Pat Triggs meets Robert Crowther
Robert Crowther with his famous Madame Tussaud’s escalator posters which this year won him the Campaign award for the best poster in the media and entertainment section. ‘All the other winners were from big advertising agencies. It was quite nice just being a small freelance.’
Robert Crowther is an only child. He was born in Leeds but the family moved around a lot because his dad was a commercial traveller. `We were in the north-east, Peterlee and Sunderland, from when I was eleven until fourteen. That’s the place I think of as “home”.’ At grammar school in Knaresborough he was always the one who `did the posters’ and art school was the next step.
‘I did the foundation year at Leeds College of Art; but they turned me down for the next stage. I got rejected at Leicester and Manchester too. Looking back it was probably the right thing. They placed too much emphasis on fine art for me. I went to Norwich and it suited me. It was a good place to go.’
It allowed him to find his own way, an important freedom for an independentminded individual. It’s an independence he’s sought to keep and for eight years now he’s been trying things out, discovering slowly but increasingly surely what he thinks he does best and what he likes to do best. In 1973 when he finished the Graphics course at the Royal College of Art it was a question of choosing which job you went for. He was offered a full-time job doing graphics for the BBC ‘as a sort of assistant to the assistant something’ but chose instead to chance his arm, keep his freedom and become a freelance. `Mum wasn’t keen. I think she would have liked me to go into a bank or something with some security. She’s wavering a bit now though.’
It wasn’t however a complete step into the unknown. For the RCA degree show he had done a self portrait in biscuit dough. Exactly coincidentally Madame Tussaud’s were planning the opening of their Amsterdam waxworks. The Dutch, they reasoned, are keen on biscuits. Why not have some relief plaques made in biscuit for publicity’. Robert was offered his first commission and accepted. He has been working for Tussaud’s ever since designing posters, programmes, signs and the graphics.
Apart from starting him on a career as a freelance the RCA degree show was the beginning of yet another part of the Robert
The original designs for the Hide-and-Seek alphabet which appeared in the RCA show. ‘I changed the style of the ‘a’ for publication. My editor pointed out it was the wrong one for young children.’
Crowther story. At the show he displayed the prototype of his Most Amazing Hide-and-Seek Alphabet Book. Publishers were interested but it wasn’t until 1977 when pop-ups became commercially possible that almost by accident it finally got into print. The phenomenal success of that book was in one sense a problem. How to follow that? Four years later The Most Amazing Hide-and-Seek Counting Book is the answer. It’s been a liberating book for its creator. `Patrick Hardy at Kestrel always said “Get the second one over and you’ll be OK.” He was right. I now feel much more confident about going ahead.’
The four years between those two books saw Robert trying out yet another role. He teaches part-time on illustration courses in Leicester and Oxford. A kind of irony he feels as he’s really not sure about the value of formal art education. Still he’s enjoyed it and it might be a way to go. But he thinks not. So far he’s been exploring the options. Increasingly this year he feels, ‘I am working towards what will satisfy me.’ The ideas for children’s books are coming through clearly. ‘I’ve got four or five in my head at the moment. I’m beginning to feel that other things are getting in the way.’ He’s interested in the educational potential of books for young children and thinks he’ll stay in that area, at least for the moment.
Contact with older children could change that. During Children’s Book Week he met all ages from fifteen-year-olds down. ‘I get very self-conscious drawing for children and I had to make myself do it: but I want to put something back. And meeting children keeps your feet on the ground. I got quite a lot out of it.’ He intends to do more of it and is working on ideas for things to do. ‘I couldn’t go and just sign books in a shop.’
Some ideas for a book Robert is working on at the moment. ‘It will be small and very simple with lots f surprises as you turn the page. I like surprises. It’s animals again. I suppose I find animals easier to draw than people. I’ll do a drawing again and again until I know it’s right.’
The Most Amazing Hide-and-Seek Alphabet Book
Kestrel, 0 7226 5314 X, £4.50
The Most Amazing Hide-and-Seek Counting Book
Kestrel, 0 7226 5598 3. £4.50