Mapping the Airways by Paul Jarvis

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Mapping the Airways by Paul Jarvis

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Category: Art
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A book about how maps featured in the visual branding of airlines? You'll either be sold by that, or will already be clicking away.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: April 2016
Publisher: Amberley Publishing
ISBN: 9781445654645

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Before I start, there is nothing wrong with being an anally retentive trainspottery type. Having said that, do you see what on the front cover of this first edition marks this book out as being completely and utterly for the trainspottery type? It is the fact that the foreword is both credited, and dated. Yes, unless a major change was imminent and the Executive Chairman of BA was going to be someone else within weeks, this book gladly states that March 2016 was when he put finger to laptop and came up with his page-long contribution. Have you ever known such attention to detail? I guess it's to be expected, when the book concerns such a singular entity as the visual history of charts and maps as used by the airlines that became British Airways.

We start with the birth of commercial air travel, with a diagrammatic showing St Paul's, London in stark silhouette, and an Eiffel Tower emerging from (very low) wispy cloud as a dream aspiration. As craft and route numbers built up, and associations with other airlines (QANTAS in particular) emerged, so the map of the world as we know it could be drawn over with more and more aircraft – certainly there was an attempt (as suggested by the old name of QANTAS Empire Airways) to connect the pink bits of the atlas.

Just as the thrust of the advertising was able to use a charged dynamic (Switzerland, non-stop in ½ a day, Whit-Sunday excursion to Le Touquet £3.15 return and many more shouty messages getting and deserving an exclamation mark) so the visual craft did too. Not for nothing did the maps move on from a staid, schoolboy representation of the globe, but they gained a modern outlook. So much so, that when the 'Speedbird' logo appears, with its dynamism and sharp abstract lines, you can easily imagine the artist moving to Moscow and creating those patriotic illustrations of pioneering cosmonauts and their craft.

But not all this was advertising as such – or not entirely. You got given a schematic of the route you were taking, in order to follow it as a boy would drag a thumb over an atlas – well, it freed the crew up from taking a duplicate chart out the cockpit and getting it passed round. Here are maps of air ways (those uncommon channels that for various reasons planes must stick to – read the relevant essay in Britannia Obscura: Mapping Britain's Hidden Landscapes by Joanne Parker to find out more) and diagrams of airports, from the quaint days before Heathrow, Stanstead and suchlike. Some of the images here, generally taken from a BA archive, were not for public consumption, and are quite scientific. (One for the trainspotter will come courtesy a certain Francis Chichester).

So, back to the purpose of this book. Well, it does successfully disguise its purpose as a puff-piece, generally by dint of concerning the airlines that would only eventually become BA, but also through the academic text, which only at the end plugs the carrier. It serves as a history of art as regards an incredibly insular aspect, and does it very well – small essays to introduce a half-dozen chapters, and decent captions make up the bulk of the script with the rest pure image. It also goes to define on a sociological regard the birth of air travel, and the visual style of it from the biplane/seaplane day up to the birth of the package trip and through Concorde. As part of that it explains why even inflight magazines are generally not publishing route maps any more – people either rely on the seat-back animation, or generally just don't care where they end up.

Given those intentions, is the book a success? Well, pretty much. It won't leap off the shelf and make anyone not interested in the history of graphic design and/or air travel a fan. It won't sell a ticket – unless BA open up their archives to tours for specialists. This book would probably be more than enough for any such specialist – it's just a shame in my mind that it's a landscape, letter-box shape book, and not a huge glossy coffee-table volume. But, like I say, everything about it, cover down, screams trainspotter.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

On The Map by Simon Garfield will open anyone's eyes to how many types of map there are.

Buy Mapping the Airways by Paul Jarvis at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Mapping the Airways by Paul Jarvis at

Buy Mapping the Airways by Paul Jarvis at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Mapping the Airways by Paul Jarvis at


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