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The Man Who Sacked Harry Beck: Rethinking Harold Hutchison

The Man Who Sacked Harry Beck: Rethinking Harold Hutchison

Harold Frederick Hutchison (1900-1975) is the man who sacked Harry Beck in 1960 and replaced Beck’s London Underground map with his own. He was London Transport’s Publicity Officer from 1947 to 1966, and he falls into a distinct category of London Underground map-makers who designed the map in their spare time because they thought they could improve on the existing one. In Harold Hutchison’s case the critics were not kind. Beck oversaw most iterations of his diagram for thirty years; Hutchison’s map lasted for three.


With a print code dated January 1960, this is the first edition in poster form of Hutchison’s replacement for Beck’s map, which was unveiled to the world (including Beck) in April.

Hutchison's Map

As far as the design itself goes, the best word I can find for Hutchison’s map is ‘spiky’: there isn’t a curve in sight. He also made some unusual choices regarding spacing (e.g. the location of Great Portland Street) and splitting station names (e.g. Ald-gate, on either side of the line). His successor Paul Garbutt believed he had ‘rescued’ the London Underground map from the clutches of Harold Hutchison, and his ‘ham-fisted parody’ of Beck’s designs((Maxwell Roberts: Underground maps after Beck, 2005, p. 21)). Indeed, Garbutt’s basic configuration proved extremely durable and he designed the map for the next twenty years. However, Hutchison made three fundamental and lasting changes to the map:

  1. He differentiated between interchanges with other Underground lines (a circle) and interchanges between the Underground and mainline services (a square).
  2. He used upper and lower case letters for the first time, making station names easier to read and adding emphasis to interchange stations, which were still capitalised.
  3. Most significantly, he sought to make his own map more relevant to what was going on above ground. His principal objection to the later versions of Beck’s design was that an increasing reliance on 90 degree angles alone had made the map too abstract; for example, from 1954 all Beck’s maps show both northern branches of the Northern Line pointing due north, whereas in reality they veer northwest. Hutchison tried to remedy this on his map, and he had a point: not one of his successors has returned to Beck’s final vision of horizontal and vertical lines set at 90 degree angles to one another, with as few 45 degree diagonals as possible.

Regarding the first two points, Hutchison was permitted to make those changes and Beck, apparently, was not, but he evidently made a more persuasive case for them. As for the third, I’ve seen no indication that Beck had any intention of departing from his rectilinear design.

For his 1962 quad royal-sized poster map Hutchison included the route of the Victoria Line; construction was just beginning, and the first section was opened to passengers in 1968. Note the lilac colour originally proposed for the Victoria Line, abandoned but resurrected half a century later for the Elizabeth Line.

Hutchison’s reputation has also been coloured by the circumstances in which he set about replacing Beck’s design with his own. Beck was freelance by this time, and is alleged to have had no inkling that his services were about to be summarily dispensed with until Hutchison’s design was unveiled to the public in April 1960. According to some accounts, he saw it for the first time when journeying by Underground himself. Understandably bitter, he threatened legal action to recover control of ‘his’ map, but never designed another official map for the Underground again. Beck preserved Hutchison’s replies to his correspondence in a scrapbook which is now in the London Transport Museum, and the tone is curt: very much ‘if we need any more from you Mr Beck, we’ll ask for it’. To all appearances Beck was treated shabbily, but I do feel that there is more to this story than meets the eye. If these are the facts of the matter, how and why was the new map prepared by a major publicly-owned organisation in conditions of absolute secrecy? Was Hutchison acting unilaterally, under instruction, or as the prime instigator but with broader support within London Transport? Why had relations between Beck and Hutchison deteriorated to such an extent that communication was impossible? As a step towards a better understanding of the situation I think it would be helpful to learn a bit more about about who Harold Hutchison was.

