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HARRY MOTTRAM FREELANCE JOURNALIST: the strange story of a bitter business dispute over a typeface that ended at the bottom of the River Thames in mysterious circumstances (and how a graphic designer today tracked down the evidence beneath the water a century later)

Thomas Cobden-Sanderson

Harry Mottram reports for Print Monthly

It is a curious story of how business partnerships in the printing industry can go horribly wrong. One particular bust up between business partners was brought back to life by the typographer and designer Robert Green, who discovered the evidence of a bitter dispute a century ago at the bottom of the River Thames.

He says the dispute was between Thomas Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker at the Doves Press in London at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Cobden Sanderson was a designer while Emery Walker was a printer. Both were dedicated to their crafts and as a combination created not only beautiful books, but also a unique typeface, the Doves font, designed largely by Cobden-Sanderson. The font was only available in 16pt and was seen as classic, elegant and sophisticated.

Emery Walker at the Doves Press

The partnership began in 1900 after Cobden-Sanderson had in effect coined the phrase ‘arts and crafts’ to describe a revival of tradition craft skills used in a range of disciplines, in a generation of designers and artists in reaction to the mass production of the Industrial revolution. The partnership with Walker would continue to produce and celebrate this movement and some of the great works of literature including Paradise Lost. However, like so many partnerships, things began to go wrong. Walker had other business and social interests that kept him away from the publishing house which Thomas Cobden-Sanderson resented. By 1906 the partnership was under strain and Cobden-Sanderson suggested it should end. There was only one issue and that was who owned the font Dove. Cobden-Sanderson had been its chief designer but Walker had also had an input into the beautifully crafted typeface.

“I first saw the Doves Press font when I was at art school, and I thought it was incredibly elegant. It has real authority, and it also very idiosyncratic”

I first saw the Doves Press font when I was at art school, and I thought it was incredibly elegant. It has real authority, and it also very idiosyncratic”

Robert Green at the river

Robert Green says: “I first saw the Doves Press font when I was at art school, and I thought it was incredibly elegant. It has real authority, and it also very idiosyncratic. The type is all and that is a very modern approach. For some reason I began to get obsessed with the type but I didn’t know the story.”

A sample of the typeface

Green began to recreate the font digitally by scanning each character to create a digital version of Dove. As he looked into the background of the two men behind the font he discovered the extraordinary outcome of their bust up. When the partnership folded in 1906 they appeared to have resolved the ownership of the typeface. Walker would have the right to continue using it and the metal characters so beautifully crafted for use in his letterpress, while the elderly Cobden-Sanderson would be the owner of the font until his death when the ownership would pass to Walker.

The deal seemed to work until Cobden-Sanderson began to ponder on the agreement and found himself unhappy with it. So in an act of revenge he decided to destroy the typeface. Two years after the partnership ended, he returned to the print room and picked up the heavy metal typeface and put them into a bag and walked the few yards to Hammersmith Bridge where he threw them into the River Thames. Not just once, but perhaps it took him more than 150 journeys on foot to empty the characters and everything associated with the typeface into the dark depths of the river.

The Dove typeface used in a printing of the Bible

A century later, Green had by now not only researched the dispute but was on the track of the lost font. He worked out where the lead had fallen and how the tides would have moved the small pieces on metal in the mud.
Green says: “There was a ton of type, which was a lot of weight for an elderly man to shift. It must have taken him about 170 trips on foot. I studied where the traffic is and where he might have thrown the type in and began to look. The first letter I found was the letter V which had spent 98 years under water being thrashed about by the tides.”

He comments: “Cobden-Sanderson was a socialist and man of ideals, but the most beautiful thing he created he destroyed instead of sharing it with the world.”

Cobden-Sanderson admitted to disposing of the font in a letter to Walker’s solicitor. And it can be assumed the two men never spoke to each other again. Cobden-Sanderson died in 1922, while Walker continued to work as a printer and was knighted in 1930. He died three years later. His house is open to the public once a year during London Open Buildings Day.

