On Reflection: The Collected Visual Works of John Tribe

A profile and reappraisal of the illustrator’s works.

One afternoon, I caught the end credits of The Pallisers which are being rerun on BBC Two. I loved the ornate titles – obviously hand drawn and far removed from today’s CGI based examples, being of 1974 vintage. It had echoes of John Ruskin’s maxim of building something to last forever, something likely to stand the test of time in future generations. 40 years on, they looked perfect for a period drama.

Then I turned over to ITV. Though ITV’s recent programmes retain opening titles, its closing titles aren’t afforded the same attention as the opening titles. Instead we see a black screen and our cast credits in white sans serif typeface. Computer driven of course.

Till the mid-1990s, and the creation of a single ITV instead of the much missed federal structure, Britain’s leading commercial broadcaster used to do pretty well with its programme graphics. Plus its idents. Even the generic ITV graphics which were produced by The Big Five Franchisees (whom in the 1980s were Granada, Yorkshire, Thames, Central, and London Weekend). Each franchise had its own graphic designers and art departments.

The most revered throughout the 1970s and 1980s was probably London Weekend Television’s. There was Terry Griffiths who designed the Aquafresh toothpaste style LWT ident. The animations of Pat Gavin, whose work included Just William breaking out of the ident of its adaptation of the Richmal Crompton books. Martin Lambie-Nairn, another protegé who designed the intros to Mind Your Language and Play Your Cards Right, before being famous for the Channel Four Television ident. Noted more for his fine art was John Tribe. He started out with Associated-Rediffusion before joining LWT.

Profile:

Born on the 10 June 1938, he struck a long term friendship with Arnold Schwartzman at the age of 12, whilst attending the King Ethelbert School in Birchington-on-Sea. He too would follow Mr Tribe to Associated-Rediffusion, via Thanet Art School and Canterbury Art College. Their first best known work was graphics for Ready Steady Go, the ‘with-it’ popular music show of the 1960s.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, John’s illustrative work would grace the covers of Penguin paperbacks. His cover illustration for Gerald Durrell’s Menagerie Manor was set in pen and ink, to a striking level of detail which would be seen in most of his black and white works. This was seen in his colour illustration of The Guinness Do-It-Yourself Book from 1964, and in Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookery Book (Cookery Book Club Publishing, 1970) for each recipe.

By the mid-1970s, London Weekend Television went from being a basket case franchisee to a formidable player. After realising its viewers would rather watch On The Buses instead of a documentary on B.S. Johnson (for instance, 1971’s B.S. Johnson on Samuel Johnson which Mr Tribe did the opening and closing titles for), it won new friends and all important advertising revenue. By the 1980s, this meant enough money for glitzier productions. During the late 1970s, he would work on the graphics for the thirteen-part adaptation of the H.E. Bates novel Love For Lydia. This would be followed by The Fosters, Mixed Blessings, and an innovative sketch show by the creators of The Burkiss Way.

The aforementioned sketch show was End of Part One. Besides the shenanigans of the Straightman couple, there was parody of popular TV programmes and spoof continuity. His mimicry of the titles and continuity graphics was inch perfect. But under-appreciated, apart from by numerous television geeks, owing to its less favourable Sunday afternoon slot (1730 from April – May 1979 and 1600 from October – November 1980).

Even more appreciated was his work for LWT’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novels. 1980 saw his detailed line drawings grace the title of Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, which saw the first airing of the three fish logo used to introduce Agatha Christie’s adaptations. This was followed by The Seven Dials Mystery and the award winning sequences for Partners in Crime.

By the end of the 1980s, his esteemed works would also include title sequences for another David Renwick and Andrew Marshall comedy, Hot Metal (1986 – 1988) and the watercolour paintings for A Little Princess (1986). With computers taking over and tighter programme budgets, demand dried up. As with any good artist, he didn’t stop creating and went into producing tutorial videos on woodworking with Roy Sutton. Since the death of Mr. Sutton, the original VHS titles have been converted to DVD and accompanied with a series of books which he illustrated.

Living in Tankerton, just outside Whitstable, John Tribe continues to illustrate. Most recently, he has designed logos for a local dentist, certificates for school sports days and a trophy for the BAFTA/La Charlie Chaplin comedy award. Whilst he’s away from the desk, he goes sailing with his wife Sheila, a retired nurse. He sometimes sees Arnold Schwartzman when he returns to his home town of Margate.

Arnold Schwartzman O.B.E., his long term friend became Design Director for Saul Bass and Associates in 1978, moving to Los Angeles. Married to Isolde, he is also an Oscar winning film maker whose works include Genocide (1981), a documentary on the strength and suffering of Jewish people narrated by Orson Welles. Other credits include graphics for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and. In 2002, he was appointed the Order of the British Empire.

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Graphical Works:

Books:

The Guinness Book of Do It Yourself (Guinness Publications, 1964): cover illustration.

