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The World War II Posters of Abram Games

Most people know about World War II because of the movies. They’ve seen the footage of planes flying and bombs being dropped, and they know that it was a devastating time for many people. But what about the artists who created the propaganda posters? Their work is often overshadowed by the events themselves, but it’s just as important. Abram Games was one of those artists. He was born in London in 1914, and he started his career as a graphic designer in the 1930s. His work began to gain attention during World War II, when he designed posters for the British government. Abram Games would go on to design for six decades but in this feature we look at his work during World War II and how his work is still being collected and discussed today.

ABRAM GAMES 1914-1996 Blonde Bombshell WWII ATS Recruitment Poster Printed for HM Stationery Office
ABRAM GAMES 1914-1996 Blonde Bombshell WWII ATS Recruitment Poster Printed for HM Stationery Office. Sold for £1,200 at David Lay Auctions, November 2014.

Who was Abram Games and what did he do during World War II?

Abram Games was a British graphic designer who is best known for his work during World War II. He created a series of propaganda posters that were designed to boost morale and encourage people to support the war effort. Games was born in London in 1914 to Latvian / Russian Jewish parents. He studied at the Saint Martin’s School of Art in London for a short period but left after a couple of terms. He went to work at Askew-Young in London between 1932 and 1936 and after began working as a freelance graphic designer. He won and was highly placed in a couple of poster competitions and feature on him in the influential journal Art and Industry in 1937 led to several high-profile commissions.

ABRAM GAMES 1914-1966 `ALK KILLS RED VERSION BRITISH WARTIME POSTER
Abram Games 1914-1966 `Alk Kills Red Version British Wartime Poster. Sold for £160 at Mallams, December 2014.

Games was conscripted into the British Army during World War Two. He served until 1941, when he was hired by the War Office’s Public Relations Department to create a recruiting poster for the Royal Armoured Corps. In 1942 he entered service as an Official War Poster Artist, the only person to have this title, and is claimed to have produced over 100 during his tenure.

What kind of style did his posters have, and why were they so effective?

The World War II posters of Abram Games were widely considered to be some of the most effective propaganda of the time. Games’ posters were characterized by their bold, graphic style and their ability to communicate a message simply and clearly. The simplicity of the design helped to capture attention, and the message was straightforward and easy to understand. Games’ posters were highly effective at communicating a message to a wide audience, and they played an important role in raising morale during the war years. During the war his posters encouraged people to avoid gossip, avoid waste, give blood, buy war bonds, handle weapons and ammunition properly, and maintain fighting fitness.

Your talk may kill your comrades 1942 signed Abram Games
Your talk may kill your comrades 1942 Poster by Abram Games. This version was hand-signed, dated and inscribed by the artist in pen. Sold for $1,500 at Swann Galleries, New York, May 2018.

What were some of the most famous posters that he created during the war?

He was first commissioned to produce a Auxiliary Territorial Service recruitment poster, which eventually became known as the blonde bombshell. Games wanted to subvert the rather dreary ATS image, but the authorities were concerned that his glamorous concept would entice young women to join up for “wrong reasons,” so it was quickly taken down and image replaced with poster depicting a serving member of the ATS. He would design two further posters the seocn of which was criticized by Winston Churchill as being too “Soviet”. The third appeared in 1943 employing a statuesque yet sober style which met with the official seal of approval.

The Second World War was a time of incredible tension and anxiety, and nowhere was this more apparent than in the posters produced by the British government. One of the most prolific and revered poster artists of the time was Abram Games, who produced dozens of posters that were both striking and effective. Two of his most famous posters were “Keep a Guard on What You Say” (1941) and “Your Talk May Kill Your Comrades” and “Talk Kills.” (1942) These posters conveyed a powerful message about the need for caution and secrecy during wartime, and they helped to raise public awareness about the dangers of careless talk. Today, these posters are regarded as some of the most iconic images of the Second World War, and they continue to serve as a reminder of the power of propaganda. The theme of caution continued in the He Talked…They Died (1943) part of the Careless Talk campaign.

Other series included Horse play with weapons may end like this… (1942), Grow Your Own Food (1942) and Your Britain – Fight for It Now (1943) commissioned by The Army Bureau of Current Affairs, ABCA. Frank Newbould had also been commissioned along with Games, for the Your Britain – Fight for It Now campaign,  and the two men had very contrasting styles – Newbould produced rural images similar to the pre-war travel posters and Games presented a set of three Modernist buildings that had been built to address poverty, disease and deprivation. One of these designs was actually removed once again by Winston Churchill. Later campaigns included Salute the Soldier Save More Lend More (1944) on behalf of the National Savings Committee NSC, a government body that encouraged people to save money that could then be used by the state to fund budget deficits and finance the war effort.

Inspired by his Jewish heritage and a love of his country, and informed by his socialist ideals and his first-hand experiences as a soldier, Abram used his art to make an important contribution to the war effort.

Salute the Soldier Save More Lend More by Abram Games
Salute the Soldier Save More Lend More Poster by Abram Games. Sold for £220 at G W Railwayana Auctions, April 2015.

After the war, Games continued to work as a graphic designer, creating iconic logos for companies such as Shell and United Nations. He died in 1996 at the age of 82.

Related
Abram Games at the V&A Collections
Estate of Abram Games web site
Abram Games and the power of the poster
A brief history of The Festival of Britain and Memorabilia created for the Festival

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