For more stories from Harry visit www.harrymottram.co.uk

For Harry on Twitter @harrythespiv and on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram as Harry Mottram

More stories on the print industry at www.printmonthly.co.uk

HARRY MOTTRAM FREELANCE JOURNALIST: after an open letter is published signed by the victims of a notorious businessman he is already back in business under a new name trading from Canary Wharf

The prestigious ‘official address’ of the print farmer in Canary Wharf

The ‘official address’ of the print farmer in Canary Wharf

The notorious print farmer Neill Malcolm Stuart John is back in business offering his services as The Book and Catalogue Printer after being roundly condemned by previous customers as ‘fraudulent’. Harry Mottram reports.

Despite the letterhead of The Book and Catalogue Printer he uses as his base for his business operation the website www.thebestprinter.co.uk and even having the slight handicap of having no printing presses and living in Barry in Wales he lists his address at Canary Wharf in London implying he is a major player in the industry.

He tells customers that his is “a bona fide and legitimate organisation which is irrefutable” and goes on to claim he prints hundreds of jobs every month. Delivery times are three to five weeks but somewhat in contradiction reminds clients in his terms and conditions that: “in the event of supplier failure. The Seller has a 20 week window to fulfil an order before agreeing to terminate the contract with the customer.”

Alarmingly his claims are in complete contrast to the scores of complaints sent to Print Monthly with more arriving every day. Exasperated former customers complain of late or no delivery, no ISBN numbers being printed on books, little or no communication after they have paid up front, and legal threats when they complain.

Remarkably he states: “The Best Printer are a London based Printing Company who have exclusive arrangements with the largest partners in the UK and Europe. Our annual spend with them is significant enough to afford us an unparalleled level of service from them with the added bonus of dealing with a UK firm. We specialize in jobs with lots of pages and lots of finishing. We are highly competitive at medium runs of 500 – 5000 copies. Our staff have over 20 years of experience within the industry and are here to hold your hand throughout the entire process. We take your artwork, troubleshoot it for problems, offer to fix any errors that may impair the job, proof, print and deliver your job to your door quickly and seamlessly.”

An open letter signed by more than 50 of his ex-customers has been circulated to the media, the trade press, the BBC, the police and trading standards calling for action to stop him. So far all attempts have failed.

Ian Carrott of ICSM the print credit intelligence group who specialise in keeping their members in the know about fraud, bad debts and late payers says it beggars belief that Neill Malcolm Stuart John is able to get away with daylight robbery. He has consistently warned of paying money up front from an unknown supplier and to contact those purporting to give testimonials as they can be fictitious.

One printer who wished to remain anonymous told this publication that: “I’m amazed nobody has been round to sort him out.” It is a sentiment shared by many who have contacted Print Monthly.

More at http://www.printmonthly.co.uk/ and www.harrymottram.co.uk

CHILDREN’S THEATRE MAGAZINE – NEWS: the Scottish play to tour schools in London and the North of England this spring (but not Scotland)


Following a successful tour to schools and performances in the Dorfman Theatre earlier in 2017, in which nearly 5,000 students saw Macbeth, the production now begins a tour to a further 31 schools and colleges across Doncaster, London, Sunderland and Wakefield.
Macbeth is adapted and directed for teenage audiences by Justin Audibert and the production is a bold contemporary retelling of one of Shakespeare’s darkest plays. Amid bloody rebellion and the deafening drums of war, Macbeth and his wife will stop at nothing to fulfil their ambition. Witchcraft, murder, treason and treachery are all at play in this murky world. The cast includes Nana Amoo-Gottfried, Shazia Nicholls, Gabby Wong, Stephanie Levi John, Adrian Richards, Tamara Camacho, Johndeep More and Kenton Thomas.
Speaking about the production director, Justin Audibert said: “Macbeth is a tale of ambition, dark magic, violence and love; the perfect combination for an audience of young adults. We have made our version as exciting and visceral as possible, a truly sensory experience.”
The tour will begin by visiting 15 schools in London, followed by a further 16 schools across Doncaster, Sunderland and Wakefiel.
Speaking about the schools tours the National Theatre’s Director of Learning, Alice King-Farlow said: “At the NT we believe that all young people should have the opportunity to take part in theatre and drama while at school and so I am delighted that we’re touring Justin’s contemporary 90 minute adaptation of Macbeth to schools across London and in the North of England this year as part of our new national partnership programme.”
The enterprise is backed by money from the Mohn Westlake Foundation, The Ingram Trust, the Archie Sherman Charitable Trust, the Behrens Foundation, and Jill and David Leuw, while the National Theatre recieves financial support from Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Macbeth is on the core reading guide for school exams this year.

