Summer 2011

Britannia waves the flag

A Symbol for the Festival: Abram Games and the Festival of Britain

By Naomi Games, Capital History, £14.95

A Symbol for the Festival tells an illuminating personal and graphic design history in the form of a ‘national case study’: Abram Games’ Britannia symbol for the 1951 Festival of Britain. Studiously documented by his daughter, Naomi, the book takes us through Games’ design process from his first tentative sketches to the presentation and implementation of his final designs.

Through graphic detail, personal memoir and storytelling, Naomi Games is able to distil the essence of a 60-year career in one, important project. Her father’s philosophical approach to graphic design – ‘maximum meaning, minimum means’ – is evident in all his work but it is in his Festival of Britain symbol that it is most concentrated.

The book is illustrated throughout with site photographs, preliminary sketches, proposals and presentation artwork. We are also shown the symbol in situ, on posters, catalogues, banners and stamps, as well as emblazoned on the side of a ship, on bars of soap, biscuits and powder compacts.

The symbol had its critics. Some considered the combination of Britannia, the colours of the Union Flag and a ‘nautical’ star unduly militaristic, so soon after the ravages of the Second World War. For a designer whose formative graphic years were during and in the service of the British war effort, the criticism must have caused some concern. But while Britain still lived under the tyranny of postwar rationing and austerity, Games’s Britannia tapped into a more widespread sense of hope for the future, as the ubiquity of his symbol would attest.

First published in Eye no. 80 vol. 20 2011

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions, back issues and single copies of the latest issue.