good enough Bruce, I’ll chase them up straight away.” And sure enough, the stubborn cheque would invariably arrive by first post the following day.
Contrary to the opinion that I’d formed of him as some kind of old, cantankerous, irascible individual like the other Mr Smith in the TV series ‘Lost in Space’ (played by Jonathan Harris) following the arguments my ex-boss at the film poster studio had with him over the phone, I was pleased to find how wrong I’d been.
For a start he wasn’t old, or remotely difficult to deal with, but in fact very good humoured and relaxed. Without doubt, he was part of NEL’s long-term ‘success ingredient’ I’m sure. Smart, tidy and methodical, with a real artistic flair that never infringed on the illustrators ‘breathing space’, his cover layouts were invariably flattering to most artists and photographers, with a very subtle and stylish sense of lettering that was never intrusive or over-bold.
When Bob Tanner the Managing Director at NEL moved to Star Books in Mayfair, he made certain that Cecil continued to design covers for his new company, as well as using Star’s existing Art Director- that’s how good Cecil was.
My delight was difficult to disguise when he nonchalantly
asked if I’d like to try a Nabokov cover.
Did I hear right? was my first reaction. Trying hard
not to give away even a hint of my elation, I replied
in mock detachment,
“Sure, why not, I’ll give it a go.”
“It’s the beard wot did it” Autumn 1967
And maybe the psychedelic tie as well. Burgeoning emblems of the new West Coast hippy culture that arrived in the UK that year. A photograph of a young man unable to believe his luck as at last, freelance work began to roll in with one book cover commission after another from various publishers around London.”
Things by then were looking so good for me and Panther gave me a third cover to do. This was for The Butterfly Collector by William Butler. It was about a group of girls who went berserk at an American Summer-Camp, ending with the murder of a “coloured” boy. The theme in retrospect sounds very similar to the fate of Orpheus (whose name is based on the word for dark or shadowy) at the hands of a murderous horde of bacchantes.
This meant nothing to do me at the time as all I had to was follow the brief given to me to paint an illustration of a single girl standing over the dead body with an almost wistful expression of complete innocence. The details were specific, even down to the gesture of her putting her forefinger to her mouth. The entire picture had to go within two right wings of a butterfly, which could then be duplicated on the back cover in complete reverse, with the butterfly’s thorax going on the book's spine. The result was very effective when printed and published.
By then, Panther Books had moved to new premises (in Upper James Street, near Golden Square) and were convinced that I could no wrong after my third winning performance for them. That’s when then the “bright shiny bubble” decided to burst.
I’ve always hated anything to do with animal exploitation, in whatever form it might take. Cattleman was a novel based on just one aspect of that thorny subject: livestock farming. This was Panther’s fourth cover in an unbroken sequence for me to apply my highly successful formula to. From the very outset I felt awkward about the job. It wasn’t just the unpleasant subject of the book- other factors difficult to describe were also a problem.
The depiction of the main character was becoming more and more troublesome for me. The female lead was easy enough, but the facial construction of her husband’s cheeks and jaw line were becoming a nightmare. After several changes and adaptations I brought the final version in for Dave Larkin’s approval. I still remember his reaction after all these years.
“Oh no!” he gasped in despair, “you’ve made him look more like The Mekon this time!” He was referring to the arch-enemy of Dan Dare in the 1950s Eagle comic for boys. Fans of the comic will remember him as the alien entity with hollow sunken cheeks and all-over green complexion. Whatever happened to the final version of the cover I never found out. I immediately felt like ordering a “search and destroy” mission lest any copies of the book should survive. Needless to say, that put an end to my lucky run for Panther until several years later when they had a new Art Director. By then, “The Mekon” would have been in good company as most of my covers were for SF novels.
What can’t be emphasised too strongly at this point is that all those events during 1966 and 1967 were taking place against the backdrop of amazing times. My departure from film posters and subsequent error in choosing a job that was utterly wrong for me all occurred during what I like to call “The Black Year.” Anyone who checked the news and pop charts of 1966 will see what I mean. Even The Beatles were having a bad time around then. Los Bravos and The Stones reflected the “black” in their hits Black is Black and Paint it Black. I even sustained a blackout myself from a street accident near to my Covent Garden studio in March that year- I spent a night in the nearby Charing Cross hospital before being discharged the next day.
