Noel Carrington is an unsung hero. Today, aside from a few collectors and enthusiasts, he is generally unknown, a footnote man who appears fleetingly in indexes of biographies of the Bloomsbury Circle, design journals or publishing histories. Yet Noel Carrington was one of the most influential figures of the 20th Century in the commissioning, editing and publishing of children's picture books.
Eric Ravilious' High Street, Kathleen Hale's Orlando books, Mervyn Peake's Captain Slaughterboard, all were commissioned by Carrington. For these three alone Carrington merits attention yet he also edited and commissioned the groundbreaking Puffin Picture Book series, published under the imprint Transatlantic Arts during WW2 and was founder of Royle Publications.
His sister was, of course, the painter Dora Carrington. The tragic menage a trois between Dora, Lytton Strachey and Noel's Oxford friend Ralph Partridge is surely one of the most moving and compelling stories that continues to fascinate.
Noel Carrington was above all a design propagandist, a passionate advocate of good design, of the well made object 'fit for purpose'. His membership of The Design & Industries Association, The Council of Industrial Design and the Double Crown Club provided platforms for Carrington's belief that 'Nothing Need be Ugly'.
Nothing Need Be Ugly is the celebration of Noel Carrington's achievements in publishing and design. The book traces Carrington's career from his childhood days in Bedford, where he grew up with Dora's charismatic presence through to Oxford days rowing for Christchurch. Then to the Somme where, wounded by a snipers bullet, he returned for recuprative walks with Dora and her Slade friends.
Next was India, publishing with the OUP and learning the skills of the trade. On his return he joined Country Life, the first of two spells with the company. At Kynoch he was the London Manager, commissioning Ravilious and Bawden for the Notebooks before returning to Country Life. Here the exploration of lithography begins, High Street, Orlando, Lewitt-Him's Football's Revolt, all seminal books of the 20th Century.
The Puffin Picture Book series, with its offshoots the Baby Puffins and the Puffin Cut-Outs, was hugely influential and perhaps were the books that Carrington himself was the proudest of. Not only were they beautifully produced but commercially they outsold every rival. During WW2 Carrington published his own books under the Transatlantic Arts imprint. Now increasingly sought after, these wonderful lithographed children's books are beginning to acquire the status they merit. Royle Publications was co-founded by Carrington after the end of hostilities and become the leading, quality greetings card and calendar manufacturers. There was a time when it was alleged that every Christmas mantlepiece boasted a Royle card by S.R. Badmin. Design was always a passion and Carrington's presence on a myriad of design related committees is testament to his integrity and the high regard in which he was held by his peers.
Noel Carrington's publishing changed the face of children's books, not only in how we read and buy them today but also in their development in design and production. We owe a huge debt to this modest innovator.