On Reflection: The Definitive Collection of Visual Works by John Tribe

A profile and reappraisal of the illustrator’s works.

Previously published on East of the M60 as On Reflection: The Collected Visual Works of John Tribe on the 10 June 2014.

Though not one of East of the M60’s most read pieces, the original piece attracted the attention John Tribe himself! He was ‘flattered and speechless’ to say the least, and needless to say, I was amazed too. Amazed in the same sense how Joe Royle described 1989-90 as his ‘pinch-me’ season with the Latics going to Wembley.

Since then, I have had continued contact with Mr. Tribe who has kindly furnished me with further details, corrections and clarifications. Hence the slight change to the title.

Many thanks to John, not only for the research notes,  but also for the two lovely architectural books I received. One of which had been on my Christmas or birthday present list for the last five years.

Stuart Vallantine,
John Tribe,
Saturday 20 September 2014.

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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 the many brilliant opening titles for The South Bank Show and Just William breaking out of the ident of its adaptation of the Richmal Crompton books. Martin Lambie-Nairn was another protegé who designed the intros to Mind Your Language and Play Your Cards Right, before being famous for the Channel Four Television and BBC Two idents plus numerous others worldwide.

Noted more for his fine art was John Tribe. He started out with Associated-Rediffusion before joining LWT. His illustrated captions would appear in the early eighties. With London Weekend Television having no money to commission an illustrator, he decided to have a go himself.

Profile:

Born on the 10 June 1938, he struck a long term friendship with Arnold Schwartzman at the age of 11 (based upon a common interest in athletics), whilst attending the King Ethelbert School in Birchington-on-Sea. John followed Arnold to Associated-Rediffusion, via Thanet School for Arts and Crafts and Canterbury College of Art. Mr Schwartzman’s best known work was the graphics for Ready Steady Go, the ‘with-it’ popular music show of the 1960s. He was assisted by Brian Morris, the Oscar nominated production designer of Evita and Clive Arrowsmith, later to become the celebrated photographer.

John was seconded to the publicity department, as Art Director for the first edition of Ready Steady Go! magazine. a TV Times publication. His on-screen contribution to the series was limited. Throughout the sixties and seventies he would provide illustrations for The Sunday Times Magazine and the bulk of J. Lyons and Company’s Primo Bear children’s comic. Primo Bear was used to promote the catering conglomerate’s Premium Tea with its comic promoted as ‘the magazine for boys and girls and bears’, in 1964.

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, 31 January 1971’s On Reflection: 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 his design of the three fish logo used to introduce LWT’s Agatha Christie’s adaptations. This was followed by The Seven Dials Mystery and the award winning title 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 almost 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 by a further book entitled Jigmaking for the Router. Mr. Tribe’s illustrations were also seen in booklets accompanying its VHS releases.

The woodworking connection inadvertently led to him becoming an ecclesiastical woodcarver, producing work for Southwark Cathedral, a church in Hong Kong and churches of many denominations in the USA. This in turn led to commissions from Hollywood to produce two awards for BAFTA Los Angeles. In 2004, he was asked to design a new Britannia Award for the BAFTE/LA which he designed and sculpted. It was cast appropriately in Britannia Silver. A few years later, again for the BAFTA/LA he designed and sculpted The Charlie Chaplin British Comedy Award.

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 provided illustrations for a campaign to restore Herne Bay pier. Most recently, he has turned his talents to limestone carving. 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. R.D.I, 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 and Elizabeth Taylor. Other credits include graphics for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. In 2002, he was appointed the Order of the British Empire and the R.D.I. He continues to work as a designer and has written and produced many photographic books on art and architecture.

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Graphical Works:

A Perfect Hero: opening captions
John Tribe’s captions for ‘A Perfect Hero’ (ITV/London Weekend Television, 1991).

Books:

The Guinness Do It Yourself Book (Guinness Publications, 1961): 13 pages of illustrated poems.

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.

Advertising Illustrations:

Time Magazine (1965): advertising sales promotion booklet based on a fairground shooting gallery.