That was when we were working on a giant wall display on hardboard to show the dangers of pollution - it even had little Perspex raindrops filled with soot and ash - the very state that numerous Beatles records and memorabilia were reduced to in America’s Bible Belt after Lennon’s remark about them and Jesus in an interview. Ashes to Ashes by the Mind Benders kind of summed it up in 1966 as thousands of the Fab Four’s albums and posters literally went up in smoke on communal bonfires fuelled by extremist hatred. In Britain the year ended of the worst coal tragedy of all time when a huge mountain of it literally submerged an entire school and its occupants at Aberfan in Wales.
To many, during that winter of grief it must have seemed that the Sixties had come to an almost cataclysmic end never to rise again. To others though, especially those involved in art, fashion, music and theatre, a new renaissance was about to bloom- like the little white edelweiss flower made popular by the charts if the incoming year. 1967.
Whereas the events of the previous year had a kind of darkness attached to them - at least to me - 1967 was by total contrast, a year of light and whiteness - and again, the pop scene seemed to reflect this with its hits. My White Bicycle by Tomorrow, White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane, Nights in White Satin by The Moody Blues and the massive all-time great, A Whiter Shade of Pale by Procul Harem.
To me though, the group that most encapsulated the spirit of the time or zeitgeist of that year actually reflected the albino latescence of white itself in their very name - Cream- to many the crème de la crème of the pop world in the spring of that year. I can well recall how I felt my own emotions at the start of 1967 matched Cream’s first big chart hit I Feel Free. And it’s true I felt utterly liberated by my independence from of 9 ‘til 5 commuter jobs of the previous two years.
My first three successful covers for Panther were a good start, which I consolidated on by adding more sample artworks to my portfolio. Plus the actual printed proofs of the Panther covers themselves. In late Spring I was lucky to get some small Press Ad commissions from a Grays Inn Roads Agency, whilst the summer was fortuitous thanks to the arrival of another large mural commission. This was a direct result of the window display I’d done the previous year for Merlin’s hardware store.
Measuring some forty feet long and eight feet high, the basic theme of the picture was Swiss Alps, acting as a backdrop to an Alpine rockery complete with running stream and wild flowers in a pub’s patio garden. To add a touch of glamour to the promotional photograph in the local newspaper, an attractive dancing teacher from the immediate area posed with her bare feet splashing in the tiny river, whilst as an absurd after-thought, I was asked to continue painting in the background as if totally unaware of the half-naked beauty clearly stealing the entire scene in front of me. Sound of Music, top that if you can!
To me and millions of other people of my age at that time - in our mid-twenties - 1967 had an incredibly high and euphoric feel to it - especially the summer. So many wild and wonderful things were happening in the free-world every day - in fact the word “happening” was becoming part of the Sixties vocabulary to describe any impromptu event of a crazy or creative nature. My slightly surreal scene with the lovely girl in the Alpine garden would have been endorsed at the time as yet another such “happening” I’m sure.
“The Hounds has been illustrated four times, and the recent ones in the fantasy fan press greatly pleased me. But the Panther version has something very special and extraordinarily chilling about it. And “The Black Druid” is exactly as I’ve always inwardly pictured him”
In fact, Paris provided me with a pleasant break at the end of August that year- giving me the time to consider my artistic future? I chose to leave the mistake I’d made, and risk going solo. That was around September 1966 when my first freelance commission seemed a long time coming. It was for a local hardware store named Merlin’s. I took its title to be propitious and when I realise it was my very first freelance job before any of my publishing works- I have it reflect on it favourably.
The requirement was for a large mural behind a window display. They wanted an ancestral stately home (painted in household paints) surrounded by acres of serene countryside complete with grand entrance drive and wrought iron gates. It was an instant hit! To the extent that it attracted an even larger commission the following year from a different patron.