Menagerie Man, Gerald Durrell (Penguin Books, 1967): cover illustration.

Cooking With Wine, Robin MacDouall (Penguin Books, 1969): internal illustrations.

Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookery Book (Cookery Book Club, 1970): internal illustrations.

Television:

Kingsley Amis Goes Pop (Associated-Rediffusion, 21 November 1962): the black and white title sequence saw an animated cannon for this one-off production featuring the author of Lucky Jim and Bernard Cribbins.

Ready Steady Go! (Associated-Rediffusion, 1963 – 1966): helping his long time classmate Arnold Schwartzman, came one of the most dynamic title sequences ever to grace 405 lines. The immortal words ‘The Weekend Starts Here’ set to Manfred Mann’s 5-4-3-2-1 would be the clarion call for the most with-it music lover each Friday evening.

B.S. Johnson on Samuel Johnson (London Weekend Television, 1971): title graphics for one-off film on the life of Samuel Johnson presented and directed by the journalist and artist himself. Later followed by…

Alan Brien on Alexander Herzen (London Weekend Television, 1971): also directed by B.S. Johnson, a one-off film on the diarist and journalist.

The Fosters (London Weekend Television, 1976): title graphics for situation comedy featuring Lenny Henry.

Love For Lydia (London Weekend Television, 1977): opening and closing titles for adaptation of H.E. Bates novel.

Mixed Blessings (London Weekend Television, 1978): title graphics for sitcom concerning an interracial couple.

Canned Laughter (London Weekend Television, 1979): opening and closing titles for one-off comedy starring Rowan Atkinson (as a prototype Mr Bean?) and Sue Holderness, who would later feature on…

End of Part One (London Weekend Television, 1979 – 1980): David Renwick’s and Andrew Marshall’s televised conversion of The Burkiss Way would see Mr. Tribe produce some painstakingly accurate graphics for the television programmes they sent up. Examples of which would include:

  • The Hanna Barbera-esque Cheapo Cartoon Man;
  • Scrape My Barrel, a parody of Call My Bluff;
  • Nationtrite, a send-up of BBC’s Nationwide;
  • Fat Ladies’ Embarrassment Game, their skit on The Generation Game;
  • The Coronation Street style titles for the 1979 series;
  • Return of the Doughnut, a send-up of The Return of the Saint.

Brilliant though they were, they only scratched the surface of Mr. Tribe’s artistic abilities. The greatest examples of which were seen in LWT’s adaptations of Agatha Christie’s novels.

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (London Weekend Television, 1980): LWT broke new ground in covering Agatha Christie’s novels, with great acclaim. Before Miss Marple appeared on BBC One, Joan Hickson was seen in the above series. Its mainly black and white titles were broken by period style serif typeface, and the variety of drawings were pleasing to the eye. If aired in the high definition era, rather than with 625 lines, the amount of detail would even more staggering.

The Seven Dials Mystery (London Weekend Television, 1981): instead of line drawings, titles for the TV movie would see the three fish motif form part of a pendulum, with the ticking of the clock complementing the theme music. Its titles would be based around the clock with the ghostly outlines of the face emerging into view.

The Goodies (London Weekend Television, 1981): whereas Joan Hickson would move to the BBC, Messrs Garden, Oddie and Brooke-Taylor moved in the opposite direction for one series. In one episode, Football Crazy, draconian laws designed to prevent football hooliganism would later see tribal loyalties played out in the theatre, by means of ballet matches. John Tribe supported first choice graphic designer Tony Oldfield with the football orientated graphics.

The Secret Adversary (London Weekend Television, 1983): the prequel to Partners In Crime would see our first airing of Tommy and Tuppence with, of course, Mr Tribe’s handiwork in the graphics department.

Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime (London Weekend Television, 1983 – 1984): probably his most accomplished production, with a different title sequence for each of the ten episodes. The Art Deco style typography is perfect and each title card is atmospheric, of sufficient quality to grace any art gallery. Deservedly so, it won a primetime Emmy award in 1985 for Outstanding Graphic and Title design. Had high definition colour television, or colour cinematography been around in 1936, the titles would have been contemporaneous for that era. Plus they haven’t dated at all, which couldn’t be said for any of today’s computerised efforts.

Hot Metal (London Weekend Television, 1986 – 1988): the goings on of Twiggy Rathbone’s The Daily Crucible newspaper saw Mr. Tribe produce a title sequence using soon to be outdated metal type for its opening titles. The closing titles see the sans serif ‘Hot Metal’ text melting, with the closing credits set in – ironically – digital Crillee and Helvetica Condensed typefaces.

A Little Princess (London Weekend Television, 1986): LWT’s adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel was hailed as one of the finest children’s dramas of the late 1980s. Almost as good and consistent in quality to Partners in Crime is the colourful opening and closing titles which goes well with Rachel Portman’s signature tune. Like his 1983 work, there was a different set of title cards for each episode. Towards the end of the closing titles, colours would desaturate prior to the reappearance of the LWT ident.

