A witty cartoon in Punch in September 1890 acknowledged the howl of genteel protest that had greeted the erection of an advertising billboard on Ludgate Hill the previous month. Drawn by the talented Edward Tennyson Reed, ‘Picturesque London’ presents a Swiftian panorama of monstrous umbrellas, boots, collars, bottles, gloved hands and top hats, at the centre of which stands an oddly two-dimensional St Paul’s Cathedral, as if to suggest that the capital’s tallest building has itself become a kind of hoarding (Figure 8).1 Below, a pair of enormous opera-glasses scrutinize the city’s ant-like inhabitants as they pass along Fleet Street beneath a colossal articulated mannikin, advertising’s own Gulliver. Above, stretching towards the horizon like the augury of a dismally commercial future, a huge banner flies the single word ‘Blowvril’ in an obvious allusion to the food manufacturer Bovril, the cartoon’s only identifiable brand. In an accompanying poem titled ‘Sky-Signs of the Times’, Reed updated Thomas Carlyle’s classic jeremiad against mechanization and profit-worship in ‘Signs of the Times’ (1829):
Colossal bottles blot the air, to tell That MUCKSON’s Temperance drink is a great sell.
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© Stephen Donovan 2005