Adrian Flowers Studio Editorial

Adrian Flowers and the Observer magazine

Beginning in 1967, Adrian Flowers received the first of many commissions to photograph covers for the Observer magazine. For journalist Hilda Hunter, a specialist on rare animals, he provided suitably regal images of a Rex cat, while for an feature by Maureen Green, marking the anniversary of women getting the vote, he photographed a group of veteran Suffragette campaigners, standing with banners for ‘Womens Freedom League’ and ‘National Union of Womens Suffrage Societies’. The veterans included Stella Newsome, Grace Roe, Lady Winstead, Beryl Bower, Mrs. Duval (Una Dugdale), Dame Kathleen Courtney, Jessie Kenny and Mary Stocks. During the shoot, Adrian’s assistant Bob Cramp recalled the women swapping stories of how they had flouted the law in their youth.

5th December 1967 reunion of the Suffragettes
Bald Rex Cat for the Observer 1968

Most of the Observer commissions came to Adrian via Raymond Hawkey, who had been appointed head graphic designer at the newspaper the previous year. Renowned for his use of bold graphic images and san serif fonts, Hawkey is perhaps best-remembered for his series of memorable covers for the 1960’s Pan paperback series of James Bond novels. The Observer commissions he brought to Adrian were wide-ranging. A close-up of a hand grenade dominated the magazine’s front cover for 11 June 1967: “Aden: the shattering end of Britain’s love affair with Arabia”. For a feature on ‘the shape of schools to come’ (2 July 1967) Adrian photographed a school satchel, containing magnetic tapes, a Stillitron and other futuristic learning aids, alongside conventional pencils and paper. Partly hidden behind a headphone set, a ‘Wild Flowers’ cigarette card provided a classic Adrian Flowers signature touch. The following week’s cover featured a close-up of a golf ball, for ‘The World of King Caddie’, while a breakfast fry-up, with coffee in an enamel mug, provided an apt image, on 27 August, for ‘Gourmets’ Guide to Transport Cafés’. On 17 September, a disconsolate bride in a dustbin, veiled and still holding her bouquet, was an arresting, and Beckettian, image for ‘Are we the last married generation?’. These images captured the essence of Britain’s fast-rising middle class, who shared disenchantment with a colonial past, fascination with new technology, and who welcomed the blurring of social identities.

A selection of the Observer covers photographed by Adrian Flowers in 1967

Hawkey created a visual language that expressed the tenor of an age, one in which confidence and insecurity vied for dominance. Influenced by American designers and photographers such as Saul Bass, Herb Lubalin, Alexander Liberman, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, his own career reflected these shifts in society; after a childhood in Cornwall, he attended art college in Plymouth, winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Art. At the RCA, along with Len Deighton, he was art editor for Ark, the college magazine, causing a minor scandal by featuring a nude photograph on the front cover—photography was disapproved of at the Royal College. Adrian Flowers was also a friend of Deighton, having met him in 1947 while both trained as photographers with the RAF. Following success in a competition run by Vogue magazine, Hawkey worked for its publishers, Condé Nast, for several years. He then moved on to the Daily Express, before becoming head designer at the Observer, where he revitalised the colour magazine that came with the newspaper. The easing up of newsprint rationing in the late 1950’s enabled newspapers to expand and develop, and the Observer caught the spirit of the times. Although he was nattily-dressed, soft spoken and invariably polite, Hawkey’s imagery could be shocking and at times disturbing. Len Deighton asked him to design front covers for his novels, including The Ipcress File, with Adrian providing images for Hawkey to use in designs for several of these novels. 

Deighton Dossier includes a chapter on Photography written by Adrian Flowers

Image of the Suffragettes was used in Diane Atkinson’s 2018 book Rise up, Women! The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes.