London Zoo (1965): children’s poster entitled What’ll we do? Go to the Zoo!. An Illustrated map of the London Zoo and animals.

Austin Reed (1967): illustrations based on five full page advertisements for the Evening Standard.

Life Magazine (1967): advertising sales promotion booklet based on Lufthansa Airlines.

Habitat (late-1960s): illustrations for Habitat Homework Shops, their DIY offshoot.

Painting:

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 1986: A painting of a Whitbread Oasthouse. It was sold and also featured in the Royal Academy’s Pilkington 1987 calendar.

Designs for Awards:

International Broadcasting Convention: The John Tucker Awards 1984 and The John Etheridge Awards 1986.

British Academy of Film and Television Award, Los Angeles: The Britannia Awards 2004 and The British Comedy Charlie Chaplin Awards 2009.

Ecclesiastical Woodcarvings:

  • Southwark Cathedral;
  • The Mother’s Union Westminster School, London;
  • All Saints Cathedral and St. Thomas, Virgin Islands;
    Church of the Holy Spirit Shatin, Hong Kong;
    Second Presbyterian Church, Memphis, Tennessee (2002): twenty-four carved panels representing Patriarchs and Saints;
  • Further projects for six other churches in the U.S.A.

Film:

Bullshot (Hand Made Films, 1983): opening titles. A 1930s style comedy with individually painted portraits of the cast, starring Alan Shearman, Michael Aldridge, Mel Smith and Billy Connelly. Directed by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais.

Newspapers and Magazines:

Ready Steady Go! (TV Times, 1964): art direction for first edition of magazine tying in with Associated-Rediffusion’s music programme.

Primo (J. Lyons and Company, 1964): illustrations for children’s comic used to promote Lyons’ Premium Tea. Part of an extensive campaign which included Primo Bear cuddly toys and a membership club.

The Sunday Times Magazine (Times Newspapers, 1960s and 1970s): ten illustrations for the newspaper’s colour section including H.R.H for the use of The Duke of Edinburgh’s possessions.

The Sunday Times (Times Newspapers, 1967 – 1968): eight illustrations including ‘Gypsy Moth Three Vicious Tricks’, a drawing of Francis Chichester’s capsize (November 1967).

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.

Division (Associated-Rediffusion, 1965): titles for programme of parliamentary debate.

The Golden Vanity (London Weekend Television, 1968 – 69): illustrations for a model theatre and set design, performed by The Wandsworth Boys Choir.

Moon Party (London Weekend Television, July 1969): live programme broadcast from mid evening till 3am, presented by David Frost to commemorate the Moon landings.

Aquarius (London Weekend Television, 1970 – 75): logo design, titles and illustrative support for Humphrey Burton’s arts review series. In greater detail, these included the following episodes:

  • How Pleasant to Know Mr Lear. The Poetry of E.E. Cummings (1972): read by Diana Menuhin with Vincent Price and supported by Yehudi Menuhin playing country and western music (composed by Edwin Roxburgh). John supplied illustrative work along with Pat Gavin and Tony Oldfield.
  • Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (1976): performed by James Galway with illustrations by John depicting wild birds, animals, plants and a revolving painting celebrating the four seasons, based on the poem.

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 Death of Adolf Hitler (London Weekend Television, 07 January 1973): titles for drama starring Frank Finlay directed by Rex Firkin. Part of ITV’s Sunday Night Theatre series of one-off plays.

Stalin the Red Czar (London Weekend Television, date unknown): title sequence.

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.

Lillie (London Weekend Television, 1977): drawings of Jersey lilies for the title captions. (Overnight drawings came too late to receive a credit as these had already been recorded and edited ready for transmission).

