Herbert Whone: 60s Chronicler of a Changing Industrial Glasgow

Our Whone original ‘Close in snow: Anderston Cross.’ c 1963

Glasgow has seen more than its fair share of momentous times over the past 100 years but its most pivotal period was probably the late 1950s and early 1960s when the forces of change eradicated the slums and propelled the city into the 20th century. Also swept away was a way of life much mourned but understood by many of Glasgow’s citizens who benefited from the changes but were nostalgic for the past. One of those citizens was the musician and artist Herbert Whone. A Yorkshireman who came to Glasgow in 1956 to take up a role as a violinist with the Scottish National Orchestra. Herbert, or Bert as he was known, took to Glasgow immediately, being fascinated with the people and more importantly the architecture and way of life of ordinary Glaswegians. He was perceptive enough to recognise how rapidly things were beginning to change before his eyes and set about recording them through the medium of painting. Previously he had specialised mainly in portraits of his musical colleagues, amongst them the cellist Paul Tortelier and the conductor Adrian Boult.

My own interest in the work of Bert Whone stretches back to childhood. In the early sixties Bert and my dad, Tommy, crossed paths in a way which still resonates with my family today through one of his original artworks. Although both Bert and my dad are no longer with us their, albeit, brief friendship introduced me to an artist who has been criminally ignored over the years and whose relevance to the history of Glasgow has never been more cogent. It led to me as a four year old meeting Bert and his family and eventually revealing a fifty year old mystery locked away within the painting he gave my dad in 1964.    

Bert Whone at work in his studio. Glasgow,early 60s

It’s easy to see how Bert and Tommy would have hit it off. In their own ways each could be described as a Renaissance Man. Both were musicians, Bert a violinist , my dad a pianist. They were a similar age with young families and both had a desire to create art, Bert in oils, my dad in watercolours. The unlikely circumstance that brought them together, however, was a fascination for non-mainstream religion and philosophy. This being the early sixties, young people were beginning to question the supposedly cherished beliefs they had been brought up with and were looking for more personal truths and spiritual experiences. Both Bert and Tommy were intrigued by this and met at regular gatherings of those interested in the philosopher and mystic Gurdjieff held at, what is now, Bute House, home of the Scottish Government, in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh.

Before long my mum and dad were making the journey through to Glasgow to Bert and his wife’s house in Otago Street, Hillhead. One of my earliest memories was accompanying them on one of those visits. Compared to the prefab we lived in at the time their house seemed an Aladdin’s cave of adventure. It appeared to have at least three floors and I have vivid memories of running wild with Bert’s children who were of a similar age to me. As we ran up and down various flights of stairs and into every room, other doors led into other rooms. For a four year child it was beyond exciting. The visit also resulted in my, quite literal, footnote in art history. While running frantically through the warren of rooms I inadvertently stepped on something sticky lying on the floor and carried on running without giving it too much thought. This turned out to be a canvas Bert was drying and my one memory of Bert from that visit was of him standing in the doorway holding the damp canvas while my dad lifted my foot up to reveal the offending footprint. It amuses me to think that somewhere in the world a genuine Herbert Whone is hanging on a wall with my 4 year old sandalled footprint hidden under a layer of overpainting. 

Bert Whone at his exhibition in the McLellan Galleries, Glasgow 1958, with Joan Eardley.

This visit was around mid-1964 and by this time Bert had become known in Glasgow art circles. He had already staged exhibitions in Edinburgh and Glasgow and numbered Joan Eardley and Margot Sandeman amongst his acquaintances.  It was also about this time Bert gave my dad the small oil-on-board tenement painting which fascinated me so much throughout my childhood, possibly as a parting gesture as Bert and his family left Glasgow for good shortly after this visit. He had decided to give up performing music publicly and concentrate more on painting but continued to teach and write books on playing the violin, both of which he pursued with great success throughout his life. Sadly, Bert and my dad’s friendship faded as a result of this move as keeping in touch, in the days long before mobile phones and e-mail, took a great deal of effort and both were extremely busy with work, art and, not least, bringing up large young families.