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

Artists Portraits

Icosahedral structure of virus revealed 1959

Poliomyelitis virus model by sculptor John Ernest.
Photograph by Adrian Flowers

In November 1959 Adrian Flowers was asked by Sir Aaron Klug to photograph the model constructed by sculptor John Ernest. Although research into the spherical nature of viruses had already been carried out by Francis Crick and James Watson, in the mid-1950’s, using X-Ray photography, the icosahedral structure of the Poliomyelitis virus was first identified by John Finch (1930-2017) and Sir Aaron Klug (1926-2018). In appearance, the icosahedral form of the polio virus is similar to the geodesic domes developed and popularised by Buckminster Fuller during that same period. In 1948, J. Bernel, head of the Department of Physics at Birkbeck College, set up the Biomolecular Research Laboratory, at 21 Torrington Square, where Rosalind Franklin led a small group of researchers. After joining Franklin’s team as assistant and student, as part of his doctoral research Finch studied the three-dimensional structure of viruses using microscopic photography. In 1958, Franklin died prematurely, and Aaron Klug, who had also joined the team, took over her work and the supervision of her students, Finch and Ken Holmes, who both graduated the following year. In spite of concerns of staff at Birkbeck College, Klug and Finch began researching the polio virus. Samples of this virus had been brought into England, from Berkeley University in the US, on a regular airline flight—albeit in crystalline form. Mounted within fused quartz glass so as not to infect people, the tiny spherical viruses were housed at the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, from where they were brought to the Royal Institution, where Finch photographed them using high intensity X-ray cameras. The resulting images revealed the icosahedral structure of the tiny spheres.

This pioneering research, by Franklin, Klug and Finch, enabled large-scale models of both TMV and polio viruses to be constructed by sculptor John Ernest (1922-1994), to help in publicising this breakthrough in medical science. Born in Philadelphia, Ernest was an abstract sculptor who had settled in England. Studying at St. Martin’s School of Art, he was influenced by Victor Pasmore, and became part of the constructivist group that included Anthony Hill and Kenneth and Mary Martin. Fascinated by mathematics and interested in new materials, he used polystyrene to make the poliomyelitis models. At the request of Aaron Klug, prior to their being transported to Brussels, where they were to be displayed in the International Science Pavilion at the 1958 World’s Fair, the models were photographed, in the hallway of Birkbeck College, by Adrian Flowers.

Photographs of the virus models built by Ernest were also taken by John Finch himself, and these can be seen at

John Ernest picture with his Poliomyelitis virus model. Photograph by Adrian Flowers

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

Adrian Flowers Studio Portraits

Adrian Flowers: an appreciation

by Matthew Flowers

Adrian with his three sons: (l-r) Matthew, Daniel, Adam

He was eccentric. To the extent that when I was born in 1956, two weeks late and almost 10 pounds, Adrian’s primary concern at the birth was getting a good sound recording of the action. Despite the fact that I was silent on arrival, my mother was certainly not, when she brought me into this world. As soon as things had calmed down in the kitchen of England’s Lane, Haverstock Hill, above the electrical shop, Adrian’s first inclination was to go upstairs and relive the experience through the recording.

Like many of us, Adrian was full of contradictions. A man who expressed zero interest in sport, yet was quietly, and highly, competitive. He ensured we always had the biggest firework displays amongst our friends. When I was 7 he visited me at boarding school on sports day. Consuming biscuits as part of a race against parents to see who could eat the quickest, he made sure he won. But as with all Flowers, he would never leave a plate with food left on it anyway.

Adrian had a lifelong interest in music, particularly jazz, and he was an exceptional talent at the piano. At Sherborne, the headmaster reported to his father Edward that Adrian was distracted from his academic studies by his interest in playing the piano. Edward had already been disappointed by the vocational fate of Geoffrey, Adrian’s brother, who became a piano teacher, organist and composer. Edward advised the headmaster to put a stop to Adrian’s piano playing. Adrian made up for that disappointment by facilitating and encouraging all four of his children to become fine musicians themselves.

He loved cats. There was always at least one cat in all of his households. But the greatest animal love of his life was Sarah the dog, a beautiful Labrador-boxer whose football skills matched George Best and who was the subject of many photographic portraits. Named after the jazz singer Sarah Vaughan, Sarah was the catalyst to Adrian’s other great pastime – walking and talking on Hampstead Heath. He instigated a Sunday morning tradition of walks on the Heath with Sarah and any family that was around.