Family, early life and education

Harold Hutchison’s father, W. Innes Hutchison, was a journalist. Born in Edinburgh in 1866((Liverpool Echo 26 November 1952)) he worked for various provincial papers in Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham and York,((Liverpool Echo 30 April 1938)) and was on the literary staff of the Sheffield Daily Telegraph((Sheffield Daily Telegraph 1 May 1916)) before settling in Liverpool in 1904 and joining the editorial staff of the Liverpool Daily Post and sister paper the Liverpool Echo.((Liverpool Echo 30 April 1938)) On his retirement in 1938, he was lauded as 'one of the pioneers of the modern style of journalism in Liverpool’((ibid.)) and under the byline ‘layman’ he kept up a column on church matters until a fortnight before his death in 1952; as well as being a pillar of his local church he was true to his Scottish roots, being a member of the Liverpool Caledonian Club and Liverpool Burns Club.((Liverpool Echo 26 November 1952))

Born on 7 November 1900, Harold Hutchison grew up in the family home in Gresford Avenue, Sefton Park, Liverpool. He had four brothers and one sister. His two eldest brothers were killed within months of one another during the Great War. Innes Hutchison, a Captain in the Black Watch, was killed in Mesopotamia in January 1916 during the failed attempts to relieve the garrison at Kut, which was besieged by the Turks.((Liverpool Echo, 29 April 1916)) Murray Hutchison, a Lieutenant in the King's (Liverpool) Regiment, had won the MC on the Western Front and was waiting to take up a staff appointment when he died of wounds in April 1916.((ibid.)) His brother James was commissioned in 1917 but survived((Liverpool Echo 20 Apr 1917)) and his other brother Douglas seems to have become a regular soldier; he was a Major in the Liverpool Scottish Regiment when he married in 1934.((Liverpool Echo 6 September 1934))

Harold Hutchison was educated at the Liverpool Institute, a prestigious local grammar school. His contemporaries included the comedian Arthur Askey; Frank Francis, who was the Director of the British Museum in the 1960s, and the art and fashion historian James Laver, who became Keeper of the Department of Engraving, Illustration, Design and Painting at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Hutchison and Laver collaborated on Hutchison’s first book about poster design, published in 1949: ‘they were contemporaries and friends at school and were at Oxford at the same period, though in different colleges’, noted the Liverpool Echo.((Liverpool Echo 21 April 1949)) But more of that later. Other alumni include Paul McCartney and George Harrison, who formed the Beatles in 1960, at more or less the same time Hutchison was drawing his map. If they travelled by Tube for early recording sessions at Abbey Road, Hutchison’s map guided them.

Hutchison himself did well at school: head of house and captain of cricket.((Liverpool Echo 4 February 1947)) He then won an exhibition to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he read modern history.((Liverpool Echo 20 December 1918)) Hutchison maintained his academic pursuits in his spare time and in later life published a number of popular but scholarly works of historical biography, chiefly with mediaeval subjects.

Life before the Underground: career, art and marriage

His professional background, when he came to the Underground, was in advertising. The exact dates of where he worked don’t tally exactly in the sources currently available to me, but the overall trajectory of his career seems clear enough. London Transport Museum currently notes that he joined Lever Brothers in 1922 (it became Unilever in 1929) as a trainee executive, moving to their advertising department. In 1928 he became copy and production editor of a London advertising agency. In 1934 he returned to Unilever where he became the copy production executive. Reporting on his appointment to London Transport in 1947, the trade press summarised his career as follows: ‘Mr. Hutchison was production director to C. Vernon & Sons, Ltd., the well-known advertising service agents for 14 years, and latterly has been a senior account executive and senior departmental manager of Lintas, Ltd., Unilever House.’((The World’s Carriers and Carrying Trades Review, 1947.)) Lintas Ltd was an advertising agency, and a subsidiary of Unilever. While working for Lever Brothers and Unilever, Hutchison had been behind 'many well known advertising campaigns'.((Liverpool Echo 4 February 1947))

