Golden age of steam
According to last Friday’s Daily Mail, a collection of old railway posters is set to sell for £1 million. It had been amassed by a former British Rail employee who once worked in the publicity department at Paddington station. Some 30,000 similar posters were burned by BR in the 1960s, it seems. What a shame.
I first discovered and fell in love with posters like these in postcard form some 20 years ago. The artwork seeks to evokes excitement in rail travel; the focus is usually much less on the train than its destination: a place where the sun shines and beaches are filled with happy, glamorous people. In the 1930s, of course, holiday entitlement was much less generous and the annual week at the seaside was correspondingly eagerly awaited. The reality – a draughty beach, grey skies and a spartan boarding house presided over by a fierce landlady – was probably rather more prosaic.
Whether they were very effective in marketing terms in their own time is an interesting point: they would have been displayed at stations on a territorial basis. At Paddington, for example you would find posters advertising the delights of Newquay but not Padstow (the latter served by the Southern Railway, not the GWR). They would probably also have been published in magazines of the period. Like hoardings on the Tube nowadays, they would have been seen regularly by a large captive audience of people on their way to and from work, willing to indulge thoughts of getting away from it all but not necessarily endowed with either the time or money to realise the dream: high reach but low influence.
Having long since been relieved of their need to justify their effectiveness, though they can now be enjoyed as well-executed works of art in their own right.