Sarah “fastest footballing dog”

After the walks were yet more talks. Adrian gathered many artist friends to our house on Patshull Road later on Sundays. He had a love of British constructivist art – Kenneth Martin, Anthony Hill, John Ernest, Victor Pasmore. He placed sculpture by Denis Mitchell and Brian Wall in our house. When Adrian rubbed the tall metal curve of the Mitchell piece, money would mysteriously fall to the floor. I have less fond memories of Brian Wall’s heavy steel construction. One day a strong friend of Adam’s tied a rope through its metal bars, pulled it to the floor, catching the end of my foot in the process and breaking my toe.
A happier memory from my childhood was the game Adrian played with us loosely titled “Sit Still.” We were called to Adrian’s lap to sit perfectly still on his knee otherwise we’d be dropped to the floor. Somehow, we all always ended up on the floor.

He believed in the power of advertising and was sometimes obsessive in pursuit of the perfect image. When commissioned for what I recall was a legwear advertisement, he searched long and hard for the “ideal knees,” and had countless women in his studio showing him their legs, none of which fit the bill. In exasperation he finally asked his assistant Gala to show him her knees, and had his Eureka moment that the perfect knees were right in front of him. Gala’s knees became the subject of a famous postcard commissioned by Angela Flowers Gallery for their 1971 postcard exhibition.

We were often the beneficiaries of the props leftover from Adrian’s sets. When Adrian would do cigarette ads, he would come home with cartons of cigarettes, which Dan and I would steal on a regular basis. He once did an ad for an ice cream company that had 32 different flavors. He created a photograph of 4 cones, each with 8 scoops of ice cream on it. He brought home the remaining ice cream from the set to our delight.

A little known passion of his was boating. His childhood in Portsmouth was a likely start for this. When I was about seven he bought a boat called Edith 2. Our family took a memorable trip on her from London up the Thames to Pangbourne. He took Edith 2 from London to Mill Cove, county Cork, in the late 60s. Edith 2 had an inbuilt motor which made the boat heavy. I was charged with going down at dawn to bail out any overnight water ingress. When I got there, there was no sign of Edith. She had sunk to the bottom of the cove. On another boat, I spent a week on the Norfolk Broads with him during the summer of 1973. It was a happy trip for me.

Over the years Adrian had many Alvis cars, culminating in two giant saloons, both blue. The reason he had two was that one was always in the garage being fixed. Soon after I passed my driving test I was allowed to drive one on my own. It was like driving a tank.
He idolized his three siblings, all of whom were significantly older than him. He only got to know some of his nieces and nephews as adults, many of whom visited him here in France.
He came to France in 1996, with Françoise. He loved the sun, good food, and a quieter life than London. He never learned French.

The Moulin allowed him the opportunity to create his archive in the famous barn, with the help of Brian Durling, who is here today. The barn was the culmination of his life’s work. It was Adrian’s personal museum, library, oasis, office, studio, escape, home, legacy and spirit. He cherished every single item in the barn, from his rare vintage cameras, lights, tripods, scaffolding, magazine and newspaper collections, set props, preparatory materials from adverts, negatives, transparencies, polaroids, prints, printing equipment, posters, artworks, video tapes, books, portfolios, objects that he wanted to photograph, like old metal, tree trunks, pieces of wood, rotting fruits. Nothing escaped his eye, and nothing escaped from the barn. He was fiercely protective of its contents. On many occasions over the last ten years I tried to borrow various items with a view to formally cataloguing his remarkable career and rare archive. He was insistent that nothing be removed, dismantled or dispersed for any purpose by anyone.

Adrian Flowers film by Luke Tomlinson

Over the last week I’ve had many kind messages from people who have known Adrian. Len Deighton who knew Adrian well through being RAF photographers together just after the second world war, said “I want to assure you that your father was very philosophical about everything. So don’t be sad on his behalf. He will have taken death in his stride, as he did everything else.”

A few memories and reflections others have shared have stood out as well: dentist’s chair, spooky fishtank, end of an era, eccentric individual, individual, master of his Life hobby, profession and innovator extraordinaire, the holder of waddery, all his paperwork, the Stuff Merchant of Tite Street, garages galore, giggling at the Marx brothers, being a great husband, a brilliant father and a wonderful grandfather.