The link to Bert was not severed completely as the tenement painting he presented to my dad remained on the walls of the many houses we lived in for the next 25 years as the family expanded. I’m not entirely sure why I was so fascinated by this picture at such a young age. It may have been due to the style being so different to anything else we had hanging on our walls at this time, most of our art was of my dad’s watercoloured landscapes.  I do distinctly remember finding the rudimentary representation of a little girl with a pram, a favourite motif of Bert’s, compellingly strange. I also loved the thick layers of paint and splashes of colour which created such a vibrant tone. Every time I looked at the painting I noticed something different. In 1978 I left home to become a student and the painting disappeared from view. My mum and dad began to downsize as the family went their different ways and the painting, although never slipping from my memory, was certainly shoved to the back of it.

Many years later it was a chance mention while visiting my dad in hospital during the last weeks of his life which fortuitously brought it back into sharp focus. I just happened to ask ‘Whatever happened to that picture I loved of the Glasgow tenements?’ Surprisingly, my brother, who was also present, told me he had it as he had stored some of my mum and dad’s stuff during their last house move. I excitedly arranged to go and pick it up and found the frame was missing as it had been damaged in transit when being moved to my brother’s house. What this revealed was, to me at least, astonishing. The reverse of the picture had hidden a second Herbert Whone painting, one of his early portraits of musical colleagues.  For nearly sixty years this image remained secreted behind the tenement painting. Sadly, there was no indication as to who the musician depicted was. The portrait was signed and dated ’56’ which was the year Bert moved to Glasgow to join the Scottish National Orchestra and the figure is holding the neck of a four- stringed instrument, a violin or possibly a cello. At first I felt this may have been a self-portrait and have still not ruled out this possibility. The subject may be too old to be a 30 year-old Bert Whone, though, so the question of his identity may never be resolved, adding a further enigmatic layer to the mystery. However, the practicality of only being able to display one of the surfaces was hugely frustrating.

Some rudimentary detective work revealed that our tenement painting was not the only version of this scene painted by Bert Whone. To my knowledge at least two other versions exist. Both of which were titled ‘Back-Court Anderston, 1964.’ One was of the same size  as our version (16’’x 12’’) and the other a much larger, more detailed version. Cleaning of the picture also exposed another feature which had, hitherto, gone unnoticed. The small figure of a child was revealed standing by the tenement wall opposite the child pushing the pram. Like the portrait on the reverse side of the painting, this shadowy little figure loitered in the close hidden for nearly sixty years. Being honest, our version was clearly a sketch Bert had completed in preparation for the much larger, more fully developed work but even possessing a Herbert Whone sketch feels like an honour.

I asked my dad just before he died what he remembered of Bert Whone. Unfortunately the drugs he was being treated with had affected his memory significantly but the first thing he said was ‘He was very interested in the trams.’ Trams were another favourite motif of Bert’s work as they were a symbol of the old Glasgow which was about to disappear. Along with the tenements, the shipyards, the closes and horse drawn carriages, Bert documented these elements of a city he could see was changing forever. It is important to stress that he understood and had sympathy for the inexorable nature of change, as he mentions in his excellent book ‘Glasgow in Transition’ (Colin Baxter Photography 1996). All communities go through such periods of transition and rather than bemoan the transformations taking place before his painterly eyes, he looked back on them nostalgically making sure the Glasgow he, and many others, knew and loved would not be forgotten. Many of his most powerful and evocative paintings feature trams hurtling through the mist and fog providing a metaphor for the relentless, unstoppable and inevitable forces of reconstruction.

Bert Whone had a recognisably distinctive style. He lavished paint onto the board or canvas, possibly with a palette knife, creating bursts of colour and swooshes of movement. Some might make comparisons to Lowry and in many ways this is inevitable. Both artists tried to evoke the atmosphere of an industrial city where chimneys, tenements, ships and trams were the stars of the show rather than just the people. That’s not to downplay the importance of people in his scenes as Bert was certainly warmly fascinated by Glasgow’s citizens but he wanted to show how much the architecture and transport of the city was integral to how that city lived and breathed and how it shaped the people, for better and worse. As a self-taught artist Bert was not even aware of Lowry at a time when such information was nothing like as accessible as it is nowadays and, anyhow, Lowry’s star had yet to reach its zenith of clip frame popularity. Alternatively, the watery sunsets and wintry sunrises could also be seen as reminiscent of Turner but, again, his artistic self-education renders such comparisons largely negligible as Bert did not formally study art, his younger life being dominated by music. 