I’d like to know more about what those campaigns were, but for now it seems reasonable to assume that he was doing a similar job to the one he would undertake for London Transport: commissioning artists and illustrators and overseeing campaigns. Thanks to an excellent website devoted to William Roberts, the experimental British painter who described himself as an ‘English cubist’, we have a few clues about the artistic circles in which Hutchison moved in this period. In 1940 Harold Hutchison and his wife Helen were drawn in red chalk by Roberts. Unusually for the period, both had been married before. Harold Hutchison married Dora Beatrice Cranfield (1901-1982) in 1927, but by 1939 they were divorced and Dora was living in Hendon, working as a senior export clerk. In 1928 Helen Hutchinson (née Grant, 1905-82) married a Malaysian law student called Mahmoud (or Mahmud) Hashim, with whom she had three children. She seems to have been known as Nellie at this time in her life, which is how she appears on the passenger list of the P&O liner 'Mantua', sailing from Singapore to Liverpool with her husband in 1932; their address was given as Neven Square, London SW5. After they separated he returned to Kuala Lumpur and became a judge. When it came to remarriage the Hutchisons were not hidebound by convention: although styled as husband and wife (for example on the 1939 National Register, which shows ‘Harold and Helen Hutchison’ living at Flint Cottage, Amersham, with his occupation given as ‘copywriter’) they only married in April 1951. By then they were living in the artistic surroundings of Hampstead, at 9 Willow Road;((Electoral Register, 1950)) one of their nearest neighbours was the architect Erno Goldfinger, who lived at number 2 in a modernist house which he had designed himself.

There is more to be gleaned from the online catalogue raisonné of William Roberts’ work researched and compiled by David Cleall and Bob Davenport. The Hutchisons are described as friends of the artist, and Helen at least had known Roberts for some years: he painted Mahmoud Hashim c. 1931, during her first marriage. In the 1930s John Maynard Keynes was among Roberts’ most influential patrons, so we are entering reasonably well documented territory and further research in this direction might well be fruitful. The catalogue raisonné of Roberts’ work also reveals that the Hutchisons were art collectors in a modest way on their own account. They owned studies for ‘The Palm Foretells’ (1937), ‘Fair Swings’ (1950) and a chalk and watercolour called ‘Cyclists’ (1943-44), all of which seem to have been purchased directly from the artist. It makes complete sense to me: the Hutchisons seem to have been immersed in the world of contemporary art and illustration in a way which extended far beyond the requirements of Harold Hutchison’s job. Finished paintings might have been beyond their means, but the sketches and studies they purchased were chosen with care. The works by Roberts were among their possessions dispersed at Sotheby’s in November 1975 and May 1987, but I’m guessing there were other works of art. If anyone has the opportunity to check the catalogues before I do, I’d be most interested to hear what you find.

The Publicity Officer at London Transport

Harold Hutchison joined London Transport as Publicity Officer in 1947. The post had been left vacant since 1941 due to wartime economy measures which segued seamlessly into postwar austerity, and Hutchison had his work cut out restoring a measure of public confidence and optimism in the capital’s battered, cash-strapped transport system. One of his early initiatives was the ‘Art for all’ exhibition at the V&A, which celebrated 40 years of of Underground poster design, organised with his friend James Laver. He pioneered the pair poster format, in which a poster was designed in two halves (each double royal format, 25 x 40 inches) which could be joined to make a single quad royal sized poster (40 x 50 inches), or displayed side by side. One half was taken up by the image, the other was predominantly text, allowing plenty of space for both artist and copywriter to do their jobs. Hutchison’s budget was limited (a typical letter to artist Erna Pinner dated February 1952 blames ‘a cold wind blowing from Government quarters’ for cutting down ‘poster programmes by at least a third’) and he commissioned fewer artists than might have been the case for his prewar predecessors, but those he did commission produced work of the highest quality. For example, his old friend William Roberts was approached to produce the artwork for the pair poster ‘London’s Fairs’ in 1950. Hutchison acquired a study for the work, ‘Fair Swings’ (see above) and reproduced the finished poster in his 1963 book, ‘London Transport Posters’.

