Wednesday 26 May 2021

Britain says "Farewell" to an old iconoclast called Ken Garland who became its Legend of Graphic Design

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Ken, who has died at the age of 92 and was a giant in British graphic design in the last half of the last century, was born the son of Gwendoline and Arthur early in 1929 in the Hampshire port of Southampton, where his father worked as a commercial salesman. When he was five the family moved to the outskirts of the North Devon market town of Barnstaple, where Arthur took up a company promotion.              

Here young Ken, with his sister, Nancy, had something of an idyllic childhood and he recalled : "I had a great link with the country. A farm was next door and I would haunt the farm. If I hadn’t gone into art I would have gone into farming as I just loved everything on the farm. I started off wanting to be an illustrator. I'd been, like so many of us in graphic design were, when we were children, 'the artist of the family' and the thing you do is to draw people doing things, children usually. So, I naturally assumed I would become some kind of illustrator". 

He also recalled enjoying copies of 'Lilliput', bought, no doubt, by and for his parents, since it was a small-format monthly magazine with a racy reputation for the 1930s, with many pictures tastefully celebrating scantily clad women. It had been started in 1937, by the photojournalist, Stefan Lorant. Ken said : "As a child of eight, I was a devoted patron of 'Lilliput' from its launching. The monthly ritual of unveiling the array of 'doubles' is a keenly remembered delight to this day; and I was surely not the only future graphic designer or photographer to be so entranced by them". 

The doubles in question which delighted the young Ken were two pictures, that resembled each, other placed side by side in the spread with a caption under each to reinforce the editorial purpose. Sometimes they had visual similarity as in 'Australian' and 'Australian' and sometimes a themetic one, such as 'Man's idea of the human body' and 'Nature's idea of the human body'. Later, in the 1960s, when he was in his thirties, he published two essays that spelt out his thinking on magazine layout and a thought process that can be tracked back to this early infatuation with 'Lilliput'.

In 1940, just after the start of the Second World War, he took up his place at the 30 year old Barnstaple Grammar School for Boys with its motto 'SIC NOS NON NOBIS' 'Thus we labour but not for ourselves' and where he, in particular remembered his Art teacher, Allan ‘Snooker’ Smith. Over 70 years later, when Ken wrote a reminiscence of his school days in the school newsletter. It had, by this time, become the 'Park Community School' and he wrote : 'Most of my school fellows thought only of playing rugger and becoming fighter pilots, if only the War lasted long enough. They didn’t have much time for our Art Master, ‘Snooker’ Smith, a tubby, perpetually disheveled person with a strong Yorkshire accent which sounded to us as though he was from another country altogether!' 

'I had a certain facility at drawing (mostly of Spitfires and Hurricanes in deadly combat with Messerschmitt's) that had registered with Snooker, always on the lookout for potential artists. He didn’t approve of my limited subject matter or of my unforthcoming personality - I was a rebellious, sulky little person then - but I was his only hope among a bunch of philistines. He would pay particular attention to me in class, to inculcate, for example, the basic principles of perspective drawing : "Never forget, Garland, ‘tis oop to’t right an oop to’t left, or down to’t right and down to’t left; nowt else to it, see? Good lad".

'One morning in October Snooker arrived at class with a beaming smile, clutching a paper bag with great care. He laid it gently on his desk and said to us, "Lads, there’s soom reet treasures here. Take a luke at these beauties. Nature at its glorious best!" He reached into his bag and drew out a few dead leaves, holding them up for our inspection. He twiddled them round between finger and thumb. As he did so a sunbeam shone through the classroom window as if by order, and pitched on the green, red and gold of the leaves. They gleamed magically "Garland", said Snooker, "take these round t’class". Oh God, the embarrassment! Everyone was looking at me, smirking. Snooker’s pet, they were thinking. But as soon as he handed me the leaves I forgot about that. I felt as though I had never looked at fallen leaves before. Soon I no longer cared about the smirks and mutterings of my class mates. I was even proud to be the Holder of the Leaves and must have conveyed something of the solemnity of my task. When one member of the class handled a leaf roughly, causing it to crumble in his hand, I frowned so expressively that he even murmured an apology - which, being the class bully, he wasn’t used to doing. 

So the showing of the autumn leaves became a sort of ceremony, brief though it was and soon forgotten. Except, it seems by me; for here I am after all these years, telling you about it; and more than that, I am in the process of putting together a little book of my photographs entitled ‘A close look at fallen leaves’.

