Brian Caldwell Cook was born in Buckinghamshire, England in 1910. He was educated at Repton School in Derbyshire where he developed a talent for drawing and painting. From 1928 he attended the Central School of Arts and Crafts on a part-time basis whilst also developing a career as an illustrator and book jacket designer at the publishing and bookselling firm of B.T.Batsford which had been founded by his maternal great-grandfather in 1843.
The first of his famous four-colour, wrap-around, full-bleed book jackets was for The Villages of England in 1932. Over the next 20 years he produced more than 100 jackets for Batsford, a variety of travel posters and a number of cover illustrations for the Little Guide series published jointly by Batsford and Methuen & Co.
This body of work - greatly sought after by collectors - forms the core of his reputation as an innovative and pioneering 20th Century illustrator and designer. The distinctive colour blocks of the Berté printing technique (read more...) were a striking feature of early cover designs and helped make a Brian Cook jacket instantly recognisable from that day to this.
The interruptions of wartime service in RAF intelligence and the fact that Brian Cook changed his surname in 1946 to Batsford at the request of his uncle Harry, from whom he inherited Chairmanship of the firm in 1952, meant that the artist under his original name and signature became lost to view. This veil was compounded by a 20 year career in politics* and it was not until 1985 (when he was 75 and living in Lamb House in Rye) that Brian Cook was 'rediscovered' through the inclusion of his work in a period exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, followed by a solo exhibition at the Parkin Gallery, a dedicated Countryfile television programme and publication of two books on his work in 1987 and 2010. After retirement from politics and publishing in 1974 he pursued many interests both public and private; he served as Chairman of the Royal Society of Arts and was on the Post Office’s Stamp Advisory Committee until 1981. He also devoted time to his passion for conservation, painting and garden design. He died in Winchelsea, East Sussex in 1991.
Photograph by Jill Kennington
Chairman B.T. Batsford Ltd 1952-74, President 1974-77, Member of Parliament (Conservative) Ealing South 1958-74, Parliamentary Private Secretary to Minister of Works 1959