Leonard Potts

oldestprofession

“Ben Sarto” [Frank Dubrez Fawcett]: The Oldest Profession. London: Modern Fiction, 1952.

Back in time to that more innocent world of the early 1950s and another neglected artist of British pulp fiction.  Someone about whom the reference books and online resources are seemingly entirely silent.  Highly recognisable in style — his work seen on the books of such luminaries of the genre as “Griff”, “Ben Sarto”, “Ace Capelli”, and “Jean-Paul Valois” (brand-names as much as pseudonyms).  lp monogramHis technique deliberately flat and strong, the women quizzical, a little doll-like, perhaps a dash of Betty Boop, with heart-shaped faces and a certain elongation and angularity of style, the men achingly square-jawed, clean-cut and tight-lipped.  Much of his work anonymous – and, if signed at all, merely with a tiny lower-case “lp” monogram tucked away in a corner and easily missed.  The work of Leonard Potts (1902-1978) — I believe known as Len to his intimates.

crooked coffins

“Griff”: Crooked Coffins. London: Modern Fiction, 1952.

Quite what Potts was doing in the years immediately either side of what was evidently a relatively brief incursion into the world of pulp fiction covers, I am not at all sure, although his early career in the 1920s and 1930s seems straightforward enough.

He was born in in Bradford, Yorkshire, on the 27th May 1902, the younger son of Charles Alexander Potts (1863-1934) and his wife Elizabeth Ann Calow (1866-1951), both Mancunians in origin, who had married at Hulme in 1890.  He was baptised at St. Philip, Girlington, on 29th June 1902, the family then living at No. 188 St. Leonard’s Road — a road of long incline down from Girlington towards the centre of Bradford and hence perhaps his name.  His father was a dyer in the cotton trade and later a trade union representative of some sort.  The family were back in Manchester, living in Moss Side at No. 19 Normanby Street, by 1911 and I assume it was there that Potts was schooled and grew up.

RealThing Almost Tatler 30 Jan 1929

The Real Thing — Almost. From The Tatler, 30th January 1929. © Illustrated London News Group. Image created courtesy of the British Library Board.

Where he trained as an artist, I know not.  The release of the 1921 census returns next year may well elucidate this, but my guess for the moment would be at a London art school, for London was where he made his career — although his connection with the painter George Holland (see below) might perhaps mean that they were contemporaries at Leicester College of Art.  By the early 1920s Potts was much employed as an illustrator on the popular magazines of the day, his work frequently encountered in The Detective Magazine between 1923 and 1925.  Work of the same period and a little later includes advertisements as well as illustration credits in The 1929 signaturePillar-Box; The Red Magazine; The Yellow Magazine; Chums; The Scout; The Boy’s Own Paper, and in particular Cassell’s Magazine.  Between 1928 and 1930, he was responsible for a whole sequence of full-page (and some double-page) coloured illustrations for The Tatler — his work at this stage already moving towards his later distinctive style, but rather more elaborate and still signed with his full name in a style almost florid.

Decoy Tatler 29 May 1929

The Decoy. From The Tatler, 29th May 1929. © Illustrated London News Group. Image created courtesy of the British Library Board.

In the years either side of 1930, he was living at No. 40 Bramerton Street in Chelsea, a road running south off the King’s Road.  By 1934 he had moved to No. 44 Redcliffe Road in West Brompton — the area where it merges with Chelsea and South Kensington.  He married Doris Blakey (1902-1977), herself I believe from Lancaster, at Kensington in 1938 and lived with her at Redcliffe Road.  The rather better-known and much more easily looked-up portrait and landscape painter George Herbert Buckingham Holland (1901-1987) and his wife Beryl Claridge (1906-1991) were also at this  address – the large studio windows, although probably not now in their original form, must have particularly appealed to these two contemporary if rather different artists, both from the provinces, both not long married, and possibly friends since college days.

44 Redcliffe Road

No. 44 Redcliffe Road

Leonard Potts may well have been the man of that name who saw war service in the Royal Artillery between 1940 and 1944, but I have been unable to verify this.  Post-war, he moved back to No. 40 Bramerton Street for a couple of years before settling at No. 1 Carlyle Studios, on the King’s Road.  This must have been where most of his work for the leading pulp-fiction publishers of the early 1950s was executed.

“Griff”: Shoot to Live. London: Modern Fiction, 1953.

“Griff”: Shoot to Live. London: Modern Fiction, 1953.

Most of that particular group of publishers — Ralph Stokes, Edwin Self, Modern Fiction, Comyns — disappeared in the wake of the obscenity trials of the mid-1950s, and quite what Potts made of the rest of his career remains a mystery.  If anyone knows, do please get in touch.  He and Doris remained at Carlyle Studios until 1960, before moving again to No. 7 Chelsea Manor Studios in Flood Street, just round the corner from Chelsea Town Hall.  The Chelsea Manor Studios were built in 1902 and are now billed as luxury apartments, but they still hosted an enclave of artists of various kinds in the early 1960s.

“Jean-Paul Valois” [Lisle Willis]: Confessions of Corinne. London: Edwin Self, ca. 1953.

“Jean-Paul Valois” [Lisle Willis]: Confessions of Corinne. London: Edwin Self, ca. 1953.

The Potts were still living there in 1966 when the young and hirsute photographer Michael Cooper (1941-1973) opened his photographic studio at No. 4 — a studio now famous for the legendary photo-shoots with both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.  Quite what the now elderly artist made of this rather different aspect of popular culture is difficult to imagine, although I imagine he could have produced pretty memorable album covers for Sergeant Pepper and Their Satanic Majesties himself, if only had he been asked.

No. 53 Mossbury Road

No. 53 Mossbury Road

The death of Doris Potts was registered in Chelsea in the early part of 1977, so I assume they were still living there at that time, but Potts himself died in Battersea the following year — on the 4th May 1978.  He was then living at No. 53 Mossbury Road, just off Lavender Hill, near Clapham Junction.  Just across the road from my bank as it happens, so easy enough to take this snap of it.  Probate on his modest estate of just over £3,000 was granted on the 1st June and there his story, to the somewhat limited extent to which I have been able to trace it, comes to an end.

“Hank Spencer”: Bad-Luck Cutie. Modern Fiction, 1953.

“Hank Spencer”: Bad-Luck Cutie. Modern Fiction, 1953.

If anyone remembers him at all, knows anything more, or has anything cogent to

“Ben Sarto” [Frank Dubrez Fawcett]: City of Sin. London: Modern Fiction, 1952.

“Ben Sarto” [Frank Dubrez Fawcett]: City of Sin. London: Modern Fiction, 1952.

add, then the floor is yours via the “Comment” option beneath the sharing buttons below.  I’d love to know a little more.

For more work by Leonard Potts, see the Pinterest board at Leonard Potts on Pinterest.

About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice first introduced in 1997 (and its recent update), served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute, the National Library of Scotland and at Gresham College and Stationers' Hall. He teaches annually at the London Rare Book School, University of London. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. Essays on the British map trade are also appearing in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers”, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011. He also contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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