Barney Bubbles? What a laugh.


And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the artist’s brush

Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name

– Will Shakespeare messed with by Wills

“It’s bein’ so cheerful what keeps me goin”

– Saying of the character, Mona Lott, on the 1940’s BBC radio show ITMA, probably taken from the patter of the King of the Music Hall, comedian Dan Leno, aka Little Willie. Dan Leno was the great -grandfather of the muse for the Elvis Costello song ‘Allison.’ Allison was a beautiful and insightful  woman, a temp (I think) who had worked at Conran with Barney, lived in Fleet in Hants. in 1978, and was a good friend. I think of Dan Leno as a key to the humour and wilfull wit of Barney Bubbles.


Over here in the backwoods in San Francisco, I’ve been out of touch with my fellow Londoners from way back. Many have died. Meanwhile, one of them, my old pal Barney Bubbles, has become a blazing icon of graphic design, with his influence felt worldwide. A seminal show of his work in London in 2001 put together by my friends and fellow investigators, the graphic gang, known as Rebecca and Mike, and a book by Paul Gorman, help propel him to a wider audience than the in-crowd who have penetrated his clever anonymity, only to find that the man behind the vast range of his incredible work was totally unknown to them. I am excited at the interest in Barney and amused at the depth of ignorance about the facts of his existence that I know, I feel like an archaeological artifact.


World’s first music-video was made on film

Direct inspiration for Barney to make music videos: I remember the BBC in 1963 or 4, asking for viewer input (that was rare in itself) on how to present music on TV. They couldn’t think of anything presumably. As a result of that, and fully intending to get on the box, Fulcher decides to make a movie to show on television to promote his adopted band, the Muleskinners.

Walking down the corridor at Leigh Court, Fulcher and Roy pass my open door and Fulcher goes, “You on the bus with us? This is going to be historic, you coming? We’ll be the first to make a music video for TV. It’s a new concept. Let’s go, this is huge!”

There’s this photo, shown here reversed left to right, where the three of us would-be French movie technicians are stiffly posing in a time released exposure taken my me (in a Grove Hardy print), self consciously cool, in a portrait of, at left, director Fulcher, and his crew; I was ‘producer’ at top, and Twickenham graduate and RCA lecturer, Derek Wallbank, was editor of what was the worlds first music ‘video’– shot on super-eight film.

At that time I had just moved to Leigh Court from the flat I had shared with Twickenham graduates, class of 1960, illustrators Mick Jackson, and Chris Higson.  I arranged a party for the movie at the flat in Marylebone and Fulcher shot one long scene in Higson’s cramped room on the top floor, above the pong of the fish shop. You can see the window that the movie features, facing west to Marylebone High Street on the corner of Moxon.

Rocker goes crazy in teen drama

The movie had a thin plot about a rocker who smashes his guitar because some bird (girl) ditched him. While we were making a scene at Dave Pether’s house in Hounslow, Colin went on about about how the black and white changes to color in the Wizard of Oz and we should do it in this movie. I said I thought it a good idea but that it had been done. To Colin that didn’t matter, it was just a source. The end of the movie was shot through lettering reading ‘The End,’ drawn by me on a steamy door, with a lace curtain, in a cafe down by the site of old Twickenham railway station, west of the road, next to the Station Hotel.

I don’t think Fulcher liked the edit, the sound was never dubbed and I never saw the finished movie.