The Biba newspaper was designed by Steve Thomas in the late summer of 1973. Big Biba’s opening day was to be September the 10th so we had to work at breakneck speed to get the paper as well as a lot of other projects completed. The paper had sixteen pages with text written by David Smith and photos by Rolph Gobbits and lots of my illustrations. We were able to include a lot of work I had already completed, the logos and pinups for instance, but there were to be a lot more to tell the complete Big Biba story. I forget what the deadline was but we worked at breakneck speed well into the nights and all weekends.
There were about 1,000 copies printed in brown on cream cartridge paper and a run of about 300, 000 on newsprint to be handed out in the store on opening day. I have one newspaper copy left, quite frail and frayed around the edges.
On the front cover is the well known photo of the Biba staff I have shown before. Below that is a little drawing of Mary Austin who sat in the information booth. I had to do a quick drawing of her, no time for photos and the time it would take to process them so I ran downstairs to do a quick sketch. I had no clue who she was so somebody pointed her out to me. Mary Austin was the girlfriend of Freddy Mercury who was just starting out with his band Queen and he used to hang around with Mary and the Biba crowd. We remember seeing him around in the local pubs, he was quite a small man but I always remember him larger than life when he became famous with Queen. Of course it was only years later we made the connection about who he was.
Here are some of the pinup book girls dotted around the paper. I have put them all together with their written pieces and I have tried to remember their pinup tags, I do not have the pinup book anymore so if anyone out there can help me with what might be missing I would be most grateful. I mentioned before what fun we had making up corny tags for them all.
On pages 4 and 5 are some lovely photos by Rolph Gobbits. There is also a photo of a pretty black girl in an ocelot print coat and hat. There was no makeup at all for women of colour at that time, most makeup brands still had very wishy washy colours. Biba cosmetics were a standout ranging from the very pale to the very dark and of course famous browns, purples, plums and reds, and even black lipsticks and eyeshadows. It took many years for other cosmetic companies to catch up. Barbara asked me to do an illustration of applying ‘cats eyes’ makeup on page 4. It looks just like her makeup, she wore dark and pearly blues. Here is a list of the 1973 colours, I always remember the clothing colours being soft and muted and not as harsh as everything is today.
On the ‘Sam and Alice’ comic book page I had to visit the chidren’s floor which was almost completed. I made sketches of the units including the castle and the big radio, the rabbit radio and snoopy dog kennel. All the units were waiting to be stocked and the cleaning up process was going on. I cannot recall a thing about illustrating this page, I was working very fast, these drawings were done on layout paper with pentel pens. The Pages were designed on white board and my drawings were sent away to be photo printed, when they came back everything was glued down with cow gum including the type, a job I am glad I did not have to do. With computers today , this would have taken no time putting together at all.
In the middle of the paper is a Biba poster, a very beautiful photo but there is a bit of a story attached to it that I would love someone to solve for me. I was told that the model was in fact a girl from the Biba office and that this look was totally out of character for her and that she did not wear makeup or even Biba clothing. When she was made up for this shot she was unrecognizable apparently. It’s a great story and I wonder today if it is just a bit of Biba fokelore. Maybe Rubyfoot could enlighten me. Anyway she looks lovely whoever she is.
On the back of the poster is the ‘Lifts and staircases boardgame’ again using some pinups and logos as well as new illustrations, it must have been a nightmare putting this together. There are two extra pinups from the book but I cannot remember their tags. At the bottom right corner is a small illustration of two lady shoppers, Barbara used this on the gold cover of the paperback version of her book from A to Biba. The lady on the left is missing the pattern on her scarf, I wonder what happened? It really jumps out at me. The only thing I can think of is that it was whisked away as a lot of my drawings were in the rush.
On page 11 is ‘Men only’. I particularly like the silly shoes. It was not only women who fell off their shoes in the seventies.
The Biba for boys page 12, has more silly shoes, bomber jackets and t-shirts. I have to say that none of the clothes I ever drew were actually Biba, they just had the flavour. Barbara did remark once that she hoped no one came in looking for them. There is an ad for the Mistress Room in the middle of this page. The girl looks like Tinkerbell channelling Marylin Monroe, or vice versa.
On the 13th page I had to design a house for all the Biba products, It looks like the house I was living in in Muswell Hill complete with moss all over the roof tiles. It was a bit of a squash drawing everything to accommodate the type. I wanted a house that looked like that,… fat chance. That was my kitchen table Erly gave me though.
There is a great picture of Dell on page 14. Look at those wide long trousers, real puddle soakers. Its a lovely outfit, crepe I would imagine and she does wear that top hat well.
On the opposite page there is a menu and wine list. The food is typical English fare but by the mid 70’s there were some exotic things creeping in, I wonder what Pouffs pudding was. It’s hard to believe but I had never had a pizza until Steve took us to a real Itallian restaurant, and it remains the best I have ever had. When we finally got to the Biba wine I think we were still into rose which was called Biba pink on the wine list.
The final page on the back of the newspaper was dedicated to the Food Hall offering the best that Smithfied [meat] Billingsgate [fish] and Covent Garden [fruit and vegetables had to offer. Cheeses from France, health foods, pastas and breads, an extensive wine cellar and even take away food. It really was delightful down there and a very surreal experience seeing my drawings on everything . Everyday more printed pieces arrived upstairs, badges , postcards, t shirts, and I was finding it a hard to take it all in. Seeing a great bank of the washing powder boxes was quite overwhelming, I got used to it after a while but years later I got the same feeling when I started illustrating Childrens’ books.
A couple of weeks ago, the Biba newspaper turned up on the Antiques Roadshow with other Biba artifacts including the leopard skin jacket . I got the tip in an e-mail from an old schoolfriend. The show was the second part of two shows from Layer Marney Towers in Essex and the lady had worked at Bibas in the production department. She had some clothing including the jacket, some rare photos and newspapers. I was able to see it on the BBC i- player and maybe it will turn up on a you tube. I have always said that when the Biba stuff starts appearing on The Antiques Roadshow I will be officially ancient!