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Robert Harling: a note

13/04/2014

This post begins with the discovery of a copy of Image: 5  from a secondhand bookseller in Sydney, Australia last month. Robert HarlingThe issue was devoted to English wood engraving and contains many fine examples of the craft. But I Robert Harling_0001am less interested in that than in the man who edited the journal (and before that Alphabet & Image) – Robert Harling (1910 – 2008). Obituaries at the time of his passing make note of his relationship with Ian Fleming, both men sharing a passion for life and literature: Fleming secured, if that’s the right word, a job for Harling in the second world war, later using him as a character in one of his novels (The Spy Who Loved Me). Harling also turned his hand to fiction publishing several novels based on what was then Fleet Street, the centre of the newspaper industry in the UK. Later he worked with the renowned Sunday Times editor Harold Evans.

But it’s Harling as a typographer that I wish to write. He knew Eric Gill, visiting him at Pigotts (see here for a blog on that place) and commissioning articles for the precursor to Alphabet & Image, Typography. Robert Harling_0003Hence, he was a perfect fit to write that wonderful book The Letter Forms And Type Designs Of Eric Gill, published in 1976, an expanded version of pieces published first in Alphabet & Image. 

Not that Harling was an uncritical devotee. In an article printed in The Penrose Annual XXXIX (1937) he writes of Gill’s Kayo: ‘Kayo is a dismal type. In the hands of a skilful typographer it could probably be made to do a good-hearted, gargantuan job very well. In the hands of jobbing printers scattered throughout England it will be just plain MURDER. The type was originally named Double Elefans, which had a very pleasant touch of the lampoon about it. The new name, Kayo, is too horribly truthful. It will be popular from John o’Groat’s to Land’s End, but it will be a return to the popularity of the types of Thorne and Thorowgood in that grim mid-nineteenth century. Typographical historians of 2000 AD (which isn’t, after all, so very far away) will find this odd outburst in Mr Gill’s career, and will spend much time in attempting to track down this sad psychological state of his during 1936.’

Harling also designed three typefaces: Playbill, Chisel and Tea Chest Robert Harling_0004while his passion for architecture and design led him to edit  House & Garden from 1957 to 1993. A remarkable man. rsa-harling

 

 

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