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News: Thesis by Paul Rennie on industrial safety posters
received May 4, 2004, from Paul Rennie

RoSPA poster by Tom Eckersley
from Paul Rennie's web site , where more examples can be found, mainly from Tom Eckersley, G.R. Morris, Manfred Reiss, Arnold Rothholz and Abram Games.
  Paul Rennie
PhD thesis, completed 2004.04.26

Title: An investigation into the design, production and display contexts of industrial safety posters produced by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents during WW2.

The thesis is supported by a catalogue of posters.

School of Graphic Design at the London College of Printing, London Institute. The College is now called the London College of Communications and the Institute is now the University of the Arts - London.

Supervisors Dr Janice Hart (LCP) and Professor Jeremy Aynsley from the Royal College of Arts, London.


The industrial safety posters produced by Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) during WW2 are evidence of a politically progressive, socially engaged and mass-produced graphic communication in Britain. These characteristics allow the RoSPA posters to qualify, under Walter Benjamin’s criteria, as exemplars of Modernist cultural production in the age of mechanical reproduction.

The emergence of these images, within the unlikely context of war, is evidence of the social change identified by George Orwell as a necessary condition of victory. Furthermore, the presence of this material, within an English context, counters the prevailing orthodoxy of an English resistance to Modernism.

The thesis describes the administrative and technical determinants of the posters, as indicated by the structure of RoSPA, the personalities behind the campaign and the technical expertise of the printers; Loxley brothers of Sheffield. Quaker and Nonconformist antecedents are revealed to define the values of both administration and printers.

The thesis explores the RoSPA posters’ use of Surrealist techniques and iconography and also their appeal to a wider and international Left community. The address of the RoSPA posters to the neophyte industrial worker offers the opportunity, exemplified by the special case of women workers, to project an “imagined community” beyond the normal tribal and class distinctions of British society through “Social Vision.” The RoSPA posters make explicit a connection, within English Modernism, between community, technology, progress and dissent.

The RoSPA posters reaffirm the progressive, emancipatory and radical quality of the popular experience of the Home-Front in Britain during WW2. The social changes, precipitated by the circumstances of war, of which the RoSPA posters are a manifestation, alter the role of graphic designer in relationship to community through an embrace of technology. The concept of graphic authorship is, in consequence, irrevocably changed.

See also Current and recent dissertations, thesis and other work in progress on posters

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