See our round up of plays and novels that are part of core reading studies in GCSE and A level courses this year that are being staged across the country at http://www.harrymottram.co.uk/?p=2767

THEATRE REVIEW: Sian Tutill triumphs as Hester in Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea at Axbridge Town Hall

ACT Deep Blue Sea Sian Tutill

Sian takes a bow at the end of the show with applause from the cast for her performance as Hester

The Deep Blue Sea. Axbridge Town Hall

Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, Hester Collyer has to choose between her stuffy wealthy husband Sir William Collyer or her washed up drunken charmer and one time fighter pilot and lover Freddie Page for whom the world stopped at the height of the Battle of Britain.

Terence Rattigan’s marital crisis drama set in 1950s London is a surprise. Not the emotionally constipationally afflicted story of stiff upper lip middle class suburbia but the eternal battles of uneven relationships in which the protagonist in the partnerships desires change.

As protagonists go Sian Tutill as the manipulative, confused and depressed Hester gave one of the best demonstrations of character acting you will see outside of professional theatre. Totally convincing from the moment she attempts to gas herself to the climactic final scene as she wrestles with the trauma that her love affair with Freddie may be over. Tutill convinces as a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown – using her body, face, voice and hands – she gives a magnetic performance. Anguished and agonised with Rattigan’s articulate dialogue this is a very 21st century study of how we feel in a relationship that’s going nowhere and not the period piece it can be.

Chris Jarman as Freddie and Tony Wilson as his chummy ex RAF mate Jackie Jackson appeared to have missed the privations of 1950s’ rationing and perhaps were little too senior in years to have been so recently discharged from flying Spitfires but as voices they sounded right. In fact this would work well as a radio play as there is little action apart from the odd door slamming and clinking of whisky glasses. Despite Tutill’s dominating stage persona Jarman held his own in their powerful one to one scenes. His final pitiful emotional self flagellatorypronouncement that: “It’s written in great bloody letters of fire over our heads – ‘you and I are death to each other’” thus potentially spelling the end of the affair was delivered with feeling and to many will chime as an accurate take on relationships that have gone past their sell by date.

Maggie Stanley made a robust and believable landlady as Mrs Elton and Phil Saunders gave a strong performance as Hester’s dry old stick of a legal bigwig husband. Then there was the very odd couple in Ann and Philip Welch played by Nigel Newton (great suit) and Diane Lukins (great hair). Well, odd in the sense as to who would want these two studies in embarrassment as neighbours? Both were wonderfully awkward and suitably stiff from the moment they offered to help out at a suicide attempt and went on to say all the wrong things – bless them. As symbols of how out of touch 1950s Britain was to the issue of mental health, marital problems or expressing true feelings they couldn’t have been better.

And praise too for David Parkin as the helpful Mr Miller, bookie and sometime unofficial doctor whose Germanic accent didn’t slip and whose charm began to melt the brittle exterior of the slightly unhinged Hester. Here was a character of his time – could he have been a Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Germany trying to make a living as a Bookie’s clerk? A nice touch from Rattigan – today he’d be more likely be a Kurd or a Syrian. He’s there as the antidote to a society obsessed with social norms – ahead of his time.

These inflections, minor characters and themes come from a playwright who in his own time could not fully be himself as he was gay. The Deep Blue Sea written in 1952 has been interpreted as a coded drama of ‘the love that dare not speak its name’ but in truth it feels more like a story about grown-ups for grown-ups without gimmicks or twists of plot. A play anyone in a relationship will immediately understand.

Directed by John Bailey and produced by John Kendall this Axbridge Community Theatre version of Rattigan’s play is an excellent piece of work by the director and his cast marking a further development of the company.

It’s a long and emotional without any theatrics, and yet as the arguments unravel we see more than a glimpse of our own relationships articulated by a cast keen to highlight the dialogue that hasn’t aged and continues to give.

