Walter Greenwood: The Missing Dust-Wrapper – NOW FOUND!

In one of my earliest articles on the site I traced as many as possible of the dust-wrappers or cover designs in which Greenwood’s books have been published. See https://waltergreenwoodnotjustloveonthedole.com/longer-articles-2/

However, despite looking for over a decade, I could not find a copy of his only thriller, Only Mugs Work (Hutchinson, 1938) complete with its dust-wrapper. Now I have, and am very pleased to add this last dust-wrapper to the others. Here it is:

The design does not seem to illustrate a specific part of the narrative, but instead gives a good sense of the furtive atmosphere of this ‘Soho Melodrama’. Inside the building, men exchange pound-notes, while through the window we can see a woman standing in a doorway, a man lighting his cigarette while leaning against a lamp-post, and another man who looks as if he is bursting in on something. The design, perhaps mainly because of the colour-scheme and the curious red-outlined ‘aperture’ through which we must view the picture, not to mention the three bloody finger-prints, is very striking. The finger-prints almost suggest that this copy has been handled by one of the story’s characters, though whether a violent crook or a victim we do not know. The central aperture or frame might be interpreted in several ways – is it a window into an underworld unfamiliar to most of us, a hole blown in a wall, or a terrible, bloody, and gaping wound? Perhaps all three. The words too play their part in grabbing the attention and transmitting the atmosphere of the thriller. The distinctive hand-lettered title and author name in black show rough brush-strokes at the beginning and end of each letter, as if they are painted on a wall in a back-alley of Soho, are graffiti, in short. The title’s first two words are carefully aligned, but the third gives the impression of being pushed up by the central bloody frame, as if the sign-writer’s orderly plan has been interrupted mid-work. The smaller red sub-title and the (oft-repeated) ‘Author of “Love on the Dole” are also displaying their hand-lettered quality, as if additions to the original graffiti.

The illustration is unsigned, but does have some similarities to the dust-wrapper designs of Greenwood’s first three novels, Love on the Dole (1933), His Worship the Mayor (1934) and Standing Room Only (1936). All four dust-wrappers use a distinctive cream-coloured paper on which are printed designs using bold black lines for both titles and some other visual features, and with some use of red for lettering and emphasis of the drawings. All four dust-wrappers have some degree of abstraction, though with clear reference to the narrative content of each novel. The design for His Worship the Mayor is distinguished among the four by it addition of yellow, though reserved for the abstract representation of the Lord Mayor’s chain, which separates the holder of the office from merely ordinary citizens. The dust-wrapper for Only Mugs Work is distinguished from the other three by the much more detailed and much less abstract and impressionistic drawing in the central frame, which uses sharply drawn diagonal, vertical and horizontal lines to depict the sharp suits of the men, the window frame within the red-bordered aperture/frame, and the angular buildings of Soho. However, the design for Love on the Dole did also include the geometric if also abstract works building (as well as a red-bordered circle which might equally offer some readers / viewers a window into the unknown world of the unemployed of northern Britain). The first three dust-wrappers were, I am sure, all the work of the illustrator J. Z. Atkinson (though he signed only the third). The hand-lettering of the Only Mugs Work cover is very different from the typographical lettering of the first three novels, but this might be a deliberate stylistic choice suited to the atmosphere of each work. Though the thriller is a Hutchinson publication, unlike Greenwood’s first three novels published by Cape, it is possible that Greenwood sought out Atkinson again for this venture into a new genre with a different publisher.

The rear of the dust-wrapper features a photograph of Greenwood, which I have never seen anywhere else, and which I’m sure was taken specially for this novel. I’ve never seen Walter look sinister (in as much as you can see him through the cigarette smoke!) This is clearly the author imagining himself in some dive in Soho, very late at night. The claim that he had collected material in Soho itself is an interesting on. He certainly was reported by the press as doing field work for his 1939 book How the Other Man Lives (Labour Book Service), but not for this novel (perhaps it was too risky to publicise?).

For an account of Only Mugs Work see the sixth review down in: https://waltergreenwoodnotjustloveonthedole.com/walter-greenwoods-other-books/

  • Best, Chris.

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