Arden’s library

Where do you draw inspiration from? For the late great art director and filmmaker Paul Arden, it was from his library. We pull out his particular favourites

I’d say that Paul’s books were his most treasured possession, along with his music collection, which was equally obscure and full of quality.” So says Nick Sutherland-Dodd, who was Paul Arden’s producer and business partner when the late, great art director turned his hand to directing commercials.

“We had a huge book cabinet in the office,” remembers Sutherland-Dodd. “After a meeting about a script, Paul would go and stand in front of it and pull out books, and he’d find something in a picture that would become the germ of an idea or a technique for a commercial.” Arden gathered his collection through assiduous rummaging in second-hand bookshops. “In every city we went to on shoots he would always find out where the second-hand bookshops were. He would always spend two or three hours leafing through books there. Most of the time he didn’t know what they were about, he didn’t even understand the title, he was just looking for ideas,” says Sutherland-Dodd.

Books were also ever-present in development meetings. “A meeting would always have a big pile of books on the table. He would use them as references for people like art directors, lighting cameramen and so on.”

At CR’s Portfolios event in June, we staged a tribute evening to Arden at which many of the former Saatchi & Saatchi creative director’s colleagues shared their memories of a true one-off. As part of the session, Sutherland-Dodd brought along a handful of key publications that Arden would turn to for inspiration time and again. A selection of the most well-thumbed are featured here.

Lilliput and London Opinion
These two mini magazines (sized 18cm by 12cm) reached peak popularity during the Second World War. Their pocket size was possibly as a result of war­time paper rationing. Of the two, Lilliput, founded in 1937 by the photojournalist Stefan Lorant, had the greater artistic creden­tials. Its eclectic content featured a mixture of humorous articles, photomontages, cartoons, photographs and short stories from an impressive contributor list that included Bill Brandt, Brassaï, Robert Doisneau, Robert Graves, Angus McBean, Nancy Mitford and Ronald Searle. The first 147 issues had covers illus­trated by Walter Trier all of which featured a man, a woman and a small dog in different situations and historical periods. London Opinion dates from 1903: the magforum website notes that a September 1914 cover by Alfred Leete inspired the famous ‘Your country needs you’ poster of Lord Kitchener. Later covers, like Lilliput, employed a regular cast of characters (a moustachioed old military-type and an ever-changing line-up of young lovelies) in various situations. Arden’s copies date from the 40s when the magazine (now pocket-sized) had become full of cartoons, puzzles, short stories and quirky photographs. “They are just full of little ideas,” says Sutherland-Dodd. Arden had a whole shelf-full, many of which were marked with torn strips of Post-It Notes indicating a photograph or drawing that he planned to use at some future date. Shown above, complete with Arden’s Post-Its, are spreads from London Opinion, August 1942, part of a story on ‘Post-war holidays’ by CA Bromley, aka the Crazy Cameraman; a Bill Brandt shot of theatre impressario Henry Sherek from Lilliput, December 1950; another London Opinion CA Bromley photomontage, this time from June 1942.

József Pécsi, Fotó És Reklám (Photo and Advertising), Kiadó 1997
“Paul found this book in Budapest,” says Sutherland-Dodd. “Years ago we did an ‘inspirational’ presentation to all the people who work with us. Paul made a booklet up for it based on these layouts [shown right and below]. It was much more useful for stills work than films: the look is so strong that people found it hard to commit to in film.” Arden may not have known it when he bought this book, but Pécsi, who was born in Budapest in 1889, was a much-awarded portraitist, fine art and advertising photographer. He fled Budapest during the war, returning to find his studio in ruins. After the communist takeover, Pécsi eked out a living taking portrait photos (for more, see

Hammershøi, Poul Vad Gyldendal 1988
The work of the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi “was a constant reference”, says Sutherland-Dodd. “Paul loved the fact that Hammershøi’s compositions were always a little bit strange. He’d paint the back of someone or an open door with no-one in it. But mainly he referred to this book for the tone and the lighting. His flat was a little bit like a Hammershøi painting: it was all grey – grey carpet, grey walls, grey ceiling – he even had a grey painting on the wall which was just a grey canvas the same colour as the walls. Every time the flat was painted he repainted the canvas to match. It had to be a very specific grey, which we painted all the sets we used. We had a great art director who used to carry two swatches of ‘Paul Arden Grey’ everywhere.”

There is a link here with another Arden favourite, the Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer whose 1928 film The Passion of Joan Of Arc was a particular influence on Arden. Arden had a copy of a booklet from the Centre De Cultura Contemporània De Barcelona (Hammershøi i Dreyer, 2007) in which Hammershøi’s paintings were compared with scenes from Dreyer’s films, revealing the many similarities in composition.

Brian Griffin Work, BlackPudding Publishing, 1988
“Paul worked with Brian Griffin quite a lot. Brian’s images have always got ideas in them: this was a book that Paul would often take to meetings or photocopy for his treatments,” says Sutherland-Dodd. “He wasn’t worried about taking pictures and, basically, copying them – he never felt that it was a bad thing to do as long as you added your own take on it. He always believed that ideas were there to borrow – people could borrow his ideas and he could borrow theirs.”


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