A selection of Hutchison’s correspondence has already been digitised by the London Transport Museum and is available online. I hope more will follow, including his correspondence with Beck. Humanising nuggets lurk among the drier memos: after the artist John Farleigh’s death in 1965, we learn that he and Hutchison ‘were always partners at the Arts Club at Snooker’,((HFH to Mrs EE Glasscock, 28 June 1965)) and in one or two other letters he is referred to informally as ‘Hutch’.((Misha Black (designer of the Westminster street signs, among other things) to HFH, 9 April and 31 July 1947; John Fleming to Bryce Beaumont, October 1956)) More importantly, the available sample offers a window into his day to day working practices: his design briefs and constructive criticism during the creative process, including discussion of colour and composition; gentle reminders that work was overdue – tussles which could be spun out over months or years (for example, a protracted tango with John Piper in 1948-49, which was ultimately unsuccessful); tactful rejections when established artists sent unsolicited work, and the delicate matter of helping artists manage their expectations and their cashflows. In August 1959 Stella Marsden had to be reminded that artists were paid half the agreed fee on submission of a ‘rough’ and the balance when the poster was printed, but in September 1961 Hutchison was accommodating when approached by Charles Shepard who had designed his first poster (of many) for the Underground Group back in 1924:

please excuse me if I put my account of fifty guineas in for the finished roughs in advance, perhaps you will remember you said I could. Sorry, but an artist life is at times terribly difficult financially.


Hutchison successfully commissioned artists of the calibre of Edward Bawden (who seems genuinely to have found Hutchison’s advice ‘of great value’);((Edward Bawden to HFH 27 November 1951)) likewise David Gentleman, Abram Games, Enid Marx and the artist and author Len Deighton. Deighton described the ‘excitement’ of a London Transport poster as ‘the plum we all look forward to’.((Len Deighton to HFH 16 September 1957))

However, as I’m interested in how Hutchison’s relationship with Beck deteriorated, it is correspondence relating to how Hutchison reacted when things weren’t working smoothly which catches my eye. In 1956 he handled the return of a speculative ‘rough rough’ (the artist’s description) of a theatre-themed poster to Mona Moore (whose 1948 pair poster ‘The Trees’ in the ‘London’s Open Air’ series had been selected to bring the 1949 the ‘Art for All’ exhibition up to date): ‘I think this might work out, but at the moment I simply cannot fit it into our programme. However, I will remember you are back in action’.

His delicate treatment of artist John Nash is also instructive. ‘I feel very guilty at having left you so long in the dark’, Hutchison wrote in November 1951, explaining with masterly diplomacy why Nash’s design for a poster called ‘Autumn Berries’ had not been used. ‘I had fully intended using your painting last summer… and I was about to come and see you to discuss its ‘pepping up’ (if you’ll forgive the phrase) for poster use, when we had a sudden cut in budget expenditure, and I simply had to leave it with the thought that I could use it next year. And here we are planning next year, but again with an economy campaign (Government inspired) to handicap us! But I am planning an open air series and would very much like to find a subject that would enthuse you more’. I like that ‘enthuse you more’; it’s clear that Nash’s design wasn’t bold enough for what Hutchison had in mind, but he still wanted to work with the artist. He suggests that they meet again, preferably in Nash’s studio in Colchester where he has access to his body of work: ‘And so that you cannot accuse me of not being frank may I say, with the greatest respect, that while I would love to have the painting you have done on my own walls, I think on coming back to it that its colour tempo is too quiet for the walls of our stations. I think you agree, but I still feel that we ought to be able to find a John Nash which would be suitable – and it may already exist. That is why I would like to call and see you’. Hutchison had invited Nash to design a poster in September 1949 and after what I’ve come to see (now that I’ve read a sample of Hutchinson’s correspondence) as a routine series of excuses about illness and pressure of work, Nash’s artwork was eventually delivered. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite what Hutchison had in mind. Finally Hutchison received a letter from Nash which prompted the reply quoted above: ‘From time to time I think of the poster I did for you and wonder what its fate can be. I even hear reports from brother artists of having seen it still languishing in your office & rumours that you don’t positively dislike it – or am I wrong? You may remember that I voluntarily forwent half the fee and offered to work on it when it came to be printed…' Hutchison smoothed Nash’s ruffled feathers and a final design was submitted and paid for in August 1952, although it still wasn’t used. Once again the budget had been ‘cut to ribbons’ and 1953 would be ‘almost entirely Coronation’ so ‘Berries’ would have to be ‘a pleasure postponed’. But at no point during this long and ultimately fruitless endeavour did Hutchison allow relations to break down. Managing the artistic temperament was at the core of his job, and he seems to have been good at it.

