Sunday, 5:57pm
22 August 2010

Signs of The Times

The enduring appeal of bizarre road signs and notices, from then and now

My mother, Margaret, always delighted in funny street signs when we went on road trips, often reading out loud the notices that caught her eye, writes John L. Walters.

She particularly enjoyed seeing signs that were unintentionally comic, with juxtapositions of words and icons that were odd, bathetic or just dumb. So I associate this old book (Signs of The Times, top) with her. We discovered it in a Oxfam shop in Cornwall in the 1990s.

IMG_0320_sign of the times

Above and below: spreads from Signs of The Times, pub. Elm Tree / Hamish Hamilton, 1974).

The signs are often funny by themselves, but the captions add an extra layer of dry wit.

However Michael Leapman, then editor of The Times’s Diary section (which published a daily ‘Signs of The Times’ photo), writes, rather regretfully, in his introduction to the slim paperback, that ‘the world’s supply of funny road signs cannot be inexhaustible’.

IMG_0321_sign of the times

But that was a long time before image-sharing sites, and graphic design’s use of signs noted in ‘Public notice’ (Eye 73).


Our friend Andy Martin does a nice line in such signs (above and below), collected on his Flickr page.


So if you seen anything that amuses or baffles you along these lines, please feel free to add them to our ‘Public notice’ group on Flickr, and we’ll do a follow-up blog about the best.

Eye magazine is available from all good design bookshops and at the online Eye shop, where you can order subscriptions, single issues and back issues.

The summer issue, 76, out now, is a music special – full contents here, and you can see a selection of visual details on Eye Before You Buy on Issuu.

Student subscriptions are half price, see