Abram Games MBE
(1914, Whitechapel, London — 1996, London) was a British graphic designer.
BBC London News piece on an Abram Games exhibition.
Born Abraham Gamse in Whitechapel, London on the day World War I began in 1914, he was the son of Joseph Gamse, a Latvian photographer, and Sarah, a seamstress born on the border of Russia and Poland. His father anglicized the family name to Games when Abram was 12.
Games left Hackney Downs School at the age of 16 and went to London’s St. Martins School of Art (today the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design). Disillusioned by the teaching at St Martins and worried about the expense of studying there, Games left after two terms. However, while working as a “studio boy” in commercial design firm Askew-Young in London 1932-36, he was attending night classes in life drawing. He was fired from this position due to his jumping over four chairs as a prank.
In 1934, his entry was second in the Health Council Competition and, in 1935, won a poster competition for the London City Council. 1936-40, he was on his own as a freelance poster artist.
The Festival of Britain emblem – the Festival Star – designed by Abram Games, from the cover of the South Bank Exhibition Guide, 1951
Stockwell Tube station Motif:Swan by Abram Games – references the name of a pub nearby.
The style of his work — refined but vigorous compared to the work of contemporaries — has earned him a place in the pantheon of the best of 20th-century graphic designers. In acknowledging his power as a propagandist, he claimed, “I wind the spring and the public, in looking at the poster, will have that spring released in its mind.” Because of the length of his career — over six decades — his work is essentially a record of the era’s social history. Some of Britain’s most iconic images include those by Games. An example is the “Join the ATS” propaganda poster of 1941, nicknamed the “Blonde Bombshell” recruitment poster. From 1942, during World War II, Games’s service as the Official War Artist resulted in 100 or so posters.
Examples of Abram Games Work
Abram Games became the Official Wartime Poster Designer
Games had produced advertising posters for oil companies and building societies, and propaganda and recruitment posters for the government during World War Two.
He was to go on to create striking and often rather surreal advertisements for railway companies, airlines like BOAC and BEA, breweries, newspapers and the Metropolitan Police.
Later he branched out into product design, creating the famous glass Cona coffee percolator.
But in 1951 – the year he won the BBC commission – he was best known as the designer of the logo for the Festival of Britain, the six-month celebration which introduced a country still recovering from years of wartime shortages and austerity to a world of ultra-modern architecture and design.
Games’s logo for the festival cleverly married tradition (Britannia’s head in profile), sharp modern lines (the four points of the compass) and celebration (a swag of bunting).
It took him two years to develop the BBC symbol.
It might have helped if he had owned a television – but he did not.
His daughter Naomi showed me his working drawings and sketches, some no more than doodles on bits of newspaper.
She says his best ideas came to him on public transport.
“Buses were great to work on because nobody bothered him; there were no phones, no children; he could concentrate on a bus.
“So he used to scribble on anything that was available, a newspaper, scraps of paper that were in his pocket, and then he’d get into the studio, get onto his tall stool at his desk, lay out a sheet in front of him and begin, and he sometimes did hundreds and hundreds of these sheets of layout paper before he actually resolved his design.”
What he eventually came up with was a model, made of piano wire and brass and strobing lights, which survived in working order just long enough to be filmed, before reputedly breaking down irrecoverably.
According to Games’s account book, the BBC paid him 200 guineas, plus 70 guineas for an on-screen clock and 15 guineas “retainer”.
In 1946, he resumed his freelance practice and worked for clients such Shell, Financial Times, Guinness, British Airways, London Transport, El Al, and the United Nations. He designed stamps for Britain, Jersey, and Israel. Also, he designed the logo for JFS situated currently in north-west London. There were also book jackets for Penguin Books and logos for the 1951 Festival of Britain (winning the 1948 competition) and the 1965 Queen’s Award to Industry. Evidence of his pioneering contributions is the first (1953) moving on-screen symbol of BBC Television. 1946-53, Games was a visiting lecturer in graphic design at London’s Royal College of Art; 1958, was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to graphic design; 1959, was appointed a Royal Designer for Industry (RDI). In the 1950s and of Jewish heritage, he was known to have spent some time in Israel where, among other activities, he designed stamps for the Israeli Post Office and taught a course in postage-stamp design.
Games was also an industrial designer of sorts. Activities in this discipline included the design of the 1947 Cona vacuum coffee maker (produced from 1949, reworked in 1959 and still in production) and inventions such as a circular vacuum and the early 1960s portable handheld duplicating machine by Gestetner. But the duplicator was not put into production due to the demise of mimeography.
In arriving at a poster design, Games would render up to 30 small preliminary sketches and then combine two or three into the final one. In the developmental process, he would work small because, he asserted, if poster designs “don’t work an inch high, they will never work.” He would also call on a large number of photographic images as source material. Purportedly, if a client rejected a proposed design (which seldom occurred), Games would resign and suggest that the client commission someone else.