And now, a slight detour which I’ll call a bonus for poster collectors, but which incidentally suggests that Hutchison’s success in commissioning strong poster designs did not go unnoticed by the public. A column in the West London Observer((Londoner’s Notebook by ‘Carteret’, West London Observer, 15 November 1957)) described London Transport’s advertising posters as

among the best and brightest in Britain... paraded in the underground stations, they form an ever changing popular "art gallery". Indeed, so popular are these posters that a good many people would like to buy them. But, ironically, London Transport just cannot afford to sell copies. For if but one poster were sold, London Transport would have to pay purchase tax on all copies. And nothing — short of a new Act of Parliament — can be done to change this nonsensical situation.

The public, however, may buy small mounted prints of the posters — price 1/- each. Foreign visitors, too, covet the posters — and, says publicity officer Mr Harold F. Hutchison: "If we were not a transport authority we could become profitable dollar earners; but that would mean a new business, and we have other things to do."

And that statement, perhaps, highlights the difference between a State and a free enterprise concern.

Londoner's Notebook by 'Carteret'

In the marketplace, postwar posters seem to be as scarce as their prewar counterparts. Before the war pictorial posters sometimes carried a note, to the effect that they could be purchased by anyone willing to go to the trouble of approaching the LPTB headquarters at 55 Broadway directly. After the war, if the above article is correct, that was no longer possible. Purchase tax was enforced between 1940 and 1973; it was the forerunner of VAT, but levied at the point of manufacture and distribution, not of sale. Typically it was set at one third of cost price. If selling one poster truly meant that London Transport had to pay purchase tax on them all, that would have made a substantial difference to the cost. However, it doesn’t seem to have been quite so straightforward. Hutchison’s statement is contradicted by a remark in a letter from S.A. Webb to Hutchison in September 1956. A dispute had arisen over a poster by Frédéric Henri Kay Henrion showing the Eiffel Tower, and all copies were called back in for destruction (including those sent to institutional collections such as the V&A, magazine editors, the British Council and even extra copies given to the artist; we get a clear idea of how a typical poster run was distributed beyond station walls). Referring to a telephone conversation, Webb noted ‘that the price charged to individual purchasers of this poster was 5s. 0d. per copy and that this does not cover the actual production cost so that the Executive make no profit on such sales as have been made.’ So there was a way of buying posters after all, and it sounds as though a handful of Henrion’s posters escaped into the wild. Hutchison replied to Webb, sending him a list showing both the ‘home’ and ‘overseas’ purchasers (this was long before various data protection acts, after all!) some of whom had standing orders. A further letter reveals that just 80 copies had been sold to the public, of a run of 1500. Whatever this loophole was it wasn’t widely advertised, or acknowledged in the press.

Published author

Finally, we come to Hutchison’s published works, and I’ll conclude this piece with a bibliographical note. First we have the ‘Art for all’ exhibition catalogue, which included essays by Hutchison and James Laver. Hutchison followed this with two further books on posters and poster design: he was deeply immersed in the subject. He also wrote a number of biographies, chiefly of mediaeval figures, and as far as I can determine these have passed muster as serious (if popular) scholarly contributions to the subject. The historian Sir Charles Petrie contributed a full page review of Hutchison’s life of Richard II to the Illustrated London News((Illustrated London News, 20 May 1961)) in which he praised Hutchison’s ability to ‘hold the reader's attention throughout’ and noted that ‘on occasion he has a pretty turn of phrase’; he took issue with some of the nuances of Hutchison’s conclusions, but his only trenchant criticism related to the book’s format: he was irritated by having to turn to the end of the book to find Hutchison’s notes. Richard Vaughan was harsher (and possibly fairer) when he wrote that ‘it has nothing to offer the professional historian’ but ‘for the interested general reader, however, it provides a useful if unreliable and unoriginal narrative summary of existing knowledge about Richard II’.((The Catholic Historical Review, Vol, 48, No 4 (Jan 1963) p. 536)) Ouch. Nevertheless, Hutchison’s views have been cited by subsequent historians.((For example, by John M. Theilmann: Stubbs, Shakespeare, and Recent Historians of Richard II, in Albion, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Summer, 1976), pp. 107-124)) Hutchison condensed his thoughts on his subjects into a series of articles for ‘History Today’.