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

The South Bank Show (London Weekend Television, 1978 – 2010): additional graphics for the following episodes:

  • Oscar Peterson’s Easter Suite (Good Friday 1984): includes specially composed music by Oscar Peterson with ten parts telling the story of Easter. The Oscar Peterson’s Quarter performed and recorded this in The London Studios. Illustrations by John illustrated in a style inspired by Giotto, illuminated in Roman lettering by Rosemary Guest;
  • Olivier Messiaen: The Music of Faith (05 April 1985): four paintings of birds;
  • The Cotton Club (26 May 1985): film of Leicester Young playing Lady Be Good;
  • Michael Powell (26 October 1986): illustrations;
  • Sir William Golding (24 March 1989): illustrations;
  • Sir Peter Brook (03 December 1989): illustrations focusing on his production of the Indian epic ‘The Mahrabhatra’;
  • Kiri Te Kawana (29 March 1991): portrait;
  • David Lodge (29 September 1991): a Roman Catholic child’s snakes and ladders board to Heaven or Hell.

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 created by Rosemary Guest, who made the text of each caption so harmonious. The variety of drawings – over 50 of them – 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 spooky sound effects over the theme music. Its titles would be based around the clock with the ghostly outlines of the face emerging into view. John suggested that the sound effects would make for more dramatic image in the viewers’ imagination than illustrations would.

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 (again by Rosemary Guest) is perfect and each title card is atmospheric, of sufficient quality to grace any art gallery. 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.

John states that the Partners in Crime series was probably the start of his painting for LWT. He suggested commissioning an illustrator to create the paintings based on the 1930s Vogue covers. This was rejected by producer Jack Williams who said, “No money… why don’t you try dear boy.” John recoiled, went home, tried, and thanks to Jack Williams and a lack of money, came a primetime Emmy award in 1985 for Outstanding Graphic and Title design.

Child’s Play (London Weekend Television, 1984 – 1988): opening titles and individually illustrated children’s style drawings for the end captions (inspired by the artworks of Mr. Tribe’s own children). High point of which the children’s style drawing of the South Bank studios.

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 real lead type text melting, with the closing credits set in – ironically – digital Crillee and Helvetica Condensed typefaces.

Producer Humphrey Barclay asked “How many takes did it take to shoot the titles”. John’s response was “How many takes can you shoot after you have melted the artwork? It has to be shot in one”.

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.

Director Carol Wiseman was awarded a BAFTA for this series.

City Safari (London Weekend Television, 1986): a series about wildlife in London by Gavin Weightman. John was presented with a live action shot of a kestrel alighting before the camera which he mixed to his natural kestrel painting.

Wish Me Luck (London Weekend Television, 1987 – 1990) A drama series about the SOE. The titles showed the girls being parachuted into France by moonlight. The“pianists” as the girls were known, sent back their messages in Morse code encrypted with the “one time code” to a British cypher machine. Actually this was an ancient German adding machine transformed by friends at LWT with a 4 inch long realistic model keyboard. Shot at The Moving Picture Company.

Charles at 40: A Prince for our Time (London Weekend Television, November 1988): title captions for celebratory programme of the next heir to our throne.

The 21st BAFTA Awards (London Weekend Television, 1990) John designed and storyboarded the titles. It was one of the first productions made at the then new digital company The Mill and was the combined effort of almost the entire company’s staff working day and night to just make the deadline.

The Piglet Files (London Weekend Television, 1990 – 1992): LWT’s spy comedy starring Nicholas Lyndhurst and Clive Francis sees a pseudo computerised introduction with a line of text detailing possible terror suspects and other gibberish. The camera tracked out to reveal International Secret Service Departments files in the filing cabinet and, when turned 90º happened to read ‘The Piglet Files’. This would be superimposed onto a bookshelf where one of the books would be picked up.

The caricatures were the work of the actor Clive Francis.

A Perfect Hero (London Weekend Television, 1991): opening titles, end of parts and credits. John painted 50 water colours inspired by Paul Nash and Eric Ravilious. A Drama series about Cambridge University Students recruited into a Spitfire Squadron, starring Nigel Havers, James Fox and Joanna Lumley and directed by James Cellan Jones.

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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 The Seven Dials Mystery 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? Feel free to comment. Any corrections or clarifications would also be welcome.
S.V., 20 September 2014.

