The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Raymond Hawkey 1930-2010


The dapper graphic designer Raymond Hawkey, whose innovative work at The Daily Express and The Observer changed the face of British newspapers in the post-war era, died last week aged of 80.

Hawkey’s modern graphic style also revolutionized British book cover design.

His stark black and white cover for Len Deighton’s 1962 Harry Palmer novel, The Ipcress File, which — with its chipped teacup, stubbed out cigarette and Smith & Wesson revolver — mixed violence with the everyday, became iconic despite initial opposition from the book’s horrified publisher Hodder & Stoughton.

Designer Mike Dempsey, who profiled Hawkey for Design Week in 2001, noted:

What Hawkey did with [The Ipcress File] was one of the key moments in design history. It is important to view this piece of work within the context of the period. Hawkey’s photographic use of inanimate objects to give a narrative dimension to the cover was startlingly new and made a dramatic impact on the publishing scene. The publisher, Hodder, found the design too spartan with its black and white photography, plain background and small undifferentiated typography, but both Deighton and Hawkey held firm. They were right, because on publication in 1962, The lpcress File sold out within 24 hours.

After the success of The Ipcress File, Hawkey became a sought-after book cover designer, working on more jackets for Deighton, as well as covers for Ian Fleming, Kingsley Amis and Frederick Forsyth amongst others.

According to his obituary in The Guardian, Hawkey was  a shy and quietly spoken man:

But in spite of his gentle voice and manner, once engaged in an assignment he was indefatigable, working 16 hours at a stretch, before sleeping briefly and putting in another 16-hour day in the flat where he lived for five decades. He was wonderfully generous, especially with his time, to young people who sought his advice, whether it was on design or writing – he wrote four very fine thrillers, including It (1983), regarded by many as the first truly modern ghost story.

A fastidious and private man, he had a dread of dying in hospital; and after a long illness he died in his own bed – with his beloved wife, Mary, reading his favourite poem to him.

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