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  • Writer's picturePeter Berthoud

A Wonderfully Puzzled View of The Festival of Britain in 1950

Updated: Jan 7, 2023

The Festival of Britain opened in 1951 but this bustling image of the main Festival site was produced before anything had been built.

The completed Festival of Britain Jigsaw by Efroc

The original painting of this view was produced by Brian Tilbrook and his father Reginald Tilbrook (1898-1976).

Brian Tilbrook, b.1932, was a teenager when the commission arrived, he explains how the painting was made on his website: "It was a project shared by my father and myself and involved visualising the Festival from plans, models and notes before it took final shape. In the end the design in full colour proved almost 100% accurate and became the only aerial view postcard and also, for the record, the only official jigsaw puzzle."

The view of the South Bank Festival Site is 100% accurate as far as I can tell but just outside and clearly in view, is one very odd, amusing and completely inaccurate feature.

Reginald Tilbrook of 3 Douglas Mansions, Douglas Road, Hounslow , was nicknamed "The Bus Conductor Artist" after his "discovery" by one of his passengers, whose husband ran a private gallery. As a landscape painter Tilbrook exhibited at the Royal Academy Exhibition in 1935 and had one man shows, including at The Cooling Galleries in New Bond Street in 1937. A reviewer of this show in The Scotsman said

"Most of us have grown highly suspicious of these painting miners, bakers , plumbers, &c. But this is no "stunt" show. It was quite unnecessary, even unwise, to drag in the artist's occupation. The pictures speak for themselves , and most successfully. Tilbrook is a highly accomplished landscape painter. In design, in colour, and in handling, few full-time painters could teach him anything."

It seems likely that Efroc Ltd. commissioned the painting to be tuned into a jigsaw but perhaps the already commissioned painting inspired the puzzle, either way I haven't been able to find out where the original painting is now.

The Festival of Britain Jigsaw Box by Efroc

The Efroc puzzle was available in two sizes, a 125 piece puzzle for 8s/11d, pictured in this post, and a 250 piece version at 12s/11d. Their boxes differed in their depth. Both were "Approved by the Souvenir Committee" and had the same certificate number SC 628.

Tower Press also produced an official Festival of Britain jigsaw, with just over 200 pieces. The Tower Press version was made from cardboard and was based on the same painting but cropped and lacking the detail and vibrancy of the Tilbrooks' original. It too was approved an official souvenir by "The Council of Industrial Design certificate 394".

Efroc Ltd.'s jigsaw boxes bear an apparently highly prestigious address, 55, The Mall. However, rather than being a close neighbour of Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, Marlborough House or Admiralty Arch, Efroc's H.Q. was located n Ealing. 55, The Mall, W5 still stands and is currently occupied by a branch of Barnard Marcus, an estate agent, never mind.

The Tillbrooks' original painting was reproduced as a postcard by Efroc.

The Tillbrooks' original painting was reproduced as a postcard by Efroc.

Later it was produced in monochrome as a popular "real photo" postcard by an unknown maker.

A monochrome postcard of the Tilbrook's Festival of Britain painting

Later still a photographic aerial view was published by Jarrold and Sons as an official postcard. Although the view has changed from upstream to downstream it is clear to see just how accurate the Tilbrook's painting was.

A photographic postcard "Aerial View Festival Site"

The map below is from The South Bank Exhibition Plan and very similar to plans issued in other official guides. Click for a larger image to identify the pavilions and restaurants and the two recommended routes for seeing everything, the upstream and downstream circuits.

The South Bank Exhibition Plan

The striking feature of the Tilbrook's painting that isn't accurate at all is this football pitch like area, set within an imaginary quadrangle at County Hall, in the top right-hand corner..

A detail showing the "football pitch" inside County Hall

A near contemporary aerial photo of County Hall can be found at the excellent Layers of London Website in the RAF Aerial Collection (1945-1949). There never was, and still isn't, any room for football behind the high walls of County Hall.

A screeshot of the Layers of London website page showing County Hall from above at some point between 1945 and 1949

Why this curious feature was included is a mystery. Perhaps it was a joke or homage included by a football loving father and son or maybe a comment on "political footballs", or politicians and their staff appearing to be hard at work but actually enjoying games at the rate-payer's expense.

The centre circle and lines are also very similar to the London Transport roundel, could they have been added for the wry amusement of the former bus conductor? Or in combination with any of the above, or another totally different explanation, could this curious feature have been a form of copyright protection?

Like the fictitious "trap streets" often included in maps, the "football pitch" at County Hall would have conclusively exposed any unauthorised copying of the design.

Whatever the reason for its inclusion the "football/roundel/trap" it is one of the details I particularly enjoy in this magnificent view. If anyone does know the current location of the original painting please let me know, I'd love to see it.


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