Michael Tucker and the Brownjohn connection
The most exciting moment in preparing the new edition of Reasons To Be Cheerful arrived at 6 o’clock one morning this summer when I cracked a major mystery surrounding Barney Bubbles’ life and work: the identity of his first full-time employer, the person who Bubbles said taught him “everything about typography”, instilling the rigour which resonated throughout his professional life.
In turn, the trail I uncovered lead me to establish a hitherto unacknowledged connection between Bubbles and one of the greats of graphic design, Robert Brownjohn.
During my research, family, friends and associates had recalled little about Bubbles’ first employer, least of all his name.
While stressing the importance of this mystery figure in his life, Bubbles himself declined to name the individual in his only ever interview (in The Face, published November 1981).
So that early morning in June, after years of cross-checking directories and entering any number of search engine variations, I experienced the “Eureka” moment when the name Michael Tucker + Associates popped up halfway down page 6 of Googlebooks.
This chimed not just with an address and phone number I had accessed, but also contemporaneous correspondence in which Bubbles mentioned “M.T.”.
Within hours I had confirmed that this was indeed the commercial art studio where Bubbles (then Colin Fulcher) worked as an assistant between 1963 and 1965 as part of a small team servicing such clients as Pirelli.
And soon I unravelled the whole story, one which has never been published before.
A star graduate of the London College Of Printing, Michael Tucker began his professional life working for British industrial designer Ian Bradbury in the late 50s.
In 1962, Tucker, then in his early 20s, designed the jacket to Penguin’s reissue of 30s self-help book Meet Yourself As You Really Are.
The geometric arrangement and use of colour aren’t so far removed from Bubbles’ later work, such as the inner sleeve of Hawkwind’s 1973 album Space Ritual.
Around the time of the Penguin book cover, Tucker set up his own practice on the fourth floor of Artists House, at 14-15 Manette Street, the thoroughfare alongside Foyles which connects Charing Cross Road to Greek Street in London’s West End.
Artists House adorned by JR, 2008.
Tucker was a stickler, insisting assistants use Graphos architecture pens rather than Rotrings and was dead set against the on-the-rise Helvetica, preferring for the house font the original manifestation, Neue Haas Grotesk, on a German-size body.
“There was also an unspoken rule that we had to wear American button-down shirts,” says Brian Webb, who began his career at Tucker’s in the mid-60s. “Anything not Ivy League was frowned upon.”
Webb – later of Trickett & Webb and now Webb & Webb – remembers Bubbles returning to MT+A from his job at Conran Design for occasional freelance commissions, including the lettering for the poster for director Hugh Hudson‘s 1966 Pirelli-sponsored promotional short The Tortoise & The Hare.
Brownjohn’s credit sequence starts at 1.00.
The film was produced by the powerhouse commercials company operated by Hudson in conjunction with Donald Cammell and Robert Brownjohn (famed for his typographic excellence and design audacity with such triumphs as the title sequence for Goldfinger and the sleeve of The Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed).
The Tortoise & The Hare is notable for the opening credits, which Brownjohn designed to appear on moving vehicles.
Also in 1966, Tucker designed the D&AD Annual (the cover was contributed by Alan Aldridge and Lou Klein), and went on to produce such commercial designs as vinyl labels for Plastic Coatings Ltd as well as logos and booklets for security clients Chubb and Minerva.
Tucker’s work appeared the Graphis Annual 1968-69, Top Symbols And Trademarks Of The World (1973) and World Of Logotypes Vol 2 (1978). By the early 80s he was teaching graphic design at Hong Kong Polytechnic before retiring to focus on his hobby, sailing.
For full details of this and the many other fresh elements in the new edition of Reasons To Be Cheerful – including 60 new images – click here or on one of the ‘buy now’ buttons below for a personalised signed copy at just £18.99 + P&P.
Tags: Colin Fulcher, Donald Cammell, Foyles, Helvetica, Hugh Hudson, Ian Bradbury, Kiki Byrne, Manette Street, Michael Tucker + Associates, Neue Haas Grotesk, Pirelli, Robert Brownjohn, The Tortoise & The Hare