Book Review: The Britain of Brian Cook

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Cool and covers

This book, up until 2010, seems to be the only one about Brian Cook that features many of his glorious Batsford English countryside covers but unfortunately I think it has a serious editorial flaw. The whole point of Cook's many covers was the sheer exuberance of color and design and at the time, in the Thirties, they must have seemed quite unique on a bookshop shelf but there are only forty-eight in color and sixty in mono making the point of the book somewhat redundant.

Cook's covers just don't work in black and white. The vibrant flat colors he used get reduced to shades of grey which merge together to make a dull image. on page thirty-nine there is a short explanation of the Jean Berte printing process Batsford used to create these delights. The system used rubber plates with a tracing of the cover picture transferred to the plate for each of the five colours and the design was then cut by hand. The inks were the three primary colours, a grey and finally a black to finish off the book jacket and print the typography. The very bright flat colors were obtained by using watercolour inks (rather than the normal printer's oil-based ones) and overprinting them.

Because the plates have to be cut by hand it meant that the pictures were much more graphic and relatively simple in appearance which made them unique looking. Fine detail was not possible except with the black plate. Rather oddly, these bright, modern looking book jackets were for titles that presented a rosy, nostalgic backward view of Britain's towns and countryside.

The front of the book has some wonderful pen and ink illustrations by Cook, confirming that he was a rather accomplished artist and well suited to be involved Batsford's publishing endeavours.

I mentioned earlier that this was, until 2010, the only book about Brian Cook and his Batsford jackets which no doubt explains why copies of it are expensive. Fortunately there is a new book ( Brian Cook's Landscapes of Britain) about Cook and covers with everything in color so his fans can at last enjoy seeing his work as it should be seen.

The Britain of Brian Cook is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN) and Book Depository

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The original 1987 edition (top) and the 2010, UK edition, now all in color.

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Title spread.

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Right: the Jean Berte printing process using yellow, magenta, blue and grey ink showing the colors when overprinted. Black was used for detail and to finish off the printing.

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Title checklist from the 1987 (top) and the 2010 editions.

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2010 edition on the right full of color covers and Cook's paintings.

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2010 edition on the right.

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2010 edition top.

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