The Piglet Files (London Weekend Television, 1990 – 1992): LWT’s spy comedy starring Nicholas Lyndhurst and Clive Francis sees a computerised introduction with a line of text detailing possible terror suspects and other gibberish. Which, whilst turned 90º anti-clockwise happens to read ‘The Piglet Files’. This would be superimposed onto a bookshelf where one of the books would be picked up.

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It is a crying shame as to how today’s opening and closing titles seem to lack the gravitas and staying power of older designs. Would the opening and closing titles of Homes Under The Hammer or Road Wars have the same power of, for example, Partners In Crime or Ready Steady Go! fifty years from now? I pretty much doubt it.

‘History has remembered the kings and warriors, because they destroyed; art has remembered the people, because they created.’William Morris

Before I go…

If you have any further additions to the list or wish to share your appreciation for the collected works of John Tribe, feel free to do so. Were you tickled by the parodies on End of Part One? Were you wowed by any of his hand drawn and painted title sequences, or does the very phrase ‘The Weekend Starts Here’ give you goosebumps? Feel free to comment. Any corrections or clarifications would also be welcome.

S.V., 10 June 2014.

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8 thoughts on “On Reflection: The Collected Visual Works of John Tribe

Add yours

    1. Hi John,

      Many thanks for your comment, much appreciated.

      As well as creative writing, I am also an illustrator, mainly using technical pens. Of late, I have spent more time writing poetry, maintaining this blog and drawing buildings (mostly influenced by 1930s to 1960s architecture).

      Kind regards,

      Stuart.

      Like

      1. Just returned from exploring Megalithic tombs so I suppose we can claim to have experienced being “borne again” which partly explains why my response to you has been so slow.
        The other is that that in some ways the twenty first century is still on my very distant horizon as I prefer things old fashioned like hand written letters via the post emblazoned with our Queens head or email at a pinch.
        Thank you for my wonderful 76th birthday present, How did you know?
        I would never have found it had it not been for a more observant good friend.
        And your personal profile is of particular interest to us and very helpful, thank you.

        Best wishes.
        John

        Like

  1. Hi John,

    I like a balance between old and new ways of media. I prefer my recorded music in physical formats; sometimes it is quicker to telephone rather than send an email. For a shopping list or lunch order, pen and paper every time over email.

    I’m with you on hand written letters. Sometimes it can be overkill to switch the printer and computer on for a short covering letter (pen and decent note paper trumps printer and PC each time).

    Back to the 21st century, I found out about your birthday on a Wikipedia entry:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Tribe

    Plus there’s a link to my article on ‘End of Part One’ within this blog, which I had found out about on YouTube prior to Network DVD’s release in late 2012.

    My website (also coded by myself, as well as including examples of my work) is http://www.stuartvallantine.co.uk.

    Best wishes,

    Stuart.

    Like

    1. Love your drawings as you will understand, as when first at art school so long ago I was inspired by the revolutionary works of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius and colleagues.
      Keep up the good work.
      John

      Like

      1. Hi John,

        Glad you love the drawings, and that you noticed the Bauhaus/Walter Gropius influences in most of them. I got into the Bauhaus Movement in a great way during my late teens, though I was always into modernist and Art Deco architecture from an early age. Some of my early drawings would include walkways and footbridges.

        Many thanks,

        Stuart.

        Like

  2. Thank you so much for this! I have watched A Little Princess as a child, and was always compeletely mesmerized by the beautiful watercolour paintings in the opening and end credits. I still find them undiminshedly beautiful, and most inspiring, technique- and composition-wise.
    I never could find out who the artist was who painted them, as I somehow assumed John Tribe was the one responsible for the composition of the credits, not the actual paintings. Now I finally know more. Thank you!
    And I agree with you. It is a shame the digital world has taken over *quite* so much in designing and art as it has. They mostly do not have the same power and impact.

    Like

    1. Hi Isi,

      They are nothing short of stunning. Immersive, atmospheric, and timeless. I never watched A Little Princess; it might have clashed with something else my parents were watching at the time. Possibly Songs of Praise or Praise Be on the Beeb.

      For the benefit of anyone reading this post and yourself, there is a more exhaustive summary of his work. This was done with the help of Mr. Tribe himself, who I thank handsomely for filling in the gaps (https://mancunian1001.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/on-reflection-the-definitive-collection-of-visual-works-by-john-tribe/).

      Secondly, thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I have found the opening titles of all six episodes. Heavenly.

      I am glad to see you enjoyed this post and that it ended your 30-year quest for finding out who the artist was. This is one of my most extensively researched articles on my blog.

      Many thanks, and have a Merry Christmas.

      Warmly,

      Stuart.

      Like

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