Matt Flowers
May 2016

Adrian Flowers Studio

The great persuader

Advertising agencies have at last understood that images had to become more interesting to attract the attention of the public. They had to go from the natural to the supernatural, from the real to the surreal, in order to intrigue the onlooker and reach his unconscious in ways which had never been tried before in advertising. These sort of pictures are most effective and have high recall; but usually they are much too costly for the individual to attempt on his own. One would have to resort to painting! Adrian Flowers

Adrian Flowers created images that successfully conveyed the messages intended by advertisers. Often, these concepts originated in the United States, where a large and mobile middle class was being courted and influenced by Madison Avenue firms, operating with a hitherto unheard of sophistication, much of it based on the new science of “Motivational Research”. In his 1957 book The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard identified, almost for the first time in the wider public realm, the underlying structures, and architecture, of the consumer society. He revealed the widespread use of psychological triggers and subliminal messages in advertising, designed to induce desire amongst buyers, without their being aware of it. Products were no longer straightforward products, but brought with them the promise of higher social status, and new and glamorous lifestyles. With its cover illustration of a bright red apple impaled upon a fish hook, The Hidden Persuaders categorised psychological needs—including weaknesses, fears and anxieties—shared by people, and tracked how these were addressed by advertisers, often in a cynical way. These hidden needs included emotional security, a search for identity, self-gratification, love, sex, power and immortality. Advertisers found that particular colours, such as yellow and red, were effective, as were symbols and logos that had dream-like qualities. 

1972 Benson & Hedges

The techniques used were so effective they often contributed to impulsive and self-destructive behaviour, while also raising company profits. Based on the work of the Austrian-American Ernest Dichter, whose credo was to promote a lifestyle of corporate hedonism, Motivational Research and focus groups were among the methods used to develop brands. However, after Packard’s 1957 exposé, those using MR became more subtle in their approach. Brands were created and manipulated through the use of imagery that often sought to eliminate feelings of guilt in the consumer—at spending money on products that could be seen as indulgent, or even self-destructive, such as cigarettes or alcohol. Advertisers learned to change imagery and messages at will. Gender and gender manipulation was also regularly used. Society was divided into different classes, mainly, but not entirely, depending on income, and the burgeoning middle class became the key target audience for advertisers. Although intended, and read, as a critique of consumer society, Packard’s book had an equal and unintended effect, providing a concise and readable account of how advances in psychological profiling made it easy for advertising companies to earn their keep. Young people going into advertising could read The Hidden Persuaders, and knew instantly what was going on. Predictably, major advertising companies, particularly Ogilvy, cast cold water on Packard’s sensationalist style.

Both MR research and the advertising campaigns that resulted were imported into England during the 1950’s, into a country where class divisions were still largely in place, and where upward mobility was more restricted than in America. But the campaigns were no less successful. Paradoxically, it was in photography and advertising that people from working class backgrounds could often enjoy a new-found freedom and social mobility, and also earn a good living. The cockney photographer portrayed in Antononini’s film Blow Up was based loosely on real-life photographer David Bailey. While Brian Duffy, who worked as an assistant in the Flowers studio, became part of what Norman Parkinson dubbed ‘The Unholy Trinity’, a triad that also included Bailey and Terence Donovan.

In this world, Adrian Flowers occupied an almost unique position, in that his own family heritage included several generations of professional photographers, going back to the late nineteenth century. Flowers’ lifestyle was glamorous, and his studio, in Chelsea’s Tite Street, operated with a degree of professionalism and organisation that was lacking in many other studios in London. At it’s peak, the Adrian Flowers studio was considered the best in the city, and with London one of the world’s centres for advertising, there were good opportunities in the heady days when Motivational Research had turned advertising into a sophisticated and intellectually-driven industry.