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7 thoughts on “On Reflection: The Definitive Collection of Visual Works by John Tribe

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  1. I worked in the Graphics Dept. at LWT from 1986 to 1997. I did a lot of artwork for John, and assisted him on a number of projects. He was (is) one of the last ‘Old School” designers/Artists, and demanded a high standard. I remember the first time I assisted him by cutting out hundreds of horse photographs with a scalpel, and pencil edging each one. Using a peg-bar and cells, John turned them into an animated sequence, without a computer in sight. He was better than several years of Art School for on the job training. His typo knowledge was better than anyone else I’ve known. He always had time for students, and was happy to pass on his considerable knowledge. When he left LWT in 1993 I think it was, we decorated the studio with a nautical scene, including a stuffed seagull with tipex droppings! A lovely man.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jeremy,

      Glad to see you enjoyed your time at London Weekend Television with Mr. Tribe. I, wholeheartedly, agree with you on the “…one of the last ‘old school’ designers/Artists…” sentence. No number of computer animated sequences can ever replace a set of beautifully hand-drawn or painted illustrations. Ever. From my view as an illustrator and a television viewer myself.

      Interestingly, I have been intrigued by typography from an early age. For me, it was and remains Helvetica and Margaret Kinneir’s Rail Alphabet. At work, fellow colleagues have asked me which typeface is which.

      I was tickled by the anecdote about the stuffed seagull, having been on the wrong side of one myself. In my case, it took a meat and potato pie out of my hand!

      Warmly,

      Stuart.

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      1. For me typographically, Eric Gill was king (despite being a bad man in so many ways). At LWT my default spec. was often Gill Sans headings and Garamond or Garamond italic body copy. On the ‘Perfect Hero’ publicity leaflet, which you show above, John’s choice was Gill Bold and Perpetua Italic, which was also designed by Gill. I did the print artwork for that.
        In the days before Quark Xpress etc. John would provide me with a pencil trace of what he wanted the artwork to look like. The type would be specified in detail, i.e. typeface, size, line width, leading etc, and sent to a typesetter by courier. I would draw key lines etc. in rotring pen onto a piece of CS10 board, and stick down the copy (which arrived from the typesetter in a single vertical column of print) using heated wax. I would indicate the position of John’s illustrations with pencil traces to scale. I would use a giant PMT camera in our darkroom to copy and resize any other graphic elements The printer would be briefed, and a printed proof would turn up after a day or two, to iron out mistakes. At that point the programme’s director would want to change some of the wording…..very labour intensive. When John left LWT, I still did print artwork this way, but had started using a Mac to set type.

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  2. Hello again Jeremy,

    Eric Gill’s typefaces are definitely in my Top Ten. I love Gill Sans for its clean lines and I find Perpetua an easier typeface on the eye than Garamond (and certainly more so than the ubiquitous Times New Roman).

    Even with Quark Xpress/Adobe InDesign/Scribus [free open-source alternative to Quark and Adobe] at my disposal, I still insist on doing thumbnail sketches (that’s my only concession to pre-digital design). However, I would never forget my visit to a pre-digital era print shop: it was the label printing department of a large bakery south of Oldham. Firstly, the smells of the printing inks and markers. Secondly, the (proper) metal type. I could have looked at the different typefaces all day (and I was only four)!

    It is amazing how far we have come in terms of speediness. One thing which has narked me off about the digital era is the number of incorrectly used typefaces I have seen. For instance, subtle though noticeable changes to road signage (there’s one on an A-road near me which seems to use Helvetica instead of the Transport typeface). Oh, and don’t get me started on Comic Sans!

    Bye for now,

    Stuart.

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  3. The Golden Vanity – a children’s opera by Benjamin Britten – was made for LWT in 68-69, not Rediffusion.

    JOHN TRIBE WAS A SPLENDID COLLEAGUE AND COLLABORATOR. HE DESIGNED THE ELEGANT AQUARIUS LOGO. He had very good taste and style.

    Humphrey Burton.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Humphrey,

      Welcome to the blog and many thanks for the correction (I have now amended this in the article).

      I fully agree with you on the elegant Aquarius logo. The design stands up well today.

      Warmly,

      Stuart Vallantine.

      Like

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