At the age of 16 Ken announced that he didn't want to stay on in the sixth form and apply for a university place as an undergraduate at the proposed Oxford or Cambridge, but leave and attend Art College.        His father, who sold printed stationary, advised him to take up ‘commercial art’, and arranged for him to visit his firm’s design department but this glimpse into the professional world of commercial design did not impress young Ken and it wasn’t what he had in mind when he said he wanted to be an artist. In the event, in 1945, he enrolled at The Royal West of England Academy of Art at Clifton, Bristol and recalled : ‘I did a rather lowbrow two year course called commercial design. It consisted of trying to imitate reality in very elaborate  paintings. For example, a representation of a bucket that looked exactly like a bucket’.

It was here, at the age of 17, that Ken gave an early demonstration of his determination to question the status quo which is more reminiscent of the 1960s rather than the mid 1940s. The Academy did not provide life drawing classes which, to the energetic and ambitious Ken, was intolerable. He recalled : ‘Like most people who go to art school I had assumed there would be life drawing. Naked ladies, stuff like that. But there wasn’t. As a result I became disillusioned quite early on in that course and led a 'sit-in'. It must have been one of the first, we’re talking here of the 1940s. With some of my fellow discontents we decided we were being shortchanged by the Art School. We wanted to have some more of what other art students had and we conducted a sit-in,  as a result of which we were suspended. Eventually I was taken back and allowed to do life drawing as a concession, but the other students weren’t, so I discussed it with them and they said, "Go ahead, we weren’t that keen anyway"'

As soon as Ken graduated from the Academy at the age 18, he was conscripted into the Army for his two years National Service in the Parachute Regiment and thoroughly enjoyed it. Seen here, between fellow conscripts, he recalled : "I was immersed in the routines and excitement of military behavior and I became super fit". The experience had broadened his education :  'I had met and talked with many fellow soldiers from Glasgow, South Wales, Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham, and knew a lot more about the condition of the working class in Britain than I had before. Also, I had seen through the pretensions of the officer class’. At the time Britain was half way through the reforms of Atlee's post-War Labour Government and it may well have been at this time that Ken adopted, what would become, his life long adherence to socialism. 

The graphic designer and writer, Adrian Shaughnessy, was of the opinion that his two years in the Army may have had a permanent effect on forming, the still adolescent Ken's character and wrote in 2012 : 'In addition to a legacy of physical fitness, traces of the military mind can also be detected in his behavior. He has a briskness that occasionally becomes brusqueness, and a love of plain speaking that might be characterised as militaristic: emails are answered promptly and anyone who turns up late for an appointment is given a kindly but disapproving look'.

It is quite possible that Ken appreciated the practical importance of good graphic design at this time when, while still in the Army he made his first visit to London. He recalled : 'I discovered London via the Underground diagram. Because that’s what I could relate to as a new-comer; it was the first thing I saw that made sense. I came off a boat from Holland – actually I was a little soldier in the army. Originally I come from North Devon and I never went to London and when I was in the army I had never visited London either. I happened to have leave from the army; so, from Germany, I decided to go to London. I arrived off the boat at Liverpool Street Station and I wondered, ‘My god, where can I go?’. Then I saw this diagram and thought, ‘Right that’s the thing, go down there, get on this Tube and then get up at Picadilly Circus, or wherever’. 

'So, I discovered London via the Underground Connection. A lot of people did this and also a lot of people feel it is the great friendly thing in London – the Underground diagram'. Almost 30 years later he paid homage to its designer, Harry Beck, when, in 1994, as an established designer himself, he published 'Mr. Beck's Underground Map'. 

He now applied to continue his studies at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, but was rejected and instead spent two years at Sir John Cass College in London, studying for a National Diploma in Design. "There was an inspiring teacher called James Broome-Lynne. He convinced me that my future should be in graphic design rather than in illustration. This was the first time I had heard the phrase ‘graphic design’. He urged me to switch from the John Cass to the Central School of Arts and Crafts, which I did, for the last two years of my four-year course. I was welcomed there by the head of department, Jesse Collins, who became a most significant influence".

Jesse in the Department of Graphic Design, together with Anthony Froshaug, who Ken referred to as ‘the Savonarola of typographic design', were to have a formative influence on his development as a graphic designer. Once again, he was conscious of the need to break new ground and thought, along with his contemporaries there was an urgent need to be ‘getting into modern design and extricating ourselves from a strangely isolated design attitude that had existed in Britain up to then’.

In 2020, a frail 90 year old Ken looked back on years in art education and said : "I did six. I'm so grateful. What I did was to meld from being a student into being a graphic designer. I enjoyed myself enormously in Art School , apart from anything else I met my wife Wanda". Wanda was a fellow student who was born in Krakow, Poland and had moved to London at the age of 14 and they married while they were both students when Ken was 23 in 1952. 