Before that, in early 1967 I decided to put my personal samples portfolio to the test, and do a tour of the big publishing houses around London. With most of them, it was a case of “Thanks, we’ll let you know if a suitable cover comes up.” Panther Books were different. Their offices and art department were lodged in the very region of London so dear to me in my infancy- Knightsbridge.
Somehow I got a sense of optimism even before I got there as I felt I was returning to my “home turf” so to speak. Their company was in the High Street where the invisible tyre-marks of my push-chair were still indelibly present - to me at least - after some twenty-one years. The interview went quietly, partly because the Art Director Dave Larkin was a quiet type of guy. I waited patiently whilst he leafed through my samples one by one. I was encouraged by the intensity of his interest, so didn’t interrupt once, letting the pictures do all the talking instead.
My delight was difficult to disguise when he nonchalantly asked if I’d like to try a Nabokov cover. Did I hear right? was my first reaction. Trying hard not to give away even a hint of my elation, I replied in mock detachment, “Sure, why not, I’ll give it a go.” Then with my senses in overdrive I almost flew along Knightsbridge to Kensington, scarcely able to believe what I’d just accomplished- my very first book cover commission! I had to keep examining the manuscript to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
As the Summer of Love in 1967 mellowed into the “Altherial Autumn” towards September of that year, I was eager to do the rounds again of London’s leading publishing houses with my new, improved portfolio works. To many who remember that same great year, the words Doors and Barnard will instantly be linked with firstly the San Franciscan band The Doors who were storming the charts with their mega-hit Light My Fire and secondly, the South African Dr Christian Barnard who successfully performed the world’s very first human heart transplant.
To me though the same words will always resonate with an image of the two massive doors outside New English Library’s offices, and Barnards Inn, Holborn, their address. Those were the very same doors that I passed through on that fateful afternoon for an interview with the Art Director Cecil Smith in the hope of securing some illustration work. The atmosphere was pleasant to put it mildly. One or two people were even having a carton cup of coffee, or even savouring a late lunch in the form of a Pot Noodle. Others were on the phone, whilst Cecil himself was engrossed in his latest book design. It was an ideal moment to make my entry.
“A man at work in the mountains, mid-Summer 1967.
8 feet at its highest point, and 40 feet wide, the largest artwork I’ve so far produced.”
Managing Director Bob Tanner
Laurence James was an editor at New
English Library during the eraly 1970s
before becoming a freelance writer, his
many novels in genres as diverse as
from romance to westerns tio
children’s fiction under many pseudonyms, earning him the title of the
“least known best-seller”
He was a unique individual - generous to a fault with a vast reservoir of knowledge of natural creativity. Unlike the dramatic introduction to Peter Haining, my initial discovery of Laurence was a gradual process. In a way, he seemed to have been at NEL all along without being overtly present, as he was a very low-key kind of person who always spoke quickly, but also quietly.
He seemed to have his ‘finger on the pulse’ of everything that was going on, or had gone on both at NEL and the world generally. For example, I was astounded by certain photographic evidence he’d seen of a notorious dictator shockingly cavorting with two women by a swimming pool, as well as numerous other people’s scandals that the general public never got to know about.
Despite his interest in the darker side of society which many of his novels were based upon, he was the absolute opposite in everyday life. Both genial and placid, he was the ideal husband and father without a hostile word to anyone - plus a great sense of humour.
At that time, in the early Seventies, London was still in its hangover days after the glorious sixties, with a kind of seedy ‘party aftermath’ atmosphere complete with litter and debris everywhere. But science fiction was in its ascendancy, and one of the spaces that thrived on that new interest was the comics shop 'Dark they Were and Golden Eyed' which had just moved out of Covent Garden into bigger premises in Berwick St, Soho. It was here that Laurence could often be found browsing through all kinds of SF books, comics and posters, or chatting to the shop’s owner Derek Stokes (aka Bram after the creator of the novel Dracula) or maybe Derek’s girlfriend, Diane.
