Exploring Heath Robinson as a "consummate ad man"

Old method of totalling cash sales

It shows the magnitude of an artist’s legacy when their name becomes a familiar part of general lexicon, and the great Heath Robinson has long been synonymous with absurd, complex, makeshift machines. Robinson’s superbly detailed, hilarious imagery was as much a lesson in humour as engineering, and this combination of gentle fun-poking at what it means to be a modern person, with artistic prowess and a knack for promotion meant that he soon became a “consummate ‘ad man.’”

A new book celebrates Robinson’s advertising work for the first time, Heath Robinson in Advertising, accompanied by an exhibition of the same name at the Heath Robinson Museum in north-west London.

These explore the beautiful work Robinson created for all kinds of products ranging from asbestos cement roofing to bread, for nearly 100 clients including major corporations such as Johnnie Walker and Hovis, and further demonstrates the importance and legacy of his wild ideas and images to Britain’s cultural past and present. The book also includes a complete list of Robinson’s advertising clients and the work he undertook for them.

“In the early 20th century, Heath Robinson was one of the pioneering artists who rewrote the rules on how we communicate commercially –replacing the traditional copy-dominated style with a focus on imagery to tell stories,” says the museum.

Heath Robinson in Advertising will be on display at the Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner, north-west London, until 18 February 2018. The accompanying book is available now published by Lund Humphries priced £40.

Building a Super Cinema in Rough Country, c 1930 From Problems of a Structural Engineer, c.1930. A black-and white version of this image was later printed in Booth Steelwork, c.1937 with the additional caption: ‘Showing that the adaptability of Mr W. Heath Robinson’s ‘Steelwork’ is equal to dealing with any difficulties presented by the site at the locality.’

Building a Super Cinema in Rough Country, c 1930 From Problems of a Structural Engineer, c.1930. A black-and white version of this image was later printed in Booth Steelwork, c.1937 with the additional caption: ‘Showing that the adaptability of Mr W. Heath Robinson’s ‘Steelwork’ is equal to dealing with any difficulties presented by the site at the locality.’

Sandy Macdonald

Sandy Macdonald

 The cover of the booklet Behind The Scenes at Moss Bros with Heath Robinson, 1936

The cover of the booklet Behind The Scenes at Moss Bros with Heath Robinson, 1936

Detail of ‘With a Clarkhill You Will Have Cheap and Unlimited Hot Water’, from This is a complicated way to obtain hot water, but . . ., c.1921

Detail of ‘With a Clarkhill You Will Have Cheap and Unlimited Hot Water’, from This is a complicated way to obtain hot water, but . . ., c.1921

The Gentle Art of Making Feather Beds, date unknown

The Gentle Art of Making Feather Beds, date unknown

‘With a Clarkhill You Will Have Cheap and Unlimited Hot Water’, from This is a complicated way to obtain hot water, but . . ., c.1921.

‘With a Clarkhill You Will Have Cheap and Unlimited Hot Water’, from This is a complicated way to obtain hot water, but . . ., c.1921.

Heath Robinson at work on one of the panels for the Empress of Britain cocktail bar, 1930/31.

Heath Robinson at work on one of the panels for the Empress of Britain cocktail bar, 1930/31.

‘A Perfect Picnic on the Week-End All-Weather Tandem’, published in Hercules Cycle Magazine, 1935

‘A Perfect Picnic on the Week-End All-Weather Tandem’, published in Hercules Cycle Magazine, 1935

Fragrance which all enjoy

Fragrance which all enjoy

Heath Robinson’s Commercial Art: A Compendium of his Advertising Work by Geoffrey Beare

Heath Robinson’s Commercial Art: A Compendium of his Advertising Work by Geoffrey Beare