Radio Portrait of Eric Gill (1961)

As part of retrospective on British sculptors, the BBC has recently re-published a 1961 radio program on Eric Gill (1882–1940). This hour-long discussion of Gill’s life and work may be streamed from the BBC Archive website. Most readers of our blog are likely to associate Gill with typeface design, due to works like Gill Sans, Joanna, or Perpetua. For most of Gill’s lifetime, however, he was better known as a letter carver and sculptor.

Produced by Douglas Cleverdon, the BBC Radio Portrait is presented by Guy Brenton, and includes interviews with Joseph Cribb, Martin D’Arcy, George Friend, Joan Hague, David Jones, David Kindersley, Francis Meynell, Stanley Morison, Conrad Pepler, Michael Ritchie, Denis Tegetmeir, Petra Tegetmeir, and Beatrice Warde.

One hears quite a cast of characters in this program. Aside from Gill’s daughters Joan (Joanna) and Petra, David Kindersley, Stanley Morison and Beatrice Warde each reminisce about the man. Kindersley (1915–1995) was an apprentice of Gill’s, who later went on to run his own letter-carving studio. His widow, Lida Lopes Cardozo Kindersley, continues their tradition today at the Cardozo Kindersley Workshop in Cambridge.

Morison (1889–1967) was a long-time typographical adviser to both the Monotype Corporation and the Cambridge University Press; he is attributed as the designer behind Times New Roman, and worked with The Times of London for decades. In this BBC radio interview, Morison repeats his admiration for Gill’s uppercase inscriptional letters, and calling the capitals of his typefaces “immortal.” Morison was the prime-mover behind Gill’s career as a typeface designer; without his prodding and commissions, it is unlikely that Gill would have taken up this activity.

Warde (1900–1969) was a typographic publicist and scholar. For many years, she spearheaded Monotype’s publicity efforts in the UK, editing the Monotype Recorder and lecturing widely to the country’s professional audiences. Aside from her often quoted 1934 lecture, “The Crystal Goblet, or Printing Should Be Invisible,” Warde is remembered today for her essay, “The Garamond Types – a study of XVI and XVII century sources.” Published under her pseudonym Paul Beaujon, this appeared in volume five of The Fleuron (1926), which was edited by Morison.

As to Gill’s typefaces, we will still have to wait and see if they will indeed become immortal. In the meantime, they remain inspirational. Gill Sans – as close as an unofficial corporate typeface as Great Britain is ever likely to have – is still one of Monotype’s best-selling typefaces, 80-years on. Perpertua Italic was used to set Buckingham Palace’s invitations for the recent “Royal Wedding” of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Joanna‘s narrow width and brilliant upright italic remain an inspiration to type designers today.

As the BBC page that hosts the interview states, “This programme was made many decades before revelations about Gill’s private life were made public. These revelations and the effect they had on Gill’s reputation are discussed in ‘Night Waves : Eric Gill’.” It is appropriate that this is mentioned. Readers who would like to learn more about this side of Gill will be well served by Fiona MacCarthy’s 1989 biography, Eric Gill: A Lover’s Quest for Art and God, discussed in this 2006 article in The Guardian: “Written in stone.”

Readers in the London area may have seen Public and private art earlier this year, an exhibition of Gill’s work at the British Museum. While this show recently came to an end, Ruth and Joe Cribb have published an accompanying catalog, which I recommend.

The radio program may be listened to here:

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