When he graduated in 1954 he had no desire to form his own studio and Jesse found a job for him as Art Editor of a trade magazine called 'Furnishing', with a salary of £5 a week. It proved to be a baptism of fire : ‘I didn’t know how to scale up a photograph, I didn’t know how to brief a photographer, I had to learn all these things. It was tough, it really was, and the editor was very demanding and seemed to think I ought to know all sorts of things that I didn’t know. There really wasn’t anybody to help me so I learned on the job’. 

This apprenticeship lasted 18 months and then, at the age of 27, he applied to 'Design Magazine' : ‘I had an interview with the fairly new editor, Michael Farr. He had what he later told me was a test question. He said, “Do you know what cybernetics is?”  And I kind of made a stab at it, not a bad stab. He thought it was adequate, and he said, “Hmm, well, not many designers know about that.” I think he decided then I had the job, on that flimsy evidence. So I became Art Editor of Design magazine’. 

In 1962 he left the magazine to start his own studio, 'Ken Garland & Associates', he said he deliberately chose 'Associates' : "in order to signify that the outfit didn’t consist merely of one designer. Those who worked with me between 1962 and 2009 have always been designers designing – no secretaries, no typists, no donkey-workers. There were never more than three of them at any one time". 

At the age of 33 in 1962, Ken undertook a commission to produce a poster for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament for its Easter March to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston, which he later considered to be one of  the "most significant" in his career.

He himself became "a devoted adherent to the campaign" and found it "quiet impossible to refuse anything to Peggy Duff, the Organising Secretary of CND". The poster was done over a weekend and printed in two days. "These posters, they were fly posters, illegally put up. They tried to get them shown in the London  London Underground, but the people who ran it said they couldn't use it "because it was 'inflammatory'". I can't see what is inflammatory about this. It's just a march, but I think that the idea of this regular row of banners marching like that excited them a bit".

Referring to 1963, he recalled : "I decided t produce some banners which were to be standard. They were on poles of the same length, they were on sheets of black material, the same width and they were printed by stencil. I got a letter from the Chairman of CND saying :  'We're so happy. What a wonderful idea of yours. Thank you so much'. I was not happy because I thought that what was wrong with them was that they were too successful. They reminded me very much of the Nazi banners these big gaudy things with a white circle and black swastika in the middle. There's such a thing as having a piece of graphic protest that, in its own right, was too successful. I decided it was not a good idea to have lots and lots of identical things. So I persuaded them never to do this again and we never did it again".

In 2014 at a talk given in Warsaw, Ken recalled the CND Easter March in 1963 which he took part in that year from the nuclear research plant at Aldermaston to London when the marchers "toured" into Windsor on the way "to where we thought the Royal Family were staying and we surrounded Windsor Castle. They must have been inside there, looking out and wondering the Revolution was about to take place and I like to think our Royal Family were cowering there and shitting a brick at the idea of us invading Windsor Castle. No we didn't we went to London".

1963 was also the year that Ken started a process that was to catapult him into the national limelight. He recalled : "It started in December 1963. Something I wrote at the back of a hall where a symposium was going on. Quite a different subject and I wasn't very interested in that subject and I thought what am I interested in ? In graphic design what am I interested in ? And I  wrote this :

Graphic designers, photographers and students who have been brought up in a world in which the techniques and apparatus of advertising have persistently been presented to us as the most lucrative, effective and desirable means of using our talents. We have been bombarded with publications devoted to this belief, applauding the work of those who have flogged their skill and imagination to sell such things as : cat food, stomach powders, detergent, hair restorer, striped toothpaste, aftershave lotion, slimming diets, fattening diets, deodorants, fizzy water, cigarettes, roll-ons and slip-ons.

By far the greatest time and effort of those working in the advertising industry are wasted on these trivial purposes, which contributes little to our national prosperity. 

At the end of the meeting the Chairman asked : "Has anybody got anything else to say ?" Ken recalled : "I thought, 'well why not ? Why not give them a bit of this ?' So I held my hand up and he knew me and he said : "Oh, I don't know what were in for here, but anyway, come forward Ken" and I came forward from the back of this hall and I started reading this out, just in an ordinary voice and it seemed to be going rather well, although it was written very hastily. It wasn't thought about. Just off the top of my head and people began to pay close attention and I began to realise I was into something here and it got louder and more demonstrative, as though I was in some kind of play and at the end of my proclaiming it : huge applause. I was amazed and anyway people came up to me afterwards, "We'd like to know more about this. Are you going to publish it ?"

When it was published Ken's statement had now become a 'Manifesto' called 'first things first' and in addition to this now had an additional 21 signatories. Ken said : "I carefully arranged for it to be signed by a wide variety of people. Some were students, some were mature teachers, some were photographers, some were experienced graphic designers. I wanted to pick a wide variety of people'.

