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Abraham Games was born in Whitechapel, London, in August 1914, just as the First World War was breaking out. He was the son of a Latvian photographer and a seamstress from Russo-Poland. The family name was anglicised to Games in 1926, and Abraham became known as Abram.
Abram Games attended school in Hackney, but left in 1930 aged just 16. He wanted to be an artist, but since no scholarships were available, his parents had to find the money to pay his tuition fees. Games started a course at St Martins School of Art, but the expense concerned him and he soon became disillusioned with the teaching. He left after just two terms and went to work for his father as a photographer's assistant. Still determined to become an artist, Games continued his studies by attending evening classes in life drawing.
In 1932, Games was employed as a studio boy at Askew-Young, a commercial art company. After working there for four years, he was dismissed for having 'independent views'.
In 1936 Games won first prize of 20 in a graphic design competition. The brief was to design a poster to promote London County Council evening classes. His success gave him the confidence to set up on his own as a freelance commercial artist. The following year an article on Games was published in Art and Industry magazine, helping him to secure commissions from London Transport, Shell and the Post Office.
When the Second World War broke out, Games was called up to the army. After six months as a private, Games was given the role of draughtsman on the recommendation of Jack Beddington, the design director at Shell. In 1942, Games was promoted to captain and given the title of Official War Artist. He designed more than a hundred propaganda posters, urging the people of Britain to do their bit towards the war effort. He used modern design techniques and sophisticated wit to communicate the primary messages of wartime. One of his personal favourites was a design from 1942, 'Your Talk May Kill Your Comrades'. In this powerful metaphor for the danger of careless talk, words spiralling from a soldier's mouth brutally spear three comrades.
In 1945, after the war, Games married Marianne Salfeld. The couple lived with Marianne's father in Surbiton, Surrey, whilst Games set about rebuilding his freelance design business. He soon received a commission for a set of commemorative stamps for the 1948 Olympic Games, an association that earned him the nickname 'Olympic' Games.
That same year, Games won a competition to create the official symbol of the Festival of Britain. Now living in north London, in a house with his own studio, Games set to work on this prestigious commission. The final image, of Britannia festooned with red, white and blue bunting, embraced the character of the exhibition magnificently. His modern design, evocative of the Festival's 'can do' spirit, was immensely popular with the public and an iconic image of post-war Britain.
In 1951 London Transport commissioned Games to produce a poster promoting travel to the Festival of Britain. He based his design on the official emblem. He kept the central compass and patriotic red white and blue colour scheme, but replaced the head of Britannia with the London Transport roundel. His clever adaptation subtly shifted the focus from loyalty to ones country towards national pride in London's transport. In all his posters, Games sought to achieve the 'maximum meaning' from the 'minimum means', and this design is a good example of this design philosophy.
Other prestigious projects he worked on included designing the symbol of the Queen's Award for Industry and an on-screen identity for the B.B.C, which was among the first animated identities. He designed an elegantly rounded Cona Coffee Machine, a circular vacuum cleaner and a hand-held duplicating machine. In 1970 he created the Stockwell Swan tile mural for London Underground.
However, his passion always lay with posters. With the spread of television and colour supplements, the promotional power of posters was diminishing, yet Games continued to produce arresting, seductive, and witty posters for London Transport, the Financial Times, British European Airways, Guinness and the Royal Shakespeare Company, well into the 1970s.
When Games died in 1996, the illustrator David Gentleman wrote, 'all Abram Games' designs were recognisably his own. They had vigour, imagination, passion and individuality .... He was lucky - and clever - in contriving, over a long and creative working life, to keep on doing what he did best'.
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