Autumn 2003

Malcolm, Peter . . . and Keith

The British New Wave was born at a boys' school near Manchester

Over the years, Malcolm Garrett and Peter Saville have often mentioned in interviews that they studied together at Manchester Polytechnic in the 1970s. Less well known, though it sometimes comes up in passing, is that they also attended the same school, St Ambrose College, an independent Catholic grammar in Hale Barnes, Cheshire. Barely remarked at all, however, is that Keith Breeden, a third, not so renowned contributor to Britain’s graphic ‘new wave’, was a member of the same A level art class. At school, as both Saville and Garrett affirm, Breeden was a significant influence on them. The only known photograph of the three fledgling designers in the school art room is printed tantalisingly small in Saville’s recent monograph, Designed by Peter Saville.

It’s odd, in a way, that more has not been made of this surprising confluence of talent. In a class of just six teenagers taking art, half of the group went on to devote their efforts to album cover design and two became leading figures with national and international reputations. Where many once-celebrated new wave design teams of the early 1980s – Rocking Russian, Shoot That Tiger, Town and Country Planning – are all but forgotten now, Saville and Garrett have stayed the course. The national press coverage generated by the Saville monograph and the Design Museum’s retrospective – even the ultra-highbrow London Review of Books was moved to break its usual silence on design – confirmed just how deeply his work affected those who consumed it at the time.

It’s still too early, though, to determine with any precision how significant the impact of Garrett and Saville was for British design. Saville’s book and exhibition excited impressionistic claims by journalists that his designs had ignited a taste revolution in the high streets of Britain and, not surprisingly, Saville was ready to agree . . .

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