The play runs to Saturday, November 25th, 2017, at Axbridge Town Hall.

Rupert Bridgwater



RAPSCALLION MAGAZINE DIARY: from Charlie Chaplin to a French silent movie and from Punch to love poetry – it’s all happening in January

The Suitor is on in Bristol at the Slapstick Festival

The Suitor is on in Bristol at the Slapstick Festival

January 2017

Christmas is over, the mornings are dark and the evenings darker and all seems gloomy as you realise how much heavier you were than just a few days ago. How you could murder all those Christmassy events and start again in November.
Speaking of murdering Christmas there’s a play during the rounds by New Old Friends. Crimes Against Christmas is a comic Agatha Christie type story where the guests at the county house keep getting bumped off to the theme of the 12 Days of Christmas. It’s on in Bath at the Theatre Royal from January 3-7.
Which brings us to death. Just months before his death in 1669 Rembrandt painted a self-portrait sporting a rather natty beret. He was 63 and had already painted a number of self-portraits charting the 17th century aging process – got covered in muck and became increasingly dark with all the grime and soot. In the late 1960s it was given a clean revealing Rembrant’s signature and instead of being rather dim in tone was really quite colourful. It can be seen at Bristol’s city art gallery.
Meanwhile the Cartoon Museum in London goes all Punch with an exhibition of some the best cartoons from the magazine’s history. Sometimes cruel, sometimes ultra conservative and sometimes offensive they were often timeless and extremely funny. One thing is always the case with these 19th century drawings: the draughtsmanship is excellent. And of course they open a window into some aspects of Victorian life. Pictures from Punch: A 175th Anniversary Exhibition – runs to January 22.
Also in London there’s an exhibition of Picasso’s portraits at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square. Rapscallion’s favourite art gallery is always worth a visit as it is free and contains such an eclectic collection of portraits both painted and photographed through the centuries.
Coming to the Roxy Cinema in Axbridge in January is the film A Bigger Splash. Billed as a darkly comic drama it’s set in Italy where a couple staying in Tuscany having a visit from a long lost friend. You know what’s coming – the past arrives to haunt the present with a certain amount of emotional fall-out.
It’s directed by Luca Guadagnino and written by Alain Page and David Kajganich, based on the film La Piscine and features Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson.
Speaking of relationships the Bristol Old Vic’s poetry nights has something of a battle over the vexed emotion ahead of St Valentine’s Day. Held once a month on a Sunday evening (although January gets missed out) Blahblahblah on February 13 features Love vs Cynicism. Two teams of wordsmiths go head to head to argue each side of the case. Expect soaring ballads, tenderness, pain, bitterness and hilarity from some of the best poets around.
One of Bristol’s great festivals arrives in time to cheer everyone up from the winter blues. Slapstick 2017 returns with film, performances and talks.
On Wednesday, January 20, there is Rediscovered and Restored featuring the talents of one of Europe’s finest silent film champions Serge Bromberg as he presents his latest collection of newly discovered and restored silent comedy shorts to open the Slapstick Festival.
Another interesting evening is on the following day when there is a screening of Bed and Sofa, a 1927 Russian film which somehow escaped the dead hand of the Stalinist censor with its focus on human relationships and disregard of state and party.
During the week there’s a talk by Lucy Porter about the fascinating life of Anita Loos – one of early Hollywood’s most talented and prolific screenwriters and there’s a screening of Charlie Chaplin in The Kid.
The shows mainly take place in the Colston Hall and include appearances by Bill Oddie, Ian Lavender and Robin Ince.
And another delight is the screening of the The Suitor or rather Le Soupirant in the original French title. It is a 1962 French comedy film directed by and starring Pierre Étaix and is almost silent throughout.
Stylish and beautifully shot it was Pierre Etaix’s tribute to Buster Keaton in which a young man is pressed into finding a girl friend by his parents in an amusingly droll story of  his bungling attempts at love. It’s all a bit Rapscallion in the way real life seems to turn into farce.
There’s more Rapscallion Magazine features, news and reviews at www.harrymottram.co.uk