Tag Archives: Writers

42. Hullo Villars! The Reckitts’ Ski Revues

Three little volumes in Special Collections give us a glimpse of winter holiday fun during the 1920s.  Hullo Villars!  Encore Villars! and Au Revoir Villars! are privately printed souvenirs of the Villars Revue, an annual show put on by English tourists in the Swiss town of Villars sur Ollon in aid of local charities.

Detail of front cover of Hullo Villars!

Detail of front cover of Hullo Villars!

The Revue was first held in 1914 in imitation of fashionable ragtime reviews, and revived 1920-1931.   The writer Maurice B. Reckitt played a key role, writing lyrics and performing on the piano; his brother Geoffrey was the main singer.  Each souvenir includes an introduction or retrospect by Maurice Reckitt, with lots of detail about the personalities involved, plus the programmes and most of the lyrics from each revue.

Detail of front cover of Encore Villars!

Detail of front cover of Encore Villars!

The lyrics usually praise Villars, the fun of ski-ing, skating and other winter sports, and the pretty girls to be met there, parodying popular songs and alluding to local ski runs and St Bernard dogs.   There are plenty of bad puns and dubious rhymes: the combination of banana (a handy ski snack) and local area Taveyannaz (Taveyanne) appears several times.  The downsides of the holidays – embarrassing falls, flu (best treated with gin and tonic), and problems with trains – also feature.   Although it would be wonderful to have photographs too, the souvenirs do offer a lovely insight into the ski-ing life of the past.

Reckitt's bookplate, from his copy of Encore Villars!

Reckitt’s bookplate, from his copy of Encore Villars!

The trio of Villars souvenirs came to us with the Peart-Binns Christian Socialist Archive: a collection of research material gathered by Yorkshire writer, John Peart-Binns, for his book Maurice B. Reckitt: a life.  Two include Reckitt’s own bookplate, the third is inscribed (illegibly!) by him.   Reckitt is best known for his ideas and writing about the relationship between Church and Society.   It is pleasant to record also that, alongside his love of revues, Reckitt was enthusiastic about ballroom dancing and above all croquet.  His Archive is held by University of Sussex Special Collections.

35. “I Drew Anybody who came to London”: Peggy Smith’s 1930s sketches

This week, a collection of over 100 portraits, pencil sketches by Peggy Smith (1895-1976) which offer fresh insight into the newsmakers of the 1930s: peace campaigners, politicians, artists, writers and musicians.  Ellen Wilkinson, Gandhi, Lord Soper, Dick Sheppard, Fred Jowett, Fridtjof Nansen, Norman Angell, Vera Brittain, and many many more (see list below).

Gandhi, by Peggy Smith

Gandhi, by Peggy Smith

Peggy created the portraits while working as a freelance artist  “I drew anybody who came to London to talk to the government or to speak”.  She caught her subjects in concert, lecturing or at press conferences, often adding their words or musical notes.  Her career began thanks to Fenner Brockway, who, impressed by a drawing she made of him, asked her to draw regularly for the New Leader, a paper he then edited.  Previously she had worked for the League of Nations,  giving up art school to work for peace.

Peggy Smith

Peggy Smith

In 1936, Peggy Smith was one of the first women to sign the Peace Pledge; she knew (and drew) many of the Peace Pledge Union’s sponsors, being particularly influenced by Gerald Heard.  She also drew for Peace News, founded that year.

After the Second World War, Peggy joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, was arrested 11 times for her involvement in Committee of 100 actions, and in 1968 travelled to Cambodia as part of a non-violent action group to draw attention to the American bombing of North Vietnam.  She continued to work for Peace News, selling copies on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields.  She had little time to pursue artistic interests.

However, in 1973, she showed her drawings to friends who recognised their artistic and historical value. Thanks to their efforts, in 1975, she held her first exhibition: Music and Line showed her drawings of musicians, in the appropriate setting of the Royal Festival Hall.  During the 1990s, Margaret Glover, an artist who has made a doctoral study of images of peace, helped to arrange for the drawings to be deposited with Commonweal Library.  They are now in the care of Special Collections.

Launch of the Peggy Smith exhibition 2009

Launch of the Peggy Smith exhibition 2009. In foreground, Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, who opened the exhibition.

We have never been able to do justice to Peggy Smith’s drawings in reproduction. A long-cherished plan to display the originals came to fruition in 2009 with an exhibition, Peggy Smith – Drawing for Peace, curated by Alison Cullingford, in the University’s Gallery II.  We hope to show more of them in future; meanwhile they can be seen by arrangement with Special Collections.  Peggy Smith’s drawings of peace campaigners are regularly on show at the Peace Museum.

Peggy Smith Drawing for Peace 2009 biographical text  by Alison Cullingford.

Peggy Smith Drawing for Peace list of portrait subjects.

With thanks to: Paul and Ellen Connett and Commonweal Library.