Friday, 22 November 2013

František Hudecek and Bedřich Housa

In an ongoing batch of posts, I'll be rooting through our philatelic past to remember classic postage stamps of the world. A time when post offices once sold these small perforated gum-backed slips of paper in their millions. 

Today, more and more letters and packets are arriving through the door with just generic postage labels affixed to them. And for years now, most specially commissioned commemorative stamps have never got to see much genuine postal use. They're just decorative collectors items, often furnished with garish colour photographs, and aimed at a dwindling fan base. I expect that they still bring in something of a profit for their nation's post offices - but for how much longer?

Time to roll the clock back. Let's begin in Eastern Europe, and a country that is no more:

Here's a marvellous (and rather haunting) set of two from 1957 commemorating the development of television in Czechoslovakia. Regular four-days-a-week broadcasting had begun in 1954, 

Designed by painter, graphic designer and illustrator František Hudecek (1909-1990) who had studied at the Institute of Applied Arts in Prague. 

The engraver is Bedřich Housa who was born in Prague in 1926. He engraved his first stamp in 1949, and he is now a veteran of some 300 issues.

Issued on 19th October 1957. Face Value: 40 Haleru. Printing: Photogravure and Recess. Print Run: 3,745,000

A family watch a costume drama. Slightly bigger print run on this higher value stamp: 3,940,000

Sunday, 10 November 2013


Here's a rather scary reminder of our nuclear past circa 1960. This US comic book-sized publication was designed to equip the reader with the knowledge to survive fallout radiation. It was published by Charlton Press, a company which is best known within comic collecting circles for their horror, SF and romance books (though I've never come across any references to FAMILY FALLOUT SHELTER anywhere).

The creepy cover

Back cover - the yellow rectangle at the top left was designed to place a stamp of the organisations who'd have bought large quantities of the 50c book 

the first its 66 interior pages
Figure 1: areas of attack 

Page 33 - it's not looking good

turn your radio to the Conelrad (control of electromagnetic radiation) frequency

My copy of 'Build your own Family Fallout Shelter' turned up sometime in the late 1980s - found languishing in a pile of second hand Marvel and DC comics at the Islington Branch of the 'Popular Book Centre', which was in Upper Street near the Hope and Anchor pub. These 'Popular' book stores were once a very familiar fixture of London's high streets. Most of the branches that I remember all dabbled in the collectible comic and magazine market as well as offering their local customers cheap and used copies of the likes of Mills & Boon's potboiler romances, Penguin's, Pan's and car maintenance manuals, and their discreetly placed section filled with old 'gentlemen's' magazines.

The upside of the Popular Book Centre was that in the days before the ubiquitous charity shop opened up in closed-down high street units, these were some of the only accessible places to find interesting second hand stuff - especially the less common material that had somehow found their way across the Atlantic.

The downside of the Popular Book Centres was that their ugly price stamps were always splattered on the cover in indelible ink. A quaint reminder of the 20p spent at a PBC, but definitely a down-grade or two for those hoping to cash in on their 'valuable' old treasures!

The last PBC that I remember popping into was in London's Shaftesbury Avenue, and that was well over a decade or two ago, though there were certainly several branches that did make it into the 21st century.

How this relic of the Cold War turned up in London N1 we'll never know...

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Judy Geeson

During the late 1980's I would regularly scour the bargain bins at the various ephemera sales held at the hotels in the Bloomsbury area of London. Wonderful pieces could be found - and this was one of them. A cracking black and white 10" x 8" photograph of the actress Judy Geeson wearing a remarkable example of Swinging 60's chic. The typed-up copy on the back of the print reads:

"JUDY GEESON in the target outfit which Bermans' designer Brian Cox calls a 'MiniUnik'. It is in red, white and blue linen, the boots trimmed to match."

On Target!: though the caption failed to mention the arrow...'s the strip of information pasted on to the back

Berman's was a legendary London-based costume house which had been founded by the Russian-born East Ender Morris Berman in 1900.  His son Monty (1912-2002) was responsible for building up the firm, which had begun making costumes for the London stage, into one of the major costumier's for the film industry. 
Berman's list of clients included James Bond's Sean Connery and Roger Moore, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Katharine Hepburn, Richard Harris, John Mills - and Judy Geeson...
Monty Berman was a squadron leader in the Royal Air Force in World War II, who helped organise the famous 654 Squadron, for which he received the MBE. In the early 1970's he successfully merged Berman's, with Nathan's which had been making costumes for the London stage for 200 years. Two decades later the company was bought by Angels, who now own the world's largest collection of costumes and accessories for the entertainment industry - hanging from eight miles of clothing racks in their North London warehouse.
A special tip of the hat to Anthony B in Brussels, Belgium who sent me an email only last week about a little-known late 1960s film with Judy Geeson called 'Two Gentlemen Sharing'.
Judy G was of course best remembered at the time for her role as the wonderfully named Pamela Dare in 'To Sir, With Love' (1967) with Sidney Poitier.playing the British Guyanese-born school teacher Mark Thackeray.