“The Football pitch is Balsan” Balsan carpets 1981

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

Adrian Flowers Studio Introduction

Adrian Flowers

Born in Southsea, Portsmouth, on 11th July 1926, Adrian Flowers went to school in Southampton, before attending Sherborne School. His father Edward was a Lieut Colonel in the Indian Army in WWI, and latterly a businessman, while his mother Kathleen (née West), a violinist and a Christian Scientist, was the daughter of well-known photographer William West. Based in Portsmouth, the firm of George West & Sons had been founded by her great-grandfather. Although he had initially thought to take up medicine, this family background in commercial photography led Adrian to study at the Institute of British Photography. Graduating in 1950, he opened his first studio in Dover Street, before moving to Tite Street in Chelsea. He is best remembered for advertising photography for products such as Benson and Hedges, and also for his portrait work. Assistants who started their careers at the Flowers studio included Terence Donovan, Chris Killip, Neil Selkirk and Brian Duffy. Some of Flowers’ early work was for the magazine Girl, where he photographed film stars—including Dirk Bogarde, Deborah Kerr and Norman Wisdom—meeting fans. His later portrait subjects included Twiggy, Peter Sellers, Paul and Linda McCartney, Michael Caine, Alec Guinness and Vanessa Redgrave

Visiting Cornwall in 1954, with his wife Angela, Flowers was introduced to the artists living and working in St. Ives at that time. His photographs of these artists and their work consolidated his appreciation of the world of fine art but he had to make a living through commercial photography, which came mainly from advertising agencies.

Working for advertising agencies appealed to Flowers’ sense of organisation, where his freedom in translating concepts into images was relatively restricted. He liked studio work, because it allowed him to spend time to set up and think through all aspects of the project, and have control over the conditions that could affect the final image. Rather than taking hundreds of photographs, from which one would be selected that reflected his intention, he preferred to spend time getting things right, then taking just a few exposures to give the result he needed. Although his creative imagination was restricted, in realising the concepts that came to him from commissioning agencies, he did not find these particularly irksome. He enjoyed setting up and photographing objects, investing the images with a playful and surreal sensibility. This surrealist quality is also evident in his more personal, creative work, for example in a series of circular photographs, of round objects. His visual sensibility was to an extent influenced by French photographer and painter Guy Bourdin. Like Bourdin, Flowers was a perfectionist, leaving nothing to chance, and delighting in investing his photographs with a sense of drama. As advertising became more sophisticated, he was able to create images that spoke to the subconscious desires, fears and attractions. Conventional perspectives were disrupted, objects and interiors cropped, narratives suggested, rather than explicitly stated, and when colour was used, it was saturated.

For the Benson and Hedges campaign, commissioned by CDP (Collett Dickenson and Pearce), Flowers spent six months testing images before proceeding with final photography, using an 10 x 8 camera, rather than his usual Sinar 4 x 5. With the elaborate settings and décor, his output for the Benson and Hedges campaign amounted to just one finished photograph a year. He worked with designers and decorators, making sketches and taking Polaroid photos of each stage of the work. A quintessential sense of English middle-class values informs these campaigns, with carpets, wallpaper and ornaments carefully selected to resonate with readers and consumers. Although other photographers also worked on the Benson and Hedges campaign, the photographs best remembered are those taken by Flowers. In another campaign, for Le Creuset cookware, Flowers again photographed this everyday product in unusual, even austere, settings, using accentuated perspectives. This forcing of perspective can be seen at its most extreme in his Kit-Kat photographs. Flowers’ interest in the world of fine art is evident in the Swiss watch campaign, where images of watches are being prepared for exhibition in a contemporary art gallery. In his work for Martell cognac, the narrative is that of an art collector, his wife and daughter visiting the studio of a famous artist. The daughter is attracted to the artist, but does not know that the artist’s lover, the model in his paintings, is hiding behind a screen. In contrast with these product commissions, which involved careful staging, his work with live models frequently resulted in lively and informal images—not least due to the high cost of modelling fees and the need to work at speed.

With the advent of digital photography and the decline of the analogue form, Adrian Flowers retired from commercial work in 1990 and closed his studio. Adrian and Angela divorced by mutual consent in 1973. He re-married, to Françoise Lina in 1985. He moved to France where he continued to work on other projects. He died, aged 89, in France on 18th May 2016.