During the early days of my career, if I was a little short of cash, Derek would kindly ‘sell’ me various items of literature in exchange for the odd colour sketch I’d done for various science fantasy book covers. And if Laurence or I needed a place in the West End to meet up, Derek’s shop was an ideal venue to browse in whilst waiting. Once, after a generous lunch, he casually let slip that I was gaining some kind of ‘cult following’ with my book cover art. He told me he’d been talking to someone recently about my dealings with him at NEL in connection with my SF illustration work. Apparently the guy suddenly lookestunned before asking Laurence, “You mean you actually know Bruce Pennington?”
After that disclosure, along with a sudden surge in fan mail from as far away as Australia and South Africa, I began to develop typical symptoms of “the cranial enlargement syndrome.” I therefore made certain not to visit SF conventions where fans might congregate lest my condition grew worse.
Despite the effects of post-Sixties permissiveness and its resulting marital break-ups, I was delighted to hear Laurence speak of his wife Liz in almost devotional terms, referring to her as his “gorgeous wife” to whom he was always looking forward to going home after work.
My only regret after he left NEL in 1973 is that I never kept in contact with him - due partly to my growing hermit-like introversion in the mid-Seventies when, my Eschatus book project began to subvert my previously extrovert lifestyle.
However, despite my increasingly reclusive ways, I was only too pleased to illustrate the covers to his first three ‘Simon Rack’ novels, and grateful to him for his kind dedication of the second one Starcross, as well as lauding me in a published interview with him years later. It’s such a tragedy that his talents and Peter Haining’s were taken from us so early. Each of them were distinctive giants in the 1970s and 1980s publishing scene and were utterly irreplaceable. I count myself as fortunate to have known them both.
“Having the dubious honour of being a reasonably well-heeled member of the ‘unfair sex,’ my attitude regarding attractive young women has rarely been likely to advance the state of humanity beyond the sexist carnality that has held it back for millennia. Though with the gradual arrival of maturity, I have made some modest progress in the respect.
From a very early age, my reverence towards girls frequently resulted in idealised drawings of them- usually portraits of those I adored from afar, in a long line of “idée fixe angels’ devoid of even the remotest hint of sensuality. Then at the pubescent age of twelve, bang! it all changed.
Suddenly I began to produce my own secret comic strips (strip being the operative word) drawn in ghastly blue ballpoint pen ink with every scene shown in graphic detail. These usually featured well-developed young girls who preyed upon unsuspecting spectacled geeks (that looked suspiciously like me at the time) in a variety of different ways - all of them unashamedly sexual. Invariably these drawings were always destroyed lest anyone should discover them.
Thus began my torrid descent into adolescence whereby even my most innocent and saleable crayon drawings of female faeries were heavily loaded with erotic import in the form of burgeoning young women flaunting their newly developed curves whilst laughably still trying to look like weightless nymphets riding some bewildered bumble bee or dragonfly in an effort to become airborne. It was cheesecake pulchritude with butterfly wings.
Then in my twenties, at the start of my career, I was frequently being reprimanded for introducing eroticism into my pictures where it wasn’t warranted. Nudity may be acceptable at art school, but not in the public domain. For example, in 1964, for a large epic film poster, I was asked by Laurie Bellow at Rank’s Wardour Street offices, to cover up my voluptuous naked heroine (languishing in the arms of her hero) with “some form of respectable drapery.”
Then, in late 1967, at a Grays Inn Road Studio, I was given the brief to produce a painting of a happy schoolgirl gleefully bouncing along on a precursor to the Space Hopper called the Ride-A-Roo. Instead I turned her into a well-endowed young maenad straight out of Pan’s People who had just made their debut the same year on BBC TV’s 'Top of the Pops'. That time though, the Art Department kind of liked it, and we ended up with a mutually acceptable compromise.
And how many people realise that my original version from NEL’s Thuvia Maid of Mars had the vermilion-skirted diva completely topless! Until Cecil Smith reluctantly had to insist I cover her immodesty with some kind of ‘brazen brassiere.’ As numerous visitors to the Art Department in those days will remember, that painting became part of the room itself for many years in a frame upon the wall until continual sunlight bleached its pristine blue sky into a very pale green.”
