Illustration, Magazines, Notebook

Radio Times covers from the late 70s/early 80s

Notebook: 8 January 2018 | MAGAZINES | ILLUSTRATION

I’ve unearthed a bunch of old Radio Times covers that I saved from the late 1970s and early 1980s. I was a graphic design student at the time at Lanchester Polytechnic (Coventry) and then the Royal College of Art, and like many students, I would hang on to any odd bits of print graphics that I liked and tape them into a scrapbook. These simple but striking Radio Times covers (shown below) have stood the test of time well and are dated only by their white borders¹ and single cover line and picture².

The Radio Times was art directed at the time by David Driver (1969-1981) who transformed the magazine from being a rather worthy, old fashioned ‘journal’ into a captivating and beautifully designed publication. Driver had a real grasp for visual journalism and he commissioned some of the best illustrators, photographers and information designers of the day. The Radio Times had always had a history of making use of top quality black and white line illustration³ dotted within its listings pages but with the advent of better printing facilities and higher quality paper, David Driver was able to use beautiful 4-colour illustration (and photography) on the front cover and in other parts of the magazine.

My small collection is shown below and is just a tiny, tiny example of the huge body of work that Driver and his team produced week-in, week-out at the Radio Times. (A couple of them are from 1982-83 so would have been produced post David Driver – but they follow the same style)I’ve added in four classic Driver covers taken from the design blog of Mike Dempsey – and for a real insight into David Driver’s time at the Radio Times, I urge you to read Mike Dempsey’s excellent article from his Graphic Journey blog – which as you’ll see, created a lively debate comparing the design of the RT in the 1970s with how it looks today. David Driver went on to become head of Design at The Times newspaper and Mike Dempsey looks at that period of his career here.


Note the last couple of covers drawn by George Hardie. One is in black and white on newsprint: I believe that it was produced when there was a problem at the printworks – maybe a strike or a paper shortage. More on George Hardie here.

Covers by Peter Brookes/Nigel Holmes, Ralph Steadman, Frank Bellamy and Adrian George, all reproduced from Mike Dempsey’s Graphic Journey blog.


¹These days Radio Times covers are full bleed but I think I’m right in saying that back in the 1970s, the printing technology, and the fact that the covers were regionalised and printed independently to the main mag, meant that they were unable to print right up to the edges of the paper. However, the resulting white border helped give the RT its distinctive identity and set it apart from ITV’s TV Times.

²In the 1970s there were only two TV listings magazines: the Radio Times which carried the BBC listings and the TV Times which carried the ITV (and later Channel 4) listings – and newspapers were not allowed to print 7-day listings. Consequently these two magazines had a monopoly on the market and huge circulations as a result. However, in 1991 with the de-regulation of TV listings, many new listings magazines entered the market, and finding themselves up against this competition, the Radio Times abandoned its more stylish thought-provoking covers with a single cover line, in favour of celebrity driven covers with multi cover lines very much in the style of the other listings magazines.


Two recent, much more commercially driven covers from the last five years. The second of the two from 2016 is illustrated by RT stalwart Bill Sanderson. These days it is rare for the Radio Times to use a cover illustration apart from for their Christmas specials. I believe that the current art director is Shem Law.

³Since its earliest days in 1923, top artists have graced the pages of the Radio Times with their illustrations: Edward Ardizzone, Eric Fraser, Mervyn Peake, Ronald Searle, James Boswell and more recently in David Driver’s time: Frank Bellamy, Adrian George, Ralph Steadman, Peter Brookes, Tony Meeuwissen, Brian Grimwood, Bill Sanderson, George Hardie, Nigel Holmes and many others. The art of the Radio Times has been celebrated over the years and in 1981 the V&A hosted an exhibition of original illustration from 1923 to the then present day, and then in 2013 on the 90th anniversary of the magazine, the BBC produced a commemorative book. More here.

Exhibition catalogue from the V&A’s The Art of the Radio Times 1981. Cover illustration by Eric Fraser

Line drawings by Edward Ardizzone and James Boswell from mid 20th century editions

Part of the RT’s clean, distinctive look was down to its use of the bold sans-serif typeface Franklin Gothic for its main headlines and listings page programme titles. The magazine would have been a familiar ‘old friend’ to millions of readers – not just for its use of pictures but for its quiet typography which readers would only have been aware of on a subliminal level. For more on the Franklin Gothic font, take a look at my post on its use as the headline face in Architect’s Journal, Time Out and Campaign magazines here.

The TV programme times and titles were set in Franklin Gothic Heavy – a typeface that would have become a familiar but nameless friend to millions of Radio Times‘ readers


Stuffed in amongst my Radio Times covers I found four old adverts for Robinson’s Lemon Barley Water. I think they may have been Radio Times centre spreads, saved at the same time that I collected the covers. Each advert is a series of puzzles beautifully illustrated by Tony Meeuwissen and designed to keep the cold or flu sufferer occupied while they were convalescing in bed. I have no idea who the designer or advertising agency was but I believe that the typeface is ITC Bookman used with the popular ‘close-but-not-touching’ letter spacing of the day. Its a shame that they don’t make print ads like this any more!

Tony Meeuwissen was a popular choice with David Driver for Radio Times covers and a couple of Meeuwissen’s RT covers are pictured below together with some familiar book jackets and other illustrations.

Above: Meeuwissen’s Robinson’s Barley Water adverts from the late 1970s

Above: Three Meeuwissen book jackets that will be familiar to many older graphic designers


David Driver’s first Radio Times Christmas special cover illustrated by Meeuwissen in 1969 and his 1981 Christmas Cover

Tony Meeuwissen is still beavering away today and can be contacted through Folio Art Illustration Agency.