It is not a stretch, however, to consider that Bert Whone deserves to be to Glasgow what Lowry is to Manchester. Few artists have depicted the atmosphere of a city on the cusp of such radical and intrinsic change as he did for Glasgow.  Lowry paintings can sell for up to £1 million. This is not to suggest Bert Whone’s work should be reduced to merely monetary terms, his legacy is far more important than that but, for me, he is as relevant to Glasgow as Lowry is to Manchester. That said, in 2016 a Herbert Whone winter scene sold for £8000 and in 2017 his oil on canvas painting entitled ‘Close Entrance With Bridge Lamp, Bridgton 1962 sold for £13,200. Clearly there is a growing  interest in Bert Whone’s work but so far it’s a small group of aficionados ‘in the know.’  

After re-discovering our painting I had it cleaned and re-framed. I asked the conservator and the framer in an Edinburgh art shop, as well as staff at a fashionable Edinburgh gallery, if they knew of Herbert Whone. Not one had heard of him. Both the Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh and the Kelvingrove Gallery in Glasgow possess Whone paintings but, to my knowledge, neither has them on display. The time is right for him to be accorded the recognition he deserves as no one documented Glasgow’s transition in the vibrant, atmospheric and distinctive way he did. Arguably few artists represented Glasgow at any time in the way that Herbert Whone did in the 50s and early 60s. 

It is not known just how many Herbert Whone paintings are in existence. He did not keep a record of his works or of owners hence most of his prodigious output in the early sixties is probably scattered randomly around walls all over the world. He did keep black and white photographs of a few and managed to track down some of his paintings, photographs of which are displayed in his fascinating book, Glasgow In Transition published in 1996. Amongst the owners of a genuine Herbert Whone was Magnus Magnusson who in 1962 wrote an admiring piece in his Scotsman arts column and described Whone’s desire to capture in his work that ‘fearful energy..that brims and spills into gross inventiveness.…’  It is this quality which deserves to be recognised as well as Bert Whone’s perceptive and beautiful visions of a lost city, much of which is long forgotten and crying out to be remembered.

As a postscript to the above, I have been keeping in touch with art auction houses in an attempt to secure more Bert Whone originals. It is obvious they come up for sale very rarely, which is a testament in many ways to the respect and love owners of his work have for the paintings. A few weeks ago an auction house in Glasgow put up one of his early drawings for sale which I was lucky enough to win. The drawing is ink and paint, signed and dated 1954 and shows a man (or is it a woman?) sitting cross-legged in what could be a baggy brown suit or a monk’s habit. The figure is enigmatic and some further evidence as to the sitter may be revealed when I remove the old frame in preparation for re-framing. 55 years later, Bert Whone still keeps me guessing.

They Must Be Worth A Mint

How After Eights were used to make us feel shit about ourselves in the 60s and 70s.

The sixties and seventies were certainly a time when advertisers thought that aspirational advertising was the way to the proletariat’s sweet-tooth, before the word ‘obesity’ even existed. In the case of Camay soap advertising, for example, it was about the elite educating the Great Unwashed in the importance of cleanliness. Convincing ordinary people that by buying a certain product, they were aspiring to be like the incredibly sophisticated, privileged individuals featured in their adverts, those people we looked up to and wanted to be like. Apparently. In fact, ordinary people really just wanted those privileged people’s money and live their life of leisure and social ease. But maybe buying After Eights was the first rung on that particular social ladder.

Drooling Twats

Let’s go back to a time when a 3 bob box of chocolates catapulted you into the giddy stratosphere of the upper classes. When, if you were not invited to black-tie dinner parties in the country, you were a fucking failure. If you didn’t drink ‘French’ brandy and smoke Havanas after a meal, you were scum. If you didn’t listen to the Admiral’s post-prandial stories you were a cretin of the first order. But here was a sliver of hope in the the shape of a wafer thin mint.