Mistaken Identities and Imitations
“Despite NEL’s SF Monthly credit, the illustration to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Llana of Gathol was not by me. Neither did I ever collaborate with any other artist to produce any others book covers - though Cecil Smith’s deputy, Tony did add a little colour to my Salammbo picture once. He later became an ambulance man!
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so the old saying goes - at least that’s how I usually regarded the (quite blatant in places) plagiarism of my work. In some instances the entire picture has been ‘lifted’ with a new colour scheme added to create a new cover!
Two examples come to mind. A complete re-tread given to Space Ranger by Asimov that I’d done for NEL, and Satan’s World by Poul Anderson which I did for Corgi. Both were brazenly used on different covers.
Several artists tracked down the culprit, who turned out to be a woman. Apparently she’d been doing the same thing with their covers as well. Whether or not they got any legal claims from her ‘naughtiness’ I never found out, to be honest I was too busy at the time to get involved. Some illustrators have got quite paranoid over the whole subject, but so far at least, I’ve never been perturbed by such audacity - and yes, flattered in a way as well.
I often noticed the similarity of images in my work and that of Ray Feibush’s (editor’s note, also a cover artist at NEL) but I always regarded it benignly as it was a ‘style’ that was being imitated. In the same way throughout history, that other artists have trailed vast armadas of faithful emulators behind them, like sparks behind a meteor. I always took it as a compliment- the more the merrier!
I often wondered what happened to other artists like Peter Goodfellow, and another guy we all used to regard with a kind of a wry smile, called Terry Dali (actually Gilbert), nicknamed so because of his Dali-esque style and his ‘think big” attitude to his work and reputation. The last I heard about him was way back in the late Seventies when he’d made a name for himself in Hollywood doing portraits for the ‘stars’ for ‘astronomical’ prices. Good luck to him, he was ambitious and deserved to succeed.
I wasn’t always sweetness and light, there were the odd disagreements. One such incident happened with Cecil over a proposed cover for a book called Hook, which might have been a series (Editor’s note: NEL published four in the Hook series by Ken Bulmer writing as Tully Zetford). We disagreed over the colour scheme or something - anyway the upshot was that I probably did pull out of the deal- to be honest I can’t be totally certain about the eventual result.
Another similar clash of interests occurred over a book about ethnic conflict in the UK, Fugue for a Darkening Island, which Cecil wanted me to do. The whole subject repelled me, so I declined the offer (my cavalier attitude in those days never fails to amaze me in retrospect). I think someone like Ray Feibush eventually did it. (Editor- he did!). The same kind of thing happened with Corgi over a novel that featured a sequence describing a strange, gigantic wall stretching into space identical to a comic drawing by Druillet in Lone Sloane or something. It was the same in every detail - clearly cribbed from the comic- so I politely backed out of their offer on principle. Again, crazy in retrospect, but that’s the way I was in those days.”
Above a selection of covers by Ray Feibush showing an obvious Pennington influence. Indeed Star Courier even steals the flying insects from The Green Brain painting.
These and others by Feibush are often mistakenly accredited to Bruce. The same applies to the Richard Clifton Dey covers below. No doubt both these artists were asked to work in the 'Pennington Style' by their various publishers.
THE BRUCE PENNINGTON ARCHIVE
THE BRUCE PENNINGTON ARCHIVE
If I recall correctly, the design for the actual illustration had a fairly tight specification with a precise drawing by a relative of the author involving various objects relating to each other in the context of a chess game. The title of the novel - based on that very concept - was The Defence. It was up to me to interpret the pencil drawing they had given me into a full-colour illustration. What they eventually got a few weeks later from me clearly achieved the results I aimed for - another cover job!
By way of a contrast, this one was a western by a master of the genre Matt Chisholm. It it was titled Range War. This time I had to produce a set of preparatory sketches for the Art Director and Directors to choose from. They agreed on one that featured a burnt-out wagon in the foreground with a group of horsemen in the distance galloping towards the spectator. And again, the finished product went down well.