When the Manifesto stated : 'We are proposing a reversal of priorities in favour of the more useful and more lasting forms of communication. We hope that our society will tire of gimmick merchants, status salesmen and hidden persuaders, and that the prior call on our skills will be for worthwhile purposes’. Ken had in mind activities such as designing public signage and instruction manuals. 

It now received immediate backing from an unexpected quarter. One of the signatories passed it to Caroline Wedgwood Benn, wife of the Labour Member of Parliament, Anthony Wedgwood Benn who reprinted it in its entirety in his weekly Guardian newspaper column. He wrote : 'The responsibility for the waste of talent which they have denounced is one we must all share. The evidence for it is all around us in the ugliness with which we have to live. It could so easily be replaced if only we consciously decided as a community to engage some of the skill which now goes into the frills of an affluent society'. This publication, in turn led to Ken appearing on the BBC’s popular, nightly current affairs TV programme, 'Tonight'. He later said : "I went along and chanted my manifesto to millions. How many of them were interested, I do not know. But enough. Enough." 

However, this was the 1960s and a time when graphic designers began to enjoy the rewards that came with providing the window dressing and packaging for the age of mass consumption and Ken's words, within the profession, were regarded as heresy. He, himself later said : "Some people were puzzled others were challenged. I think it was a mixture between puzzlement and general enthusiasm and some people were definitely not enthusiastic. On the whole people in the adverting business thought it was 'a bit of rubbish' ".

Between 1963 - 66 Ken worked on the next commission which he considered to be the most significant in his career when he created the house style for Race Furniture. He recalled : 'We worked with Noel Jordan, the Managing Director, and Alec Gardner-Medwin, the Sales Director, to produce a complete house style which covered all print matter, vehicle livery and signs for showrooms. We had a free hand and an appreciative client. The only thing lacking was money, but we made the most of what there was and enjoyed the challenge'. 

In 1969 he considered his creation of the 'Connect Game' for Galt Toys, 'Rivers, Roads & Rails', a matching game, similar to dominoes, but with 140 square tiles featuring different coloured tracks his third most significant work.  He recalled : "We started designing wooden toys for them, then games, on the basis of  : We present you with the idea and if you like it we do it and if you don’t, don’t worry. They would produce the game under licence from us and pay us royalties. If we ever had a Friday afternoon where there didn’t seem much to be doing, one or other of us would start thinking up another idea for a game or something".

In addition to his work as a designer, for the best part of 30 years, Ken was a charismatic, part time, university tutor and lecturer and tutor at the University of Reading from 1971-99 with 5 years at the Central School of Art and Design from 1986-91 and 10 years the Royal College of Art 1977-87.The designer John Morgan, a former student of the 'BA Typography & Communication' course at Reading  in the 1990s, when Ken was in his sixties recalled : '‘He didn’t look like the other staff members, he wore a small colourful hat, the sort you might pick up in Camden market, and his language was peppered with ‘fucks’ and ‘fucking’He once walked into the room to find me doing an impression of him (I was wearing a hat substitute and swearing). I was of course very embarrassed. Ken coolly said :  “As you were saying”. He certainly and rightly gave me a side-ways look from then onwards'.  

Another student, on his Reading course said :  “I can remember one of his projects, it was to make typographic hats, with a fashion show at the end of the day. He was always up for people having fun. He sometimes wrote the briefs backwards – he could do mirror writing with chalk on a blackboard and he’d do things like stand on a table”. In 2010 when he gave a keynote lecture as part of the Cardiff School of Art and Design and the Arts University College Bournemouth one student took the time to sketch him. 

Between 1985-1987, Ken's commission from the 'Keniston Housing Association' provided him with the last example of what he considered to be one of the most significant pieces of work in his career. He recalled : 'In developing a graphic style for this housing association we were determined not to stick them with a ruthless prescription for an unchanging logotype, hung about with do’s and don’ts, so we went to the other extreme: the only specification was that each letter of the logotype should be in a different type from all the others and that they should sit on a common baseline, we offered half a dozen variants to kick off with and suggested that the clients would enjoy cooking up some more of their own, as required'.

In the winter of 2011, when Ken was in his 82nd year, he took an interest in the 'The International Occupy Movement' which, following the lead set by protestors on Wall Street, had set up a camp next to St Paul’s Cathedral, on the edge of London's financial district. Ken was a regular visitor to the encampment where he photographed the signs and graphic creations of the protestors and urged designers to visit the site to study and admire this new form of informed and politically charged, graphic expression. 

