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A Cover Story

This was the last cover illustration the late Peter Campbell painted as resident designer for the London Review of Books.

Peter was also the magazine's most prolific contributor, and not just as art critic. His quirky erudition showed too in his choice of subject, writing about such things as escalators, weeds, bicycles, bridges and hearts.

The fox is walking past his house in South London where he died of cancer late last year, and typifies his playful and unpredictable choice of subject matter, for this magazine that looks and feels like a newspaper, albeit a quality one.

Every fortnight one of his original watercolour paintings would arrive in our artwork studio to scan, profile and proof for printing on an improved newsprint stock. Images such as his fox would be interspersed with perhaps the interior by moonlight or racehorses at full gallop detailed here, all painted with a freshness that belied their command of detail and artistic reference.

It’s a touch of genius that they worked so well as cover images, but how else might you illustrate a fortnightly literary magazine? Especially one which contributor Alan Bennett once described as having “a consistently radical stance on politics and social affairs.”

In the 1960s Peter worked for BBC Publications on many of the books based on major television series. He designed and edited Kenneth Clark's ‘Civilisation’, and in his acknowledgments, Clark referred to him as "that prince of editors".

It’s not surprising that an illustrated book about Peter is to be published in by Profile Books this autumn, for which we have scanned a quantity of previously unpublished watercolours, and happily continue to scan the cover illustrations. Though by a new group of artists, some unashamedly seem to pay homage to Peter’s memory. There have been no complaints so far!