ffolkes’ Companion to the Pop Scene by Michael ffolkes
W H Allen, 60pp, 1967
With Christmas fast approaching, I thought it was time to select some lighter reading from the dust-covered shelves at The Pop Music Library. This pictoral survey of the ‘Pop Scene’ from 1967 is the perfect accompaniment to festive heartburn, overheated rooms and the enforced company of relatives.
Michael ffolkes was a cartoonist whose work appeared regularly in Punch, Playboy, Private Eye and The Daily Telegraph until his death in 1988. The Pop Scene was one of a series of ‘Companions to. . .’ written and illustrated by the cartoonist, the others being Sex, Matrimony and Classical Mythology. Although ffolkes accepted a few commissions to illustrate books on music, it isn’t a theme which appears with any great prominence in his substantial body of work. Even in this Companion, the author doesn’t restrict himself to the world of pop music, which may have been a very deliberate decision on his part; when he was the guest on Desert Island Discs in 1984, the most up-to-date of his musical choices was Bing Crosby. But the best cartoonists are attuned to the contemporary and to the ludicrous, and given the book’s evident comic potential (“Have you been swinging lately?”, the dust jacket blurb asks), it was a fairly safe bet that ffolkes would come up with the goods.
The book is in the form of an A to Z, with one or more illustrations to accompany each word or phrase. So ‘B’, inevitably, is for ‘Bird’, and ‘M’ is for ‘Miniskirt’. ffolkes defines pop on an introductory page as something which might “appear to the eye suddenly, as a pop comes on the ear”. This definition allows him to go beyond the simple musical associations of ‘the pop scene’ and to cast a satirical eye on the era more widely. In addition to entries on mods, rockers and discothèques, we therefore also have the groovy vicar in bikers’ leathers, the upstart fashion photographer, and the American tourists newly-arrived in London wanting to know where the King’s Road is. David Frost, Malcolm Muggeridge and Mary Quant are honoured with individual cartoons, while the inevitable appearance of The Beatles is as the new faces on Mount Rushmore.
The real joy in the book is the way ffolkes combines social mores, trends and his own observations to produce a sophisticated take on the sixties. Even for someone looking at the book today, there are witty, unpredictable evocations of the period: where ‘I’ stands for ‘In-Crowd’, the allusion is to the new class of front-page criminal with an illustration of a doleful convict getting into the back of a police van; where ‘F’ is for ‘Fall-Out’, the picture is of a never-had-it-so-good punter standing in front of a one-armed bandit as it spews out coins.
So as the turkey dries out and the sprouts disintegrate, perhaps I can invite you to sit back, pour yourself a pale ale, and just enjoy this selection from the great Michael ffolkes. See you in the New Year.