Abram Games OBE RDI

Abram Games in his studio with the 'Blonde Bombshell' ATS recruitment poster of 1941

Otway & Orford are proud to collaborate with the estate of one of the twentieth century’s greatest graphic designers, Abram Games OBE RDI (1914-1996), on our stylish and unique silk pocket square ‘Ride Ahead’. The design is based on an original poster created by Games for the Household Cavalry.

For over 60 years Abram Games produced some of Britain’s most memorable images, including the infamous but highly successful ‘Blonde Bombshell’ ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service, the forerunner of the post-war Women’s Royal Army Corps) recruitment poster of 1941. Games’s richly crafted work is now a fascinating record of social history.

Games’s working life began in the east end of London where he initially started working in his father's photographic studio. Aged 16, he enrolled at St Martin's School of Art but, disillusioned, left after only two terms although he did continue to study life drawing at evening classes. He had a four-year stint in a commercial art studio before going freelance, following his sacking for being too rebellious. 24 of his posters, including work for London Transport, had been published by the time he was called up for army service in the Second World War.

Private Abram Games joined the Infantry in 1940 and a year later was posted to the War Office in London, which was keen to utilise his obvious design skills. Working from an attic studio in Whitehall, Games produced maps for the Army Bureau of Current Affairs, (ABCA), book covers, insignias and 100 posters for the army. Completely unprecedented, he was later given a free hand to design the posters he thought necessary for army use. He was the instigator, designer and copywriter of each poster. Promoted to Captain, in 1942 he was appointed ‘Official War Poster Artist’, the only person in army history to be given the title. In 1946, Abram Games left the War Office armed with this testimonial: “His work had to be subtly persuasive, or directly ‘propagandist’ - but it was always effective, compelling, and of outstanding quality.”

Following demobilisation, Games resumed his freelance career. After winning a competition to design the symbol for the 1951 Festival of Britain, his future was assured. His many clients included the United Nations, London Transport, British Airways, Shell, British Rail, Jersey Tourism, the Financial Times and Guinness. He designed stamps for Britain, Jersey and Israel. Designing stamps was second nature to Games; he called them miniature posters. In 2014, his centenary year, he was included by the Royal Mail in their ʻRemarkable Livesʼ issue and further honoured with a special Abram Games postmark commemorating his birthday.

Games also designed many book jackets and magazine covers throughout his career. In 1956, he became Consultant Art Director of Penguin Books, overseeing the introduction of colour covers for the first time in Penguin's history. It was an experiment and after thirty-six covers, eight designed by Games himself and others by his students at the Royal College of Art, the project was abandoned. Sir Allen Lane, Penguin's founder, considered the colourful covers too crude and dubbed them 'breast sellers'. 

Abram Games did not confine himself to print design. His influence extended in 1953 to the BBC television service when, having won another competition, he created their first ever animated on-screen ident. Games was also a talented product designer. His Cona Coffee makers are design classics and his inventions included a portable hand-held duplicating machine as well as a hand held copying device.

Games worked in a studio entirely alone and was always responsible for every aspect of his designs from concept through to print. His design ethos was 'Maximum Meaning, Minimum Means'. Abram quickly and methodically filled a layout pad with two to three dozen ideas for a poster. Once he had selected a design from the thumbnails, he circled it with a pencil. He did not waste time creating large images and avoided detail. “I never work large because posters seen from a distance are small. If ideas don’t work an inch high, they will never work.” he said.

Showing his rough ideas to his wife, children and friends, he would ask “What does this mean to you?” If they looked at him blankly, he threw his efforts into a large dustbin and started again. When the final artwork for the poster was finished, he painted ‘A. Games’ in a corner. It hung on his studio wall for one week, inviting any criticism. Only when satisfied, would he add a full stop after his signature. You will see his signature on our ‘Ride Ahead’ pocket square, complete with full stop.

1949 'Ride Ahead with the Household Cavalry' recruitment poster by Abram Games

With ‘Ride Ahead’, Games’s original artwork was titled ‘Ride Ahead with the Household Cavalry’ and was the result of a commission in 1949 to design a recruitment poster for the cavalry. In preparation, he had asked for visual reference. A few days later, his wife Marianne answered the doorbell and came face to face with the visual reference supplied, a small trooper from the Household Cavalry struggling under the weight of full dress regalia.

To learn more about Abram Games and his work, please visit www.abramgames.com