Ken demonstrated his provocative talent as a lecturer when he spoke to the audience in a meeting to mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of his Manifesto held in Warsaw in 2014. He was illustrating graphic in relation to street protest at the 2003 demonstration in Central London against the oncoming war with Iraq which he attended with his wife Wanda. Having produced this slide he said : "'Bombing for peace is like fucking for virginity'. That's a lovely, beautiful amateur piece. David (Gentleman) was very keen on this and so am I. I think that we should not ignore the vigor and invention of amateurs when it comes to protest graphics".   

Ken was aware of the need for graphic designers in the 21st century "to adapt to the problems that we have that there are goods and services and causes that need to use the best persuasive form to reach an audience which is already cluttered with information. There are so many sources of information and the graphic designer has to extremely ingenious to find the most persuasive means of putting across our message".

Ken said : 

"If I talk of ‘form’, ‘balance’, ‘harmony’, I could easily be talking about typography, or I could be talking about gymnastics. I’d argue that the thread that makes us designers is deeper than typography or image-making. It is concerned with us being the modern day story tellers. So in many ways a graphic designer is no different to early man, huddling around a fire, swapping stories".


Saturday 15 May 2021

Britain is a country which made and lost and now says "Farewell" to its old Prince of Backpackers, the creator of 'Lonely Planet', Geoff Crowther

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Geoff, whose travel guides for 'Lonely Planet' covered three continents, inspired and informed tens of thousands of travellers in the last quarter and the last century, has died in Australia at the age of 77. He was born in the little town of Todmorden in the Upper Calder Valley, West Yorkshire during the Second World War in the Spring of 1944. His was a working class family, where he was the only child of Susie and George, who both worked in a cotton mill in the historic market town of Halifax in West Yorkshire. 

In 1955 at the age of 11 he started to attend the co-educational  Calder High School in Halifax, which had just opened in the village of Mytholmroyd  in the Upper Calder Valley as one of the first comprehensive schools in the country and replacing the older, Hebden Bridge Grammar School for Boys. In the sixth form he studied the sciences at 'A' level and for recreation began to hitch hike around an early 1960s Europe, still recovering from the War, despite the fact that he was in his teens and also the fact that his father disapproved. 

At the age of 18, in 1962, he started life as an undergraduate studying Biochemistry at the University of Liverpool. John Howard recalled : 'Geoff was one my student housemates in the notorious Number 4 Mossley Hill Drive in Liverpool. One day he set off in an ancient Morris 8 with his cat and all his worldly possessions heading  for India. He broke down on the Runcorn-Widnes bridge and was towed back that afternoon. Of course his second attempt succeeded and the rest is history'. After graduating in 1965 Geoff contemplated a studying for a master's degree followed by a PhD, but dropped out of academia and took to the road.

John "Hoppy" Hopkins, the radical photojournalist in jazz and counter culture had co-founded Europe's first underground magazine, 'International Times' in 1965. Having got out of prison after serving 6 months for the crime of possession of cannabis, he had started 'BIT Information Service' in 1968 as a volunteer-run business which evolved into a collective and open house. The 'information' supplied related to advice on house squatting and drugs, but also foreign travel, like the Hippie trail to India, Afghanistan and Southern Asia. It was based above the 'Badge Boutique' in Kensington which was Britain's first 'Head shop', a retail outlet specializing in paraphernalia used for consumption of cannabis and items related to cannabis culture.

One BIT staff member at the time, Rick Crust, said : "We're open every day of the year from 10am to 10pm (telephone 24 hours) and we give free help and information about anything to anyone who wants it. Dirty, untidy office; friendly, sometimes exuberant atmosphere, inefficient staff, confused clientele, aggressive cat. Free information, free bogs, free bath. free duplicator and typewriter, free kittens and puppies, free clothes, free food - cheap at other times but free if you're really starving, free people to talk to, free alternative library, free day-room to freak out in or sleep in, free crash pad, lots of other free floor space depending on the season, free optimism, free ecstasy, free lots of other things plus expensive travel guides to pay for it all".

It had already produced the first BIT travel guide using a hand operated mimeograph  duplicating machine which produced copies from a stencil. Geoff himself recalled : 'The first edition of this guide, which became known as the “Bible of the East”, saw the grey light of dawn back in 1970 as one of BIT Information & Help Service’s 
 free hand-outs. Put together by Nicholas Albery and Ian King as a result of endless requests for information from intending  travelers, it consisted of half a dozen or so duplicated foolscap sheets stapled together with one staple and no cover'. It was called 'Overland to India and Australia' and provided the template for Geoff when he arrived and took over publications as editor in 1972.