The life and times of Richard II seems to have been a private passion since his university days; at least, that is was how it was presented in the Illustrated London News article cited above. His other historical works were published after his retirement. He died aged 72 in the Brighton registration district (i.e. not necessarily Brighton itself) in the September quarter of 1975. Helen survived him; she was living in a flat in Wilbury Gardens, Hove, at the time of her death in August 1982.

Some conclusions

Returning to the relationship between Beck and Hutchison with which we began, and without offering this as a full reappraisal, I feel now that I’m on surer ground. Hutchison was not a bean counter with a superficial understanding of the world of art and design. Nor was he from an especially privileged background: he made the most of his talents and opportunities and built a successful career. The organisation Hutchison joined in 1947 was shaped by Frank Pick more than any other individual. On his death, Pick was compared by contemporaries (including Nikolaus Pevsner) with Lorenzo de Medici, the great patron of the arts in Renaissance Florence; in Pick’s mind the best of modern art and design would be associated by the public with an efficient, modern railway. As one of Pick’s successors, Hutchison followed his lead in supporting contemporary artists and bringing their work to a wider public. In postwar London he was a modern Medici on a budget, but there seems no reason to doubt his commitment or his abilities. He was articulate, immersed in the design world and skilled in handling difficult personalities and situations. When he had his final showdown with Beck he was approaching 60 with a distinguished record in both the private and public sectors behind him, and over a decade of working with Beck himself. He may have made an error of judgement in thinking he could do the job himself, rather than commissioning another designer, but some of his reasoning about the future direction of the Tube map was sound and has been adopted by subsequent designers. If Beck was kept wholly in the dark about the new design until it was unveiled, he was treated shabbily, perhaps even spitefully. Something went badly wrong, but what happened?

Ken Garland dealt with the issue at some length in his groundbreaking study ‘Mr Beck’s Underground Map’: the chapter is titled 'Rejection’. Garland notes that ‘certain doubts were being expressed in the late 1950s about the severely rectilinear form of Beck’s current designs. By some, Publicity Officer Harold F Hutchison in particular it seems, Beck was felt to be a difficult man, not easy to deal with. Moves were once again made to take the diagram away from him’.((Garland, Ken: Mr Beck’s Underground Map. London, Capital Transport, 1994, p. 51)) A touch opaque (one would like to know more about who was expressing doubts or making moves), but from this it appears that Hutchison was not the sole architect of Beck’s removal, or alone in his sentiments: Paul Garbutt, Hutchison’s successor as map-designer, remembered Beck as ‘a rather fretful person’.((ibid.)) Beck’s contention was simple: he was paid five guineas for the original design (he was, in fact, paid ten) but copyright remained with him until 1937, when he signed it over to London Transport with a verbal assurance from Christian Barman, Hutchison’s predecessor as Publicity Officer, that he would undertake all future work on the diagram, and his name would always appear. Within months Barman had handed the passenger map over to celebrated graphic designer Hans Schleger, which suggests that the gentleman’s agreement was either worthless, non existent, or misunderstood by Beck. Nevertheless, after he regained control of the diagram in 1941 he seems to have assumed that it was still in place, until confronted by Hutchison’s map in 1960.

When things got ugly London Transport employees past and present backed Hutchison up. Replying to Beck’s enquiries, Barman did not ‘think that any arrangement was actually made between yourself and myself’,((Garland p. 52)) although he does not offer any elucidation of why Beck signed over copyright either. Beck’s old colleague Bryce Beaumont, still working in the Publicity Office, refused to offer an opinion. The official line, adhered to by London Transport’s Chief Public Relations Officer R.M. Robbins, was that the maps by Hutchison and (later) Garbutt, were entirely new maps. For example, in April 1962 he wrote to Beck: ‘If at any time London Transport decides to use your map again, nobody but yourself will be commissioned to alter it and bring it up to date. The map now in use is of another design…’((Garland p. 54)) A year later (the correspondence was ongoing) he wrote: ‘you say that any Underground diagram based on the 45 and 90 degree idea is really your map, and you have the right to design, and be given credit for, any such map as is used by us. If I am right in thinking this is your position, then London Transport must say that it cannot accept your contention. Some years ago when we wanted the map thought about freshly, the Publicity Officer was asked to have a new design prepared. As he did it himself, it was duly accredited to him. When this map in turn required re-thinking because of the need to show the Victoria Line on it, another of the Board’s Officers produced a fresh design… and it will be credited to him’.((Garland p. 58)) It sounds very orderly, with the benefit of hindsight and (one assumes) after careful reading by London Transport’s solicitors. If we fully accept this, official, version of events Hutchison wasn’t even the chief instigator: he was asked to find a new map.

