Sometime in 2012, I came across web-images of cigarette cards in a set from 1937 by Wills Cigarettes, called ‘Famous British Authors’. Naturally, I really hoped that there would be a Walter Greenwood card – after all he was pretty famous, had been in the news regularly in recent years, and had published several more novels since Love on the Dole in 1933, as well as writing film scripts and plays. Alas, there was no card for Walter Greenwood. The following authors, among forty others, were represented, but not Walter:
All images from the National Portrait Gallery with Creative Commons licences (NPG images NPG D42389, D42413 and D42425). The artist employed by Wills is unknown, but the National Portrait Gallery has identified some of the card images as being based on particular photographs, so perhaps all the were images derived from photographic originals enhanced by being redrawn and colouring?
Perhaps Greenwood was too political a figure, or perhaps the selection preferred a longer track-record? Anyway, however much I craved a Walter Greenwood cigarette card (as a sign of his impact on popular culture), the card did not exist. I was then pretty pleased some four years later to come across the next best thing – a Love on the Dole cigarette card. This was one of a set of around one hundred, updated at least annually during the mid- nineteen-fifties. Four Square were unique for a time in being both cigarette manufacturers and a publishing company.
In 1955, they had the novel idea of publicising their fictions imprint by giving away cigarette cards which were identical to the cover images of their paperbacks. The range of fiction they published (all reprints of already successful novels) was very wide, including both modern classics and popular novels. Perhaps Greenwood’s novel qualified as both by this time? Each cigarette card showed the cover-image on the face and had a brief description of the novel on the reverse (scanned from the card by the author: original size – 2 inches x 3 inches):
The image clearly refers to a scene towards the end of the novel, when the unemployed of Hanky Park have marched to the Town Hall at Bexley Square to protest at the application of the Means Test to whole families, and the resulting complete removal of dole payments to many of the long-term jobless. Larry Meath, the novel’s hero has been at the front of the march, but has disagreed with some other leaders who want to ignore police instructions against marching along a main street and to follow a prescribed route. The novel suggests that Larry thinks that disobeying this instruction will lead to trouble and probable arrests, while bringing no real advantage to their protest. However, some of the marchers do attempt to follow the more direct route, and when the police begin using their truncheons, marchers fight back. In the novel, Larry is struck several times on the back and head by a police officer, and taken away unconscious to a police cell (Penguin edition, p.205). He dies of the pneumonia he was already suffering from in hospital the next day, without regaining consciousness, with Sally, having been told what has happened, at his bedside (p.212). The cover illustration therefore imagines something which does not actually take place in the novel – Sally helping Larry away from the scene of the march and the ongoing battle between protesters and police. Larry does not look obviously fatally injured or ill here (though of course, concussion can precisely be fatal sometime after the blow to the head). I think the purpose of featuring Sally and Larry in this way on the cover-illustration is to draw attention to the romance element in the story, rather than to its political aspects, perhaps because this might be thought more immediately attractive to the reader/ buyer. Other elements in the drawing are also worth noting – the mounted police have no place in the novel either, where the aggressive officers are all on foot. However, mounted police are prominent in this scene in the film, so this is probably their origin for this cover design (in the film Sally also does not rescue Larry from the march, but goes as in the novel to be at his bedside in the hospital where he is at the point of death, though he does have a final speech about social inequality in the film). The background gas-lamps and chimneys are referred to in the novel text, as indeed are gasometers – just once, as being close to the meeting place where the marchers start from (p.197).
The description on the reverse is very concise at fifty words (as is the case for all the novels in the set), but it packs a lot in, covering the historical context of the depression and its creation of mass unemployment, the often indifferent response of the authorities, and the way in which World War Two and after has placed the thirties into a different era. In one image and fifty words, this example shows just how much a cigarette card could convey, and their potential to spread cultural knowledge (and presumably to help sell cigarettes, or add an additional, if incidental pleasure to their purchase, or to smokers’ conversations).