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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wilf Hardy

Jeremy Briggs is back with a piece on Look and Learn artist Wilf Hardy...

Royal International Air Tattoo

On 14 and 15 July RAF Fairford will host the 2007 Royal International Air Tattoo, billed as the world's largest military air show. What was then called the International Air Tattoo began in 1971 at North Weald aerodrome before moving in 1973 to the much larger RAF Greenham Common. It was held there intermittently until 1983 when the combination of cruise missiles and peace campaigners put that base into the headlines. In 1985 RAF Fairford became the IAT's new home and, barring a two year move to RAF Cottesmore when Fairford's runways were being repaved, it has stayed there ever since. The air show became an annual event in 1993 and was granted Royal status in 1996. While this may not be the sort of information that Bear Alley normally imparts, there is a connection.

Prepublicity is a major part of any air show and the advertising poster for the event is often used as the front cover of the air show brochure available on the day. Today most air shows use photomontages for their publicity but in years gone by many, including RIAT, used painted illustrations. RIAT's traditional artist was Wilf Hardy, better know to us for his work in Look and Learn in which, towards the end of the magazine’s life, he had his own ongoing two page feature entitled Hardy’s Drawing Board.

Indeed if you care to put Wilf Hardy's name into the picture search engine of LookandLearn.com you will see that the vast majority of his art is technological - planes, ships and spacecraft.

Hardy's connection with what was then IAT goes back at least to 1976 with an illustration of a Harrier GR1 jump jet taking off. By the time of the move to Greenham Common in 1983 Hardy's approach to the cover design, whether by his own choosing or by committee decision, had evolved into what would become a regular style of aircraft travelling directly towards the viewer. Looking back on this early cover its design looks sparse compared to what was to come with three Spitfires flying above a Phantom jet and other aircraft barely noticeable in the background. He refined this style over the years, increasing the number of aircraft and making it more of a concentrated image. By 2000 you could imagine that his image was designed with the potential idea of it being used on such items as t-shirts and mugs as well as the more normal poster advertising and on the cover of the brochure.

Prior to the advent of the internet these air show images would not have been widely distributed. Unless you were in the local area to pick up advertising leaflets or see the posters, or were actually at the one or two day air shows, there was little chance of coming across them. Indeed the only way of buying a brochure was to be there on the day, with no doubt the vast majority of them being discarded within a week of being purchased. Whilst this makes them rare it does not follow that it makes then valuable.

Hardy produced images for many different air shows beyond the International Air Tattoo. His other style of air show image was a aerial shot looking down on the display location with as many aircraft in the image as possible - many more than could safely be in the air in reality. His cover for the 1984 International Air Show at the Army Air Corps base at Middle Wallop does rather take this image style to the extreme.

I will leave you with one final Hardy image, not because it is from an air show brochure but simply because it is one of my favourites. In the immediate aftermath of the Falklands War, Britain stationed a fighter squadron on the islands to protect them from any further belligerence from the Argentines. This left the RAF one squadron short of their NATO commitment and as a stop gap measure a squadron's worth of ex-US Navy Phantom aircraft were purchased. Those aircraft were assigned to 74 Sqn RAF and its emblem was a tiger. Hardy may be best known for painting technology but this shows that he could turn his hand just as easily to the natural world.

(* Jeremy has recently been invited to blog via John Freeman's Down the Tubes Blog so keep your eyes open for even more net contributions from him in the future.)

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