GAMES, Abram (1914-1996)
Plaque erected in 2019 by English Heritage at 41 The Vale, Golders Green, Barnet, NW11 8SE, London Borough of Barnet
ABRAM GAMES 1914-1996 Poster artist and designer lived and worked here 1948-1996
Abram Games was a pioneering poster designer who is best remembered for his iconic Festival of Britain symbol and bold designs for wartime campaigns. He is commemorated with a blue plaque at his former home at 41 The Vale in Golders Green where he lived for almost 50 years, from 1948 until his death in 1996.
Born in London’s East End, Games was the son of Jewish immigrants who had travelled to Britain from the Russian Empire in the early years of the twentieth century. He left art school to work in his father’s photography studio before working as a studio boy for a commercial art company, who later fired him for ‘larking about’. But Games was already making a name for himself as a new modern designer, having won a poster competition run by the London County Council. By the time he was conscripted to the Army in June 1940, Games had 24 published posters to his name.
In the Army his drawing skills first earned him a role as a maps draughtsman before he was set to work on recruitment and instructional posters. He often used humour to persuade soldiers to wash their feet and socks, look after their teeth and seek early treatment for any symptoms of VD, but other posters became more controversial. His original design for the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) recruitment poster – now famously known as The Blonde Bombshell (1941) – was withdrawn following a complaint from an MP about what she perceived as the poster’s inappropriately glamorous depiction of the servicewoman.
Another poster, Your Britain, Fight for It Now (1942), was withdrawn by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. It showed the façade of the new Finsbury Health Centre, a model for post-war aspirations, and behind it a dark and damaged building and a child with rickets. It was a striking statement on social inequality that revealed Games’ socialist sympathies. Churchill called it a ‘disgraceful libel’ and ‘exaggerated and distorted propaganda’.
In 1945 Games was one of the first at the War Office to see the photographic evidence of Nazi atrocities in the Belsen concentration camp. Outside of his official Army role he undertook voluntary work for Jewish charities and causes, which included producing posters for charity appeals. The posters Jewish Camp Survivors Still Wait (1945), Give Clothing for Liberated Jewry (1945) and Displaced Persons (1946) all starkly conveyed the horror of the concentration camps.
LIFE AND WORK IN GOLDERS GREEN
Games and his wife Marianne moved into 41 The Vale in Golders Green in 1948 and raised their three children there: Daniel, Sophie and Naomi. Games set up his studio in the ground floor back room of the two-storey, detached house. His children remember an art bench with a high stool and a drawing pad that he would cover with rapid, small rough sketches: ‘If ideas don’t work an inch high they will never work,’ he would say. Games also enjoyed making gadgets and in the 1950s he expanded his studio into the front sitting room, and later the attic, of number 41 in order to make space for his inventions.
But it was his posters that continued to win him fame and a reputation as one of the country’s top graphic designers. The Post Office commissioned him to design the 3d stamp for the 1948 Olympic Games, and in the same year he won the competition for the 1951 Festival of Britain symbol. This arresting image – based on a four-pointed star and a head of Britannia – was seen countrywide on posters, badges, stationery, medals, tickets and street decorations, and even embossed on soap and chocolate. He enjoyed further high profile poster commissions over the next three decades from the likes of British Railways, Jersey Tourism, British European Airways, Guinness and the Financial Times. His distinct style was bold and impactful, employing a method and philosophy he summarised as ‘maximum meaning, minimal means’.
Games died of cancer on 27 August 1996 and is buried in Bushey Jewish Cemetery. After his death the family unrolled the design Games had made for his and Marianne’s gravestone – an entwined M and A, forming the Jewish Star of David. In the empty space for the epitaph he had left a note, ‘Write what you will but keep it simple!’