The importance of PR at wartime: 'Maximum meaning, minimum means'

As world leaders and veterans gather today to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, PRWeek looks back at the work of Abram Games, a poster artist for the War Office Public Relations Directorate.

Games was originally conscripted into the Royal Warwickshire Regiment on the outbreak of the Second World War, but he was soon transferred to the War Office Public Relations Directorate where he began drawing posters for the British Army.

Games said: "Having been an infantry private for a year before entering the War Office, I knew the conditions well from experience, better than my contemporaries in civilian life." He would joke that the creosote-coated walls of the Army mess halls and barracks would make a marvellous art gallery for his designs.

He was born in the East End of London to Russian Jewish Refugees. His father ran a photography business where he introduced young Games to the airbrush and he became an established designer and poster artist before the war.

Leading with a mantra of 'maximum meaning, minimum means', he was driven by his socialist ideals and inspired by a love of the country that had taken his family in. Games used his art to make a unique contribution to the war effort.

His posters were essential means of instilling new habits in soldiers and civilians alike - avoiding waste, giving blood, averting gossip and keeping fighting fit in order to win the war. His posters formed part of many campaigns that inspired patriotism, and stimulated the human spirit to strive for peace and a better post-war world.

His limited colour palette, use of bold, hand-rendered typography and often stark imagery, demonstrated his innate understanding of the human ability to consume essential information. His surrealist style was influenced by the likes of Rene Magritte and Dali, and he became a master of reductive design.

His work is currently on display in the National Army Museum where Emma Mawdsley, head of collections and review, was kind enough to give PRWeek a private tour of the collection.

She said: "He didn’t necessarily believe in the war but he realised he was part of something bigger. His best work was done when he believed in the cause. Later, he wouldn’t take on any work that was contrary to his beliefs."

One of his posters was banned by Winston Churchill, and another was withdrawn by the War Office after a heated debate in parliament.

At the end of the war, Major-General P H O’Donnell, director of army public relations from November 1945 to October 1946, described his service as "very valuable" and his work "exceptional". He added: "His work had to be subtly persuasive or directly ‘propagandist’ - but it was always effective, compelling and of outstanding quality."

Games was a passionate Zionist and supportive of the foundation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Towards the end of the war he designed posters - free of charge - for the United Palestine Appeal, and the Jewish Committee for Relief Abroad.

Very few examples of Games' work survive today as all surplus posters were pulped after the war. After he was demobbed at the end of the war in 1946, Games resumed his freelance practice designing film posters, book covers, postage stamps and posters.

He would go on to be the first designer to have his name included on a British stamp, designed BBC TV’s first animated ident and was awarded an OBE for services to graphic design. His clients included London Transport, the Financial Times and British European Airways. And before his death in August 1996, he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Art.

Malcolm Clarke, graphic designer, described Games as a master of the elevator pitch. "He would only pitch once; if you didn’t like it, that was it."

His influence can still be seen in PR campaigns and marketing materials today, and his iconic posters are often the subject of today’s political satirists.

Naomi Games, daughter of Abram, speaking on behalf of The Estate of Abram Games, said: 'We are delighted that our father's war work will be exhibited at the National Army Museum. He was proud to be a Londoner and a member of the British Army. It is fitting that the work of the only War Poster Artist ever is exhibited at the Museum."

The Art of Persuasion exhibition (above) at the National Army Museum runs until November 24 and features hundreds of examples of Games’ work.

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