Looking back at the austerity campaigns of World War II, you realise how little things change – recycling was called something different back then, but war-time make-do and mend was similar to our sustainability drive. What is different is how the message was put across. The war years were bleak, with many living in already austere conditions, yet the graphic energy and optimism is a far cry from some of the work we see today. The Dig for Victory poster shows a harvest festival of vegetables glistening with just-picked freshness, while Save Fuel for Battle includes a humorous cartoon and graphics that dance off the page. Some of the images are very much of their time, but others, like the Save Metal poster, have a timeless directness. An exhibition of austerity posters and pamphlets is at The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, with director Robert Opie citing a raft of tip-top designers who gave the material such vibrancy. These include John Gilroy (of Guinness fame), Abram Games (who later designed the first moving ident for the BBC in 1953), and Fougasse, whose poster Careless Talk Costs Lives is as good as they get. ‘Our situation is similar to the war years,’ says Opie. ‘We need to preserve raw materials, recycle and re-use. The war graphics were just so good at it.
‘Waste Not, Want Not is at The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, 2 Colville Mews, Lonsdale Road, London W11, from 22 January to 31 November
By Sarah Frater