Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Walter Wyles: "... at the top of his profession"

Guest author: Bryn Havord

Walter Wyles met his future wife Margaret who was a student at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. After a brief courtship, they married in 1954 when Margaret became a full-time housewife. They started married life in an apartment in London’s west end, and after the birth of their sons Nicholas and Glyn, they moved out to south west London.

By the late ’50s Wyles’ career had taken off and he had become one of the leading illustrators working in England. The obligatory fast cars and a twelve-metre yacht followed, and they moved to a larger apartment near Wimbledon Common.

Women’s magazine illustration was at its height at this time, and most of the magazines were buying a lot of second rights material from the American greats such as Joe Bowler, Coby Whitmore and Joe de Mers. Their work had a considerable influence on the English editors, art editors and the illustrators themselves.

Leif asked me what motivated Wally to depart from his more typical realism for this 1960 series for Woman shown below...

George (Tiny) Watts the art director of Woman was keen to encourage Wally to push the boundaries and work in different styles for different assignments.

It was very well received, not only by Woman, but in the London magazine world generally, and by Mentor shirts (an American company) who commissioned him to produce a series of illustrations for an extensive advertising campaign.

By the mid-’60s Bernie Fuchs, Herb Tauss and Lynn Buckham had replaced the earlier American stars, with Bernie Fuchs rapidly becoming the man to watch and emulate, but there was still plenty of work for the best of the English illustrators, and Wyles remained at the top of his profession.

From 1963 to '65 I was associate editor and art director of Woman's Mirror magazine. Nancy Edgerton was a favourite model of ours for artists' reference: she was too short for the cat-walk but had superb bone structure. I hired her for the day to pose for Wally so he could paint her from life for a short romantic story entitled "One Friday".

Sometime later Ruari McLean, a highly respected design consultant, included a reproduction of the opening spread in his book Magazine Design which was published by the Oxford University Press in 1969. I was also pleased that he considered Woman's Mirror the only weekly woman's magazine worthy of inclusion in the book.

During the Woman's Mirror years Wally did a lot of unusual and exciting work for me. For one period serial he decided he'd like the whole staff of Woman's Mirror to model for his illustrations: my secretary Jean Hanlon hired the photographic studio, hired all the period costumes, and ordered several crates of beer and cases of wine. My editor, Joy Scully who was well upholstered, and a very good sport, modelled as a whorehouse keeper, and I was a Highwayman: another piece of good type-casting. It was a very enjoyable day, and the subsequent illustrations were stunning and very lively!

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, we no longer have any examples. Wally lost a lot during a move to a summer house in south-west France. I lost all mine when a sailing barge that I lived on got run down by a German timber ship in the English Channel one night in 1971.

We could probably get some examples from the newspaper and periodical library at Colingdale in London, but life has moved on a bit since then, and we're both too old and doddery to want to make the journey now!

* In the late 50s and early 60s guest author Bryn Havord was assistant art director of Woman magazine. From 1963 to 1965 he was associate editor and art director of Woman's Mirror; both of which were published in the UK. During that time he commissioned work from all the leading British Illustrators including Walter Wyles, Eric Ernshaw, Michael Johnson and Gerry Fancett. Walter Wyles remains his oldest and closest friend.

* My Walter Wyles Flickr set.


  1. Leif, excellent post on Walter Wyles.. never knew about him, but what an excellent illustrator. Very versatile and could switch from the early traditional painterly illustration style to the avant-garde decorative Al Parker look.. and still put his own personal spin on it. I really luv those period illos. Some traditional academic fine art painters like Daniel Schwartz, Burt Silverman and Morton Roberts, to name a few, were able to cross that fuzzy, line and hit the jackpot.. not an easy task.

    Tom Watson

  2. Bettina Klimek (nee Symons)7:01 PM

    As a child, I was the subject of several illustrations by Walter Wyles, the first being four faces of me at age eight. I am fortunate to have a framed copy of it but in black and white. They would not allow my parents to have one in colour! This illustration was published in England and I was later sent a copy of an Australian magazine which featured the same illustration for a different story. I also have other illustrations taken from the magazines at the time. I remember him as a lovely man. Very kind to me.