Autumn 2015 Newsletter

Autumn 2015  MacDonald Gill Newsletter

In this issue I'm highlighting two poster maps - one made at the end of Max's career and the other near the beginning, but both with significance this year. 

The Cable & Wireless Great Circle Map

This is the last poster map that Max Gill produced.  And seventy years after its creation in the last year of WW2, Max's Great Circle Map for Cable & Wireless is appearing in two major exhibitions.  The first is Mapping Knowledge: understanding the world through data at the Mundaneum Museum and Archive Centre in Mons, Belgium, where the map is heralded as a prime example of early ‘data visualization’.  The second show, a little closer to home, is Artist & Empire, which opens at Tate Britain in late November (see below for details of both shows). 

How does this Great Circle map differ from a standard Mercator's projection?  The Children's Newspaper of 1946 explains: 'it is on an "azimuthal" or Great Circle projection which shows London as the centre of a circle, surrounded by all the continents; and distances from the capital to any point on the globe can be measured with ease and accuracy.  Similar maps are in daily use by the engineers and operating staff who maintain the Empire's wireless services from London.  Radio beams are directed round the earth's surface along Great Circle courses, and the map shows clearly, that the shortest routes are very different from those suggested by other maps on more familiar projections.  For example, if we draw a straight line on this Great Circle map between London and Sydney we find that it runs through Moscow and across Asia.  On Mercator's projection a straight line would appear to pass over Arabia and the Indian Ocean'.

The map is decorated with an array of radio masts plus pictures illustrating of cable-laying ships  including Isambard Kingdom Brunel's SS Great Eastern - the first vessel to lay a lasting transatlantic telegraph cable - at bottom left, and its modern equivalent at bottom right; there are also roundels showing a typical wireless transmitter and a mobile telegraph station where operators can be seen sending and receiving messages.  This scene reminds me of my father, who was Chief Signals Officer on board the battleship King George V in WW2 and when my brothers and I were young he would delight us with demonstrations of rapid Morse Code!


Another of Max’s poster maps, Theatreland - his second for the London Underground - deserves special mention in this issue as it celebrates its centenary this November 2015.   

 Its depiction of the West End at night, although sombre in its colouring, remains one of my favourites because of its ingenious design.  Most people fail to notice on first viewing that it shows a theatre stage as seen from the auditorium.  Look carefully, and you’ll see that the proscenium arch is decorated with LU roundels, each naming a West End theatre with its nearest station.  The map is printed on the fabric of the stage curtain, whose wooden support has snapped causing mayhem as it falls - actors tumble atop musicians in the orchestra pit where a manic conductor (the printer Gerard Meynell) fights a losing battle to keep the music going.

A touching scene in the top right hand corner shows Max dancing with his new bride, Muriel Bennett.  The pair had met eleven years before, but distance ensured that they saw little of each other and Max’s ardour cooled. A succession of other romances ensued.  Then in November 1914, following the end of a relationship, he wrote to her rekindling their friendship and by the end of February, four weeks after Pick had commissioned this map, they were engaged.  They married on August 21st 1915.  

Theatreland was created during a tumultuous period in London's history.  Commissioned in January 1915, only a few months into WW1, the map was designed to entice a reluctant public to return to the West End (which would, of course, also have the effect of boosting travel on the Underground).  Unfortunately, Frank Pick had not reckoned on German zeppelin attacks - the first on London came in May that year.  And just before Max completed the poster there was a devastating attack – known as the ‘Theatreland Raid’ – during which the Lyceum Theatre was struck and a number of theatregoers enjoying an interval drink outside a local pub were killed.  The same zeppelin is pictured over New Square, Lincolns Inn, where it has just dropped a firebomb - Max has drawn his brother Eric warming his hands exclaiming ‘Such a cold night too’! 

Despite the raids, most theatres remained open, with many showing light-hearted, sometimes patriotic, revues and comedies, which were recognised as important for quelling fear and boosting the morale of Londoners under attack.  

Highways of Empire

I came across an original print of this wonderful map in the Museum of Childhood's current exhibition On their Own: Britain's Child Migrants (details below) - well worth seeing but very sad.


I hope you've enjoyed this issue.  Do drop me a line if you come across any Max info or item  of interest and do join me at any of the talks listed in Events

I wish you all the best for Christmas and the New Year.