Recently in The Archers, that everyday story of country folk, Emma and Ed’s dream of having their own home was dashed after Ed lost his job due to some dodgy insecticide dealing. So far, so un-After Eight. As poor Emma sold off all the items she’d bought for her dream house, her mum, Susan, asked why she was getting rid of the lovely brandy glasses she’d bought. Emma confessed she’d bought them in the hope they could have invited friends round to their house for a dinner party and she would have served them brandy in the glasses after the meal (she didn’t mention After Eights as it happened). This was Emma’s After Eights’ aspirational fantasy. It’s what people who owned their own house did. Poor Emma was an After Eights’ advertiser’s core target audience.

It’s interesting that Emma mentioned brandy specifically as this was iconographic to After Eight ads. Of course, why wouldn’t it be as this was the moment the hostess unleashed the chocolates to her assembled group of upper class twats. The ads changed only subtly over the years but certain elements were always present. As well as ‘French’ brandy, cigars featured heavily with whiskered septuagenarians blowing acrid thick smoke into the faces of subservient younger women. Masculine or what? And, of course, coffee ‘as black as the night.’ Yet another symbol of utter sophistication, as only our betters drank black coffee in the 60s, for the rest of us it was Maxwell House or Nescafe with milk and sugar, if we drank coffee at all. 

The slogan only changed once in 20 years. It started off as ‘Luxury. Plain, unashamed luxury.’ This word ‘luxury’ crops up rather often in these ads, verbally as well as visually. However, some advertising executive with an eye on the zeitgeist, at a time when the psychology of advertising was raising it’s ugly head in agencies, realised that the word ‘plain’ is the antithesis of the perception they wanted to convey with this product and the slogan was clipped to ‘Luxury. Unashamed luxury.’ It doesn’t quite scan as neatly but leaves the viewer in no doubt as to what this brand is all about. The idea of ‘luxury’ is piled on in spade-loads in the subsequent ads. The word ‘unashamed’ is also interesting. If ever a political point was being made in these ads, it was here.

The musical backdrop also changed rarely. Lush strings in the style of Mantovani accompanied the early versions. Clearly the target audience was the upwardly mobile twenty-somethings, those whose only ambition was to live a life like these fictional characters in the ads. This aural backdrop was eventually replaced by a slightly jazzier harpsichord soundtrack, in the hope of providing yet another layer of impossible sophistication. Come on, who doesn’t have an obsolete Elizabethan stringed instrument in their Drawer-ring Room?  

The setting was also a construct made up of certain objects all of us could only dream of possessing. The cavernous dining room lit only by candles in silver candelabras, the shadowy oil paintings of crusty old popinjays on the walls, the elaborate arrangements of silver condiments (no HP sauce here), fruit bowls groaning with pineapples and grapes, very luxurious in those days, ordinary people only bought grapes when visiting someone in hospital, and solid silver coffee pots glinting in the candlelight. 

In later versions directors tried to vary the setting a little while still ramping up the elements of exclusivity. Firstly, the dinner parties were moved to ‘the country’, that unspecified hinterland only the upper classes knew about and had ‘a place.’ In other words a massive pile which had been in the family for centuries, no doubt. This, ironically, was at a time when nobs were having to sell these out-of-town-in the-family-for-centuries residencies to hotel chains as they couldn’t afford to maintain them. The same group of chinless wonders are found sitting around drinking ‘French’ brandy and smoking cigars as their trophy wives looked on adoringly, but this time they were on ‘the terrace’ and there wasn’t a gust of wind or drop of precipitation to be had. What part of England were they in? Bangkok?  A few years later they were ‘abroad’, ‘..since George was posted to the tropics..’, wherever ‘the tropics’ are? The hoi polloi wouldn’t know and would be too afraid to ask. Clearly George was sent to educate the natives in our British way of life which, of course, included After Eights, the symbol of manners and good taste. Hurrah for George!

The aristocratic- looking personnel for these ads was, literally, straight from central casting. All they had to do was look superior, smug and utterly obnoxious. The males had all the action: smoking cigars, drinking the ‘French’ brandy, looking like they were involved in earnest conversation with the other males (the women obviously didn’t get involved, but more about that later) and occasionally shooting some billiards, not snooker, that was a lower class pursuit. All the ladies had to do was look gorgeous and in awe of their men, nibble the corner of an After Eight seductively and swivel their eyes around the room. They knew their place. 

But with only a few exceptions, it was always a woman who provided the voiceover, invariably the hostess. Domesticity was her role, but with the help of the servants, obviously. Can’t expect her to do everything! 

