Four Corners Books series examines overlooked areas of UK visual culture

Four Corners Books has launched the first two titles in its new Irregulars series which will explore the more esoteric areas of British visual culture. A book on CB radio users’ ‘eyeball’ cards is followed by a National Archives collection of drawings of UFO sightings

The intriguingly-named Eyeball Cards: The Art of British CB Radio Culture and UFO Drawings from the National Archives suggest that the publisher’s new series will be unearthing a few rather unusual treasures over the next few years.

Eyeball Cards delves into the world of ‘CB’ (Citizens Band) shortwave radio and, specifically, the self-produced business cards that radio users – or ‘breakers’ – would exchange when they met up. “Eyeball cards were a visual and entirely localised confirmation, the real-life ‘eyeball’,” author William Hogan writes.

The CB radio phenomenon was first embraced by truckers in the US and its use peaked in the UK the late 1970s and early 80s. It became an escapist pursuit, “the everyman method for short-distance connection in the analogue world,” write Hogan and the book’s photographer, David Titlow, in their introduction.

Each CB operative had his or her own ‘handle’ and adhered to CB code – a blend of amateur radio’s ‘Q’ code and police ’10’ signals (“10-4” for “affirmative” etc) – when in contact with other breakers over the airwaves.

The cards included in the book come from all over the UK and make for a snapshot of a method of communication that predated the digital world by some years, but was very much a social media – one that, as these handmade identities prove, was still resolutely set in the real world.

Whether or not this can be said of the UFO drawings that feature in Four Corners’ second Irregulars instalment is open to question, but the book offers a fascinating glimpse of some of the thousands of renders of ‘sightings’ that are held in the National Archives.

David Clarke, Reader and Principal Lecturer in Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, has included a range of examples from the Archives that essentially form a history of ‘British UFO art’, as Four Corners has it.

Clarke has worked with the Archives since 2008, during which time all of the files created by the Ministry of Defence’s UFO desk have been released (see the accompanying site at nationalarchives.gov.uk/ufo). The MoD department ran for over 60 years until its closure in 2009 and was originally set up to chart sightings of UFOs reported to the MoD, RAF and police forces.

The National Archives DEFE24-1999

“Mixed up among the formal and often dry briefings, reports and exchanges between civil servants and politicians are examples of the stories, personal experiences, rumours, beliefs, hopes and fears expressed by British people from all walks of life,” Clarke writes. As well as letters and reports, these files contain everything from photographs to drawings and paintings of individual UFO sightings.

Both of the Irregulars launch titles are designed to Four Corners’ usual impeccable standards by John Morgan Studio.

The National Archives DEFE24-1206

Eyeball Cards: The Art of British CB Radio Culture by David Titlow & William Hogan, Four Corners Irregulars #1 (£14) and UFO Drawings From The National Archives by David Clarke, Four Corners Irregulars #2 (£12) are published on 12 and 18 September, respectively. More details at fourcornersbooks.co.uk

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