Introduction | Four decades in
After clearing my desk at Sphere Books on Friday afternoon, Monday morning found me sitting down at a corner desk of the Riverside Studios in Fulham. Perched on the north bank of the Thames with a view of Brompton reservoir and the most spectacular sunsets in West London, I was now a Senior Designer at Slatter-Anderson.
I was greeted by Derek Slatter who pointed at my desk and, more importantly, to a couple of book cover briefs, two paperback editions of Bernard Levin’s travel books, which were required by the next day. A busy month at Sphere meant four to five covers and a couple of advertisements. I broke into a cold sweat to the news that, what was a month’s work at Sphere, was a day’s worth of work at Slatter-Anderson.
But, before I delve into my day and first design projects, here is the main cast list for the soap opera that was Slatter-Anderson:
Derek Slatter - designer, Range Rover enthusiast, music lover, photographer and driver of the studio, Derek much preferred working at the studio to meeting clients. Recently married for a second time to George (Georgina) PA to Bruce Oldfield, Derek loved the society life.
Only second in his affection for George was his lurcher Anna, who mooched around the studio and had a bed in the photographic studio. A spot she only left when we had a long photographic session, throwing us a despising glance and sauntering past, as the high powered lights warmed up with their high pitched whine.
I liked Derek, despite his somewhat mercurial mood swings, he is probably someone most susceptible to ear worms that I have ever known and you could get him humming a current song just by tapping the rhythm out on your desk. Something the team took great delight in… Easiest of all was I think we’re alone now by Tiffany. He hated the song and, finding himself absentmindedly humming it, would furiously burst out, “Who f*****g started me off on that f******g song?” I learnt a lot from Derek about designing in a limited time and we ALWAYS had limited time.
Robin Anderson was the public face of Slatter-Anderson and did the majority of client meetings. When I started most of the work came from Hodder & Stoughton and Century Hutchinson (later to become Random House UK and, more recently, Penguin Random House - but I prefer the unofficial Random Penguin).
His partner was sales director for Crabtree & Evelyn and, inhabitants of Highbury, together they presented the intimidating spectre of the North London professional power couple.
When under pressure Robin would retreat into his bubble and make it almost impossible to get his attention. I worked at Riverside Studios for 18 months and felt sad that I never really got to know him, other than as a designer who worked in the same room. He drove possibly one of the least reliable cars in London - a beautiful restored vintage Bristol, with its evocative 1940s styling. It was in the garage more than on the road and the mechanic could often be heard on the end of the phone explaining to Robin how the patient was doing.
Norman the Artworker - known as “Nippy Norm” primarily by Norman himself, he had amazing hand and artworking skills. Norman began is career in the advertising agencies of the 70s and 80s and was everything that Robin was not. Loud and cheerfully opinionated, Norm would happily, sing, chat and tell truly awful jokes throughout the day. An artworking ‘barrow boy’ with an infectious charm, I liked Norm, there was a joy and confidence in his own skills and experience that was refreshing. He was also an interesting character to brief, which is what I had to do regularly.
If Norm thought he could get away with something he would. Part of my role was pre-press artwork quality control and I was the one that had to get Norm to redo things if he had gone his own way, rather than follow the design brief. Sometimes I wondered why he bothered, but he always re-worked a job with good grace. Leaving about eight months after I arrived, I often wonder what happened to Norm, he and his job, being pretty much superseded by the arrival of the Apple Mac and desktop publishing.
Stephen the Artworker - Stephen was a complete contrast from Norm. A quiet, self-contained Yoga teacher and hardcore vegetarian, Stephen made weird teas that smelt a little like an old compost heap, made from leaves from his own garden, and were, at times, over-powering in a small studio space. He had one pace of work just a little slower than ‘steady’. This drove Derek and Robin absolutely crazy, as when we were busy the artwork just kept stacking up and up. I know he stayed for a while after I left, I could never work out how or why he stuck it for so long.
Tanya joined about a month after me as the Studio Administrator and lived just off Sloane Square with her parents. Learning on the job was tough but Tanya was a quick learner and became invaluable in the practical running of the studio. Just 18 when she started and already an enthusiastic socialiser, Tanya’s post weekend stories were hugely entertaining and delivered with gales of laughter, she was a breath of fresh air and held her own in a studio full of men. Tanya also ran the fax machine, which was a character in its own right…
The Fax Machine joined about four months after me. Built on overly generous lines, it was a second hand machine that was as unpredictable as Derek and much less talented. Every sheet of paper had to be attached to the massive drum that revolved at a huge rate. It wheezed, clunked rattled and juddered for about 10 mins for every side of A4 sent. It also had an element of free will about it and only worked when it chose. Usually the image at the other end was so poor that clients rang up to ask for the material to be couriered to them. I reckon it had come to us from Crabtree & Evelyn, after it had driven folk crazy in their office. In terms of noise, it was louder than Norm.
Richard Blower - a very talented fashion photographer with a David Niven-like urbanity and warmth who rented the other half of the Studios. Regularly busy with test shots, what seemed like an endless stream of models came and went, all with the hope that they would get on the books of the big London agencies. Some did. Richard’s real passion was photographing the bridges of London. He would amble in for a chat or show us some photographs when Mandy was working her magic.
Mandy - Richard’s make up artist for the aspiring young and well-established models, all of whom came in looking stressed and left looking like they had been photographed for Vogue. Mandy was cheery, loud and brightened the room with her vivacity. She regularly hefted around two enormous makeup boxes, which obviously contained some truly transforming potions. We knew when Mandy was on her way because we could hear the boxes clattering up the stairway as she ricocheted her way up to the studio.
Lil was a true west Londoner who lived on the estate just behind the studio. Lil cleaned Derek and George’s house and did Robin and Derek’s ironing, she also cleaned the studio and was, basically, the de facto matriarch of the company. Incredibly protective of Robin and Derek, I got the feeling none of us really came up to Lil’s high standards.
Robin’s Bristol Mechanic would regularly pop by to explain the latest problem with Robin’s car. With all the air of a caring, if rather doleful GP delivering bad news to a patient, his visits were always an interesting distraction.
Various indistinguishable folk from the next door advertising agency, all of whom drove a Porsche and enjoyed a strong 80s power dressing aesthetic.