I don’t find it a great stretch to imagine that after thirty years (and even after his temporary displacement by Schleger) Beck had come to see himself as the ultimate guardian of the Underground map, and in some way untouchable. On the other hand, I’ve seen no evidence that he refused to incorporate any of the amendments requested by London Transport, and the assertions originally made by Hutchison in his April 1960 press release, introducing a ‘new map’ and a ‘change of style after 30 years’, do feel a bit thin. No-one is being consistent. One could take the line that Beck was one of a number of people, past and present, who had worked on the diagram (Hans Schleger, 1898-1976) or had recently produced other official maps for the Underground (such as John Myles Fleming, 1913-1991 and Benjamin Getzel Lewis, 1901-1970) and although Beck was freelance he did not have a free hand: he had to incorporate instructions from London Transport, some more welcome than others. On that basis Beck had no claims to any special treatment, and rather than sacking him it becomes a short step to simply not commissioning any new work. However, that approach was undermined by Hutchison’s own press release which announced that ‘London Transport’s famous diagrammatic poster map of the Underground, familiar to Londoners and visitors for the last 30 years, has been given a complete ‘new look’’. Here, Hutchison conveniently ignores the radical evolution of the diagram since 1933 and by suggesting that it was time for a shake-up and a new designer gives all the credit for the previous three decades to Beck.

Beck could be just as flexible in ignoring the role of others when it came to presenting himself as the sole designer of the diagram, and there are elements of the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ argument which don’t sit comfortably with me. But I still find it hard to see why, having made the decision not to continue with Beck’s services, nobody from London Transport informed him. That seems unnecessarily cruel. It might have been as simple as a clash of personalities, but I don’t think the Hutchison I’ve been learning about would have been baited easily. There are still a couple of pieces missing from this jigsaw: I’m sure there are a couple of eye-opening memos in the archives which are still to be found, and I look forward to learning what they tell us.

Hutchison’s bookplate (and signature), designed in the 1950s by his friend, the wood engraver John Farleigh, with calligraphy by Ann Camp who was considered to be one of the foremost teachers of the subject in Britain at the time.((Moncia Poole: The wood engravings of John Farleigh. Henley-on-Thames: Gresham, 1985)) This example is in a King Penguin, James Mann’s ‘Monumental Brasses’, published in 1957 and given to Hutchison at Christmas that year.

Bibliography of books written by Harold Frederick Hutchison:

For London Transport
  • Visitor's London. First published in 1954, revised and reprinted in numerous editions into the 1980s. French, Dutch and German translations were published in 1979.
  • The architecture of Christopher Wren, in and near London. London, London Transport, 1974
On Poster design:
  • Art for all: an exhibition of posters and their originals produced by London Transport 1908-1949. London, Arts Council, 1949
  • London Transport Posters, London, London Transport Board, 1963
  • The Poster: an illustrated history. London, Studio Vista, 1968
Historical biography:
  • The Hollow Crown: a life of Richard II. London, Eyre & Spottiswoode 1961
  • Henry V: a biography London, Eyre & Spottiswoode 1967
  • Edward II: The Pliant King. London, Eyre & Spottiswoode 1971
  • Sir Christopher Wren: a biography. London, Gollancz 1976
  • Pageant of London: illustrated. Forward by Denys Lowson (with illustrations described by Hutchison). London, Odhams, 1951. Vol. IV in the 'Britain Illustrated' series
  • The first six months are the worst: a book on babies for older children. London, Davies, 1939


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