The 1972 edition had grown to such a size that there was now a minimum donation of 50p per copy, but rather than acting as a deterrent, buyers regularly left double what was asked, in order to support BIT’s activities. Geoff painted a vivid picture of his arrival : 'I was confronted with over 200 letters from travellers which had accumulated in the overflowing files, the scruffiest “office” I’d ever seen before - or since, several sleeping bags full of snoring human beings on the floor, an arthritic IBM electric typewriter which frequently threw fits and the sound of night-shift worker Jimmy Red’s inimical style of guitar drifting up from the room below. It seemed an impossible task but three weeks later it was ready - all 100 pages of it, double- sided. Nicholas and I spent the next 48 hours drinking wine and smoking mushrooms non-stop while we churned out a thousand copies of the new guide on the second-hand manually-operated duplicating machine'. 

Geoff soon became aware of the financial importance of the travel guide to BIT which, for its work, not unsurprisingly, received no 'financial support from government authorities nor did it want such strings-attached grants. It was occasionally given £500 or £1,000 by a rock star (Paul McCartney & Pete Townsend in particular) or by a charitable trust but for its main income it was forced to rely on the travel guides. It’s bills were enormous - always'.

By 1975 the production and collation of the guide by hand was generating so much work for Geoff that 'the donkey’s back was about to break. So, after several stormy meetings of the collective we decided to go into print after I’d re-written and up-dated the whole thing'. He worked on the edition for 6 weeks and finished it, despite the 'bus-loads of travelers constantly banging on the door in search of up-to-the-minute information on everywhere from Istanbul to Port Moresby, some of whom brought me a little something to smoke (bless them!) and a friend who daily needed an ear to pour stories into and who would march me off to the pub by lunch-time and leave me incapable of doing anything by mid-afternoon'. Then, after 'Ian King, our printer, did a beautiful job. I retired to the country for half a year, exhausted'.

By 1977 Geoff's connection with BIT in London was coming to an end. He had taken himself off to South America with the intention of writing a guide to the Continent, but when he returned to Britain he found : 'BIT was in dire straights and teetering towards the edge of the precipice having been taken over by a bunch of petty crooks, speed freaks, rip-off artists, winos and cider freaks. It was a sight for suppurating eyes. A short while later, from the end of ’79 and early 1980 it finally folded'. 

Back in 1972, the same year Geoff joined BIT, the married couple, Maureen and Tony Wheeler, started the publication, 'Lonely Planet', after they had finished an overland trip through Europe and Asia to Australia, following the route of the Oxford and Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition. They had started the journey with a car purchased for $150, sold it in Afghanistan for $155, and continued by train, bus, boat and other forms of transport and on their return, decided to convert their travel notes into a guide book. It was written by the couple in their home and like BIT's travel guide, consisted of a stapled booklet and was published in 1973 as 'Across Asia on the Cheap: A Complete Guide to Making the Overland Trip'.

It was not until 1977 that the Wheelers teamed up with Geoff, who suggested to him that with his travel knowledge and their publishing house, he could start making a living out of what he had been doing for free. Tony said that Geoff was : "Larger than life". In that respect he probably resembled another, larger than life Yorkshireman, the actor, Brian Blessed who'd just played Augustus in the BBC TV's production, 'I Claudius'. 
Geoff clearly impressed Tony who said : "He'd been everywhere. He'd been all around Africa. He'd got malaria here and hepatitis there and if there was anything going, he was clearly going to get it. But he knew Africa and he didn't know it, just as a backpacker, he knew the history behind it. He'd read the books". Tony recalled on BBC Radio this year : "We called it, 'Africa on the Cheap'. It came out in 1977. I've got a number of things from 'Lonely Planet' that I'm proud of, but that's one of them because it is the only guide that has covered all of Africa". 

The book attempted  to cover 54 countries either in areas in Africa or off its coasts. Geoff didn't visit all of them, and much of the detail was supplied by travelers who sent in information in exchange for a mention in the next issue and a free copy. Under the heading 'Comoro Islands' situated north of, Madagascar, Geoff issued the invitation : 'We haven't heard of anyone going there for a long time so we have no details to offer. If you do go, please drop us a line'. 

By 1979 Geoff, at the age of 35, Geoff left Britain to set up camp in a rainforest commune outside Burringbar near the NSW to Queensland border in Australia and in the shadow of Mt Warning. Here he lived in what he described as a 'semi-derelict, Morning Glory-covered, former banana shed in the depths of the rain forest' which probably explains him working on the roof.

Despite the fact that BIT had folded, Geoff and the printer Ian were determined to keep the BIT guides alive. He said they were 'unwilling to see the guides die after all that effort by the thousands of travellers who’ve written in over the years and are still writing in - keep those pens busy, please!' ' If the day ever arrives when it ceases to be a mirror of traveler’s experiences and an exchange of information then we’ll lay it down to rest and leave you in the hands of the strictly commercial boys'. He updated and rewrote the BIT guide and told readers : 'This time its taken three months to put together but then it is twice the size and, as there’s no electricity here and half of every day is spent keeping lantana, groundsel, leeches, land mullets and 6ft-plus pythons at bay, it’s not altogether surprising'.