‘Now don’t you worry your severely coiffed head about such things, darling…..’

Their language evoked a time that for 99% of the population, never existed. A world of tradition, convention and conservatism (with an upper and lower case’C’). Doesn’t everyone have dinner parties, you can imagine them wondering? They believed solidly in tradition, a word that is only used to justify something that is, otherwise, unjustifiable. ’I might be old-fashioned but I like leaving the men to drink their port…they pass the port and we pass the After Eights.’ And, let’s face it, women love their choccies. It’s fair to say After Eight ads hauled back the cause of women’s rights by 50 years.

With the advent of, what was referred to then as, ‘Women’s Lib’ in the 70s, (male) advertisers felt obliged to throw the women a few chocolatey crumbs and After Eight ads were no exception. Suddenly we had a male voiceover. Not a suspect male, or ‘girly-swot’ as Boris Johnson would call him, who organised and hosted dinner parties, mind you, but an Alpha male who talked gruffly about tradition rather than feminine observations on relationships. Interestingly, the narrative also changed significantly to reflect the challenging economic conditions of the austere early 70s. It begged the question, how could advertisers continue to push the winning aspirational After Eight formula in times of such hardship? Easy. Emphasise the luxurious element even more. And it is one of the male voiceovers that refers to this. ‘Luxury. We need a bit more of that nowadays.’ Even when the female voiceover returned (males probably not really aspirational enough to their female target audience), they referred to economic difficulties and spoke directly to the viewer. ‘Are you someone (like me) who prefers to forget about the Balance of Trade figures?’ Well she would say that wouldn’t she but she needn’t have worried her pretty little head. All she really had to concern her was whether cumquats were still in season or that the brandy was reliably ‘French’. Another ad featured a slightly younger male voiceover lamenting in a way only the public school classes with their arranged marriages could do. ‘If you’ve got to get married,‘ he splutters, find a girl who makes you laugh and is generous with the After Eights. Very generous..’ as he leeringly and lasciviously eyes a young woman done up like a trussed turkey, across the cavernous room. Yes, we know what you’re thinking you revolting beast! References to ‘thinness’ littered the ad, and he wasn’t just talking about the mints.

Before the male voiceover was finally put into its four-poster bed for good, we were given one last masterclass from that professional toff, Gerald Harper. His unmistakeable upper-crust tones gracing an early 70s version of the After Eight ad. Inevitable really as, at the time of broadcasting, he was Hadleigh, upper class adventurer going out on ITV on Friday nights at 9pm. The opening credits of this Harper-led vehicle featured him riding over his huge English estate on a thoroughbred stallion, driving around in his personalised number- plated Rolls, shooting grouse on his moor and hosting After Eight dinner parties at his family pile. (Might have made last bit up but plausible.) It was a gig written for the likes of him. Although he didn’t appear in the ad (too well known), his version was particularly elitist, even for After Eights. Men in black tie (obviously) playing billiards, women hanging around just looking languid. And, of course ‘French’ brandy. ‘My grandfather did not allow business to be discussed in the billiard room..’ as he looked up at an oil portrait of some whiskery old git. His disdainful pay off line pushing back the boundaries of sexism even for the 70s, ‘Even if it did mean letting the women in….’ Perish the thought.

Soon we were back to the tried, trusted and more lucrative female voiceover. Upper class men just weren’t sexy and sexiness was important to the brand. Women were, once again on safer ground, talking about Rupert and his head full of books, Great Uncle Alistair fighting the Battle of Waterloo with condiments, classical scholars like Uncle Bertie and the ghost of Henry, the Fourth Earl. At no point was there any suggestion that women might aspire to anything more than hosting parties, dealing with tradesmen, having their hair coiffed to within an inch of its life and taking elocution lessons. Their men were invariably much older, aloof and horribly ugly. No wonder some of the women’s eyes swivelled around the room as they comfort-ate boxes of After Eights, desperately looking for slightly more attractive and interesting male totty. You ain’t gonna find it in this ad, darling!

The production values were relatively lavish for commercials. As well as luxurious sets and moodily effective lighting, a host of quite well known actors, like Gerald Harper, popped up in them. All actors see adverts as artistically beneath them but these roles were money for old rope. Just look self-satisfied, snobbish and superior and Uncle Bertie’s your uncle!

