Last night whilst channel surfing we came across a programme on BBC Four about Typefaces. My partner who has no affiliations to design whatsoever groaned when I said “Hold it… I want to watch that!” but it was actually really interesting. It was about two typefaces that defined an era in Britain. Those being Johnston (by Edward Johnston) and Gill Sans (by Eric Gill). It’s available for the 29 days still on BBC iPlayer.
I’m a little bit too young to have done proper Typesetting at college or at work as I became a designer at the dawn of the digital age of computers. At college though, I did a project about the branding of the London Underground/London Transport and one of the areas I explored was the typeface used by London Transport, “Johnston”. I had been familiar with Gill Sans up to that point but I didn’t realise that Gill was a variation of Johnston, as Eric Gill had been a student of Edward Johnston. Eric Gill took the Johnston typeface and refined it further and thus, Gill Sans was created.
I didn’t realise as well that neither men were not really typographers as such. Johnston was a calligrapher and was more used to swirls and flourishes in his work, whereas Gill was a stone sculptor and was responsible for the statues on the front of the BBC building in London. Quite apt considering the BBC now uses Gill Sans as its primary font since the late nineties*. Not so apt is the fact that Eric Gill was somewhat controversial as he had links to paedophilia and sexual experimentation, something the BBC is all too familiar with in recent years.
(*although the BBC is now developing its own corporate font based on Gill – perhaps to distance themselves from the work of Eric Gill!)
Anyway, it was a fascinating watch, (maybe not for my O/H). It’s only when the footage onscreen depicted the fonts used in a generic high street, that you realise how often these 2 typefaces are used in their various forms. We take them for granted these days as they are everywhere but a century ago they were considered a bold move. Creating a brand for something like London Transport which is still so instantly recognisable today.
Worth a watch for all you Type nerds out there!