In 1980 Geoff  began to work with the Wheelers to create a new guide to India. At that time 'Lonely Planet' was a tiny company, operating with a staff of six, out of an old shop-front office in a questionable corner of Melbourne. He was to research the south while they explored the north of the country for the first comprehensive backpackers’ guide dedicated to the both the beauty and humanity of India. Tony later recalled: “Geoff moved in with us in Melbourne to put it together. Nearly all of the maps in that first edition were hand-drawn by Geoff. It was a crazy project; we felt like we were putting together an encyclopedia of India rather than a guidebook – and at times only Geoff’s beer-fuelled mapping mania kept it going”. The result, his 'India  a travel survival kit' was published in 1981.

At that time guidebook research and making money were traditionally incompatible and most authors put up with a pittance, so long as it allowed them to keep travelling. Geoff, however, had signed a 2.5 % royalty rate deal with 'Lonely Planet' and as sales of the India guide soared, so did his income. In the years that followed he added other first editions to the Lonely Planet repertoire : 'Korea & Taiwan', 'Malaysia', 'Singapore & Brunei', 'Morocco', 'Algeria & Tunisia'. Whether they were a product of Geoff working by himself or with Tony or Hugh Finlay, they all came with Geoff's hand-drawn maps. 

It was while he was researching his book on South Korea that he asked a fellow bus passenger where he could find the nearest post office. The passenger was Hyung Poon and they kept in touch by letter after he left and a couple of years later he returned to update his book with her help and they married in Seoul in 1982. Seen here together in Kenya, Geoff wrote  'Kenya  a travel survival kit' with Hugh Finlay and it was published in 1991.

Tony recalled : "Geoff's maps were a thing of beauty and joy for ever. They were hand drawn. Basically Geoff went out walked the streets and counted how many paces it took, then turned north or south or east or west and drew maps from it and there were mistakes, but they were absolutely the best thing out there". Some travellers drew attention to the mistakes. One, in a letter printed in the Africa guide complained : 'Since when has the ancient and well-represented word 'opposite' meant 'further down the street, take the first left, go around a cornfield and take a sharp right just before the military camp? Couldn't you put a caveat in your next edition telling unsuspecting travelers that your directions are an unbridled act of creativity, a spontaneous outpouring of the mango wine-fueled imagination?' On the reverse side of the coin, one traveler walked in Tony's Melbourne office and said : "You know that hike that you said would take a day and a half? It took me six weeks. Halfway through I was cursing your name, but later I realized it was the greatest adventure I'd ever had''. 

Tony said : "Geoff's work sometimes had political consequences. The Ethiopian rebels once used photocopies of his maps to to help them in staging a coup". In fact it was 1991 the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front relied on his cartography when driving ex-Soviet tanks into Addis Ababa to overthrow the despised government of Mengistu.

On another occasion, Geoff's outspoken criticism of the Malawi dictator, Hastings Banda, provoked a personal reaction. Geoff's son, Ashley said : "He called the President at the time, 'The Second Hitler'. He really had a go at him for being such a ruthless ruler and he was banned from the country. He was part of that generation that was rebellious in the sense of anything against authority was something to be proud of. He was a very vocal opponent of any kind of war and I think that really came down to what he had seen in post World War Two Europe like and also what happened in Afghanistan, post Soviet invasion". 

With his new found affluence Tony said : "He started building this incredibly beautiful house. There were Japanese hippies there that would come and they did a lot of the woodwork on the place and it was just a beautiful, beautiful place and that was Geoff in his prime when he was building that house". Geoff's soaring roof was inspired by the Batak architecture from the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the house was his home with Hyung Poon and son, Ashley, who recalled : "All of his stories that he told me as a boy, revolved around African animals. He would always tell me about the sightings of tigers in India roaming through theses dry forests. Exploring the savannahs in Africa trying to track wildebeest herds or find lion prides"However, Ashley also remembered that Geoff was "off on what seemed like never-ending journeys across the planet. It was Mum and I fending for ourselves".

The unfortunate downside to Geoff's success, was that he used his income from the guides to fuel his increasing appetite for alcohol and drugs. His son Ashley said : "I grew up with him essentially, not really remembering him without a drink. I would probably say that probably broke us and it broke our family and it certainly broke him in the end because he was bored. He was bored about where life had taken him. Things were becoming very regular but he was always somebody who wanted to chase something crazy". 