Actors of high standing popped up in many of the ads throughout the 60s and 70s, adding a touch of class to scenes that were already improbably haute monde. The excellent and very lovely Adrienne Corri talked about great Uncle Alistair fighting the Battle of Waterloo from the opposite end of an overlong table. This woman worked with Kubrick in A Clockwork Orange for god’s sake! Also turning up ‘..in the tropics..’ was Alexandra Bastedo. Many a 70s teenage boy’s  pin-up when she was Sharon McCreadie in The Champions’. Despite the fact I found her a bit too sweet to be wholesome, she carries off the role of colonial trophy wife, black servant in tow, with aplomb, and, not to mention, a curiously non-melting After Eight. And isn’t that the gorgeously moon-faced Patricia Hodge (who even does the voiceover), the Portia of Horace Rumpole’s chambers, planning yet another dinner party with lashings of After Eights? It surely is! Going back even further here’s the lovely Wanda Ventham of The Lotus Eaters and, once again, Rumpole of the Bailey, looking longingly at her dull, sweaty, overweight, tuxedoed ‘French’ brandy-quaffing husband as she wolfs into yet more wafer thin mints. 

I am completely aware that having a pop at these adverts is tantamount to throwing a dart at a board as huge as an After Eight ad’s dining room wall. Hitting the target isn’t difficult. But this ad campaign lasted for over 20 years and I don’t remember anyone commenting on the sheer crassness and elitism they conveyed for so long. Didn’t people get pissed off at the utter snobbery of them? Advertisers would claim they were just a bit of fun, tongue-in-cheek. As the lady says, people like a bit of luxury. But I failed to see the irony in the ads. They were quite baldly saying , ‘These people are what you should be aspiring to, this is the way decent people live and by purchasing these bon-bons you can, at least, emulate a tiny part of their lives.’ Poor Emma wouldn’t see through the insidious context of these campaigns but I like to think we’ve matured as a viewing public these days and we’re not taken in by such elitist crap. They wouldn’t get away with it today, other than in an ironic way. Mind you, many people vote for Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, men you would not be surprised to see in one of those ads, although Boris would be dribbling his ‘French’ brandy down the front of his already stained black tie and leaving chocolatey smears on his unironed, slightly off-white shirt (maybe his wife/partner should use Daz?). 

In a comment left on Youtube after viewing this 20 year campaign, the estimable Mike Smith summed up over 20 years of After Eight advertising in a single haiku-esque, wafer-thin comment.

‘The chocolates for 

Seventies toffs, now they 

Sell them in Poundland.’

How’s that for sophistication?

What was it about the 60s and 70s….?

Why were these decades simultaneously rubbish and amazing?

The most existential question of all perhaps. But to be more specific, this place is about growing up in 60s and 70s as a questioning and not a passive child. This blog is for the more discerning Generation X young consumer, those who weren’t fooled into thinking that Blue Peter was good for you (OK, it was occasionally), those who felt patronised by Play School, The Children’s Film Foundation and The Banana Splits, those who were able to see the weirdness of much of 60s and 70s variety and those who genuinely wanted to be challenged in their viewing, reading and general media consumption. If you fall into any of those categories then you have come to right place. Of course much of this is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder so thoughts, disagreements, reminiscences and suggestions are greatly welcomed.

Many people of my age look back with the rosy glow of nostalgia at some of the TV programmes, films and literature created for children in the 60s and 70s. Most in my opinion were crap. The problem with children’s TV during these decades particularly was that it was created by middle-aged, middle-class, middle-brow people who thought they knew what children wanted. Nothing too challenging, nothing too scary, nothing too real. Most children, and I include myself in this category, wanted exactly that. Challenging texts that pulled back the boundaries of reality. Stories that made us think, that made us uncomfortable, that made us laugh, that didn’t patronise us. With that in mind there will be little discussion on these pages of Play School, of Mr Pastry, of Biggles, of Scooby Doo or even of Crackerjack (although I do have a sneaking admiration for the great Peter Glaze). There will be plenty about the programmes, films and literature that treated children as sentient beings with more intelligence than they were ever given credit for by some programme makers.

Just occasionally, though, a particularly heinous example of bargain basement telly might be considered. Just for a laugh, of course…

Enough said…