|Plus ça change!|
Blinds & Shutters turns 60 in 2012. As we begin our celebration of six decades of the leading trade title for shading solutions, Vicky Green looks at some early issues and finds out what was filling up the column inches in the 1950s and 1960s
The Blindmaker, as it was then called, was a quarterly journal available to members of the sunshading industry at a subscription of 6 shillings a year. Issues were much slimmer than they are today and lighter on editorial; adverts graced the covers and most of the pictures were illustrations, rather than photographs. The Classified section was just a list of names and addresses arranged under headings such as Pigmented Canvas, Flax Sheeting and Sailcloth. But the most striking difference is that the magazine was almost entirely in black and white, save for the odd splash of a single primary colour. Not for those days the aspirational lifestyle images of interiors bedecked with blinds – although that's not to say there weren't eye-catching pages. A browse through this fascinating archive reveals that those within the blinds industry had many of the same kind of concerns they have today – alongside some very much rooted in the time.
In 1953, the year of the Queen’s coronation, Faber’s advertisement wished all its friends every success “and happy festivities for the Coronation”. In the summer issue, the cover photograph appeared courtesy of a certain Dirk Bogarde.
In the autumn of 1955, the industry had its gripes with the government concerning taxation and the economy: “So far it is difficult to say what effect the government’s monetary measures has had on the demand for window blinds… but if new building work is to be reduced and public spending curtailed, some reduction in the demand for blinds would appear likely.”
Elsewhere, a claim in the previous issue that the metal venetian might be “a temporary trade” drew vociferous opposition, although it was conceded that, on the whole, “women prefer Venetian to Holland blinds” (the study on which this assertion was based was sadly lacking).
A cutting from the Walthamstow Guardian warned of “shop blind racketeers” in east London. These criminals would approach shop managers claiming to have repaired the blinds next door, and convince them that their own blinds were in need of repair. “In many cases the manager agrees to have the job done and pays on the spot. Not until the racketeers have gone does he realise either that the job has been badly done, has not been done at all, or did not need doing in the first place.” The criminals would then go next door and repeat the trick!
In the autumn issue of 1956, an advertisement by Sun-aire Venetian Blinds carried the alluring promise of marketing support in the trade press and – “yes! television too: seen by thousands!” while a Dutton & Gavin advert boasted of “OVER TWENTY COLOURS in window hollands”. The Blindmaker reported that The National Association of Window Blind Manufacturers, which would later become the BBSA, and the Association of Municipal Corporations were involved in wrangling over laws governing shop window blind heights: “The Associations argue that the existing law, much of which was made more than 100 years ago at a time when top hats were normal wear, is both in a muddle and, because it is out of date, unfair.” Hear hear! No-one wears top hats anymore.
Even back in the winter of 1956, blinds were being advertised for their ability to regulate indoor temperature: “In summer, [Sunway blinds] deflect solar radiation, turning the sun’s rays into a soft, innocuous glow. Sunways keep rooms cool without sacrificing privacy.
“In winter, however, Sunways reflect artificial light and heat. When it’s cold outside, they retain up to 35% of indoor warmth.”
Inside, meanwhile, an article warned of “the alarming flow of imports of cotton manufactures into the home market... Over the whole industry in the past 12 months,” it went on, “at least 90 mills have closed down and 30,000 people have lost employment in it… It should be remembered that [the industry] still has an export trade worth over £100,000,000 a year and employs over 200,000 people.”
Issue 20, published in the winter of 1957, began with the following leader: “Since our last issue we have had the upheaval of the Middle East Crisis and its aftermath. Unfortunately, petrol rationing must be endured for some time and the window blind trade, which depends so much on motor transport, must be affected to some extent.” Elsewhere, an article appeared under the heading Pension Changes Give Assistance to Self-employed Blindmakers. If you were born before 1907, your maximum annual contribution qualifying for tax relief was a whopping £1125.
In February of 1957 the Association held its 30th annual dinner dance, in the ballroom of the Park Lane Hotel. Tickets cost 2 guineas.
Moving on to the 1960s – still in black and white with a subscription price of 6 shillings – it was breathlessly noted that “the Venetian blind trade received a very fine advertisement through Telstar. The first television picture flashed across the Atlantic showed the chairman of the Bell Telephone Company sitting in front of a Venetian blind.”
The spring issue of 1960 bemoaned the fact that “another budget has come and gone without any alteration in purchase tax” and called for “a reduction, or better still, abolition of the tax on blinds”.
British industry was in the process of reducing its normal working week from 44 hours to 42 or 42.5, while that year’s Association Dinner Dance had been threatened by the possibility of a railway strike “which would have prevented many people from attending”.
The summer issue of 1962 quoted from the Daily Mail, which had recently run a feature claiming that blinds were “very much in, according to women’s writers”. The newspaper however had made an “embarrassing” mistake by referring readers to a trade only firm. Imagine!
By 1967, calls for members to support the Annual Dinner Dance started to sound rather desperate. “Attendance during the last two years have been disappointing,” the leader admitted, going on to say that it hoped numbers would be boosted by a change of venue to “a very fashionable restaurant with good parking facilities”.
In April, the journal reported on the 40th such Dinner Dance, where a Mr S G Creighton proposed the toast of ladies and guests, and “remarked on the direction of advertising so very largely to women… Some people thought it a terrible waste of time, but Mr Creighton believed that the whole economy would run down if it were not for the ladies.” That didn’t stop him, however, from making a couple of jokes at the expense of “the fair sex”. Miss Ragnild Holdt, meanwhile, replied for “the ladies” that “women could drive men either to greatness… or to drink” but that “she felt sure most women would agree that life without men would be a waste of time.”
In July, the journal reported on the R67 – the industry’s international trade fair, which took place in – you guessed it – Stuttgart. The exhibition was deemed “a considerable success, with over 180 exhibitors from all over the world… It has grown from a very small beginning in 1961 to international status. Friendship and connections were established, which may very well lead to big business and could also be vital,” the journal wagered, “should this country one day enter the European Common Market Community”.
Would Britain enter the Common Market? Would purchase tax be abolished? Would life without men be a waste of time? Only one thing was certain: “judging by the number of keen golfers in the trade”, the fledging golf meeting was guaranteed to be a success…