Geoff's marriage to Hyung Poon was dissolved when Ashley was 8 years old in 1997 and he left her and Ashley and settled in the state of Goa on the south western coast of India. Ashley said in his eulogy to Geoff on his passing : 'From the little time you spent at home in Australia you were buried in writing, books, music, drugs, and alcohol' and squared it in his mind by saying : 'I guess it’s true what they say about geniuses – they can’t stop themselves'. 

Interviewing Tony Wheeler for the Guardian in 2007, on his standing down and selling his 'Lonely Planet' and 'Rough Guides', Carol Cadwalldr asked him about Geoff. She wrote : 'He's gone now. A broken man living in Goa, Tony Wheeler tells me, and it's hard not to feel a pang. The latest edition of Lonely Planet India is a monumental 1,236 pages, produced by 12 writers, and it's, without a doubt, a terrifically useful book if you need to navigate your way from Calcutta to Bangalore; probably even more so when it's a couple of megabytes rather than several kilos of dense matter weighing like a stone at the bottom of your bag. But, well, there's a certain something that's been lost; a Geoffness, I think I'll call it'. 

The travel writer Rory MacLean met Geoff in Goa while researching material for 'The Wheel Thing' which was published in 2006 and was not impressed. He recorded meeting Geoff who he said was steadily drinking himself stupid and whose memory for places was shot and commented that Geoff : 'had turned into a sad embodiment of the adage that “if you can remember the 1960s you weren’t really there”'. 

After a brief second marriage to a woman he met in Kenya and and longer writing travel books, Geoff was in financial straits after his second divorce and at the age of 60 in 2004, he had, in fact, returned to Australia. Hyung Poon and her partner had invited him back to live with them in the beautiful house he had built when they were first married. The following year he sustained a head injury in an accident and was transferred to a care facility where he spent the last 14 years of his life. As time went on his dementia increased and it is therefore unlikely that he was able to appreciate the greatest accolade of his life when the British Library’s 2016 'Maps & the 20th Century Exhibition' in London displayed Geoff’s maps and notes in his journal from researching the first edition of 'South America on a Shoestring', alongside the map of Middle Earth which J R R Tolkien used while writing 'Lord of the Rings'. 

His son Ashley said : "When the British Library reached out to mum and myself about wanting to display some of Dad's maps in this big exhibition, what was really wonderful being a big Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fan, was Dad's map actually exhibited next to Tolkien's map of middle earth. It really kind of illustrated Dad's connection with the world and also what his view of the world was and his view of particular people and places were and how he expressed that in his maps".

On Geoff's passing, BBC Radio 4 'Last Word' programme about Geoff was broadcast in April 2021, with Matthew Bannister's interview with Tony Wheeler and Ashley Crowther :

In his care home, he was a long way and time away from, one suspects, his happiest years working in London for BIT in the 1970s, which he described as : 'A constantly changing collection of drop-outs, misfits, visionaries, deviants, information freaks, students, runaways, travellers, electronics whizz-kids and even “normal” people from all over the world, none of whom were paid and many of whom worked all hours God sent'. 
Geoff died as a result of complications caused by advanced dementia. This was possibly accelerated by the long term effect of his long term appetite for drugs. His son Ashley said of Geoff : "If there's one bit of fatherly advice you've given me, it was don't try heroin, but a little raw opium is OK and LSD and mushrooms are fine and that pot was all right, provided you didn't do it while working".

Richard Everist, a former publisher at Lonely Planet remembered Geoff as :

"A charming rogue, with a fearsome appetite for life that sometimes challenged those caught up in his wake. He was a hero for me, and if I am not mistaken, for many others too."

* * * * * * * * * * * 

My own experience of back packing, while a student, consists of travels to the Greek islands of Mykonos and Rhodes with two friends in the summer of 1967 and alone to Sciathos and Alonisos in 1969. In Crete we slept on the beach in the unspoilt seaside village of Matala, where the 'Dolphin Cafe' repeatedly played the Beatles 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' on a record turn table. I was 20 at the time and have no doubt that, also at the time, the 23 year old Geoff was off  travelling to a more  exotic  destination. 

Three years later the 27 year old American singer, Joni Mitchell stopped off at Matala on her 'European Odyssey' and was inspired to write her song 'Carey', after 'Cary' or 'Carrot' Raditz, a cane-carrying chef with bright red hair, who she met there and referred to the village and the 'Dolphin CafĂ©' she called 'The Mermaid.

'Maybe I'll go to Amsterdam,
Or maybe I'll go to Rome,
And rent me a grand piano and put some flowers 'round my room.
But let's not talk about fare-thee-welIs now,
     The night is a starry dome.
                            And they're playin' that scratchy rock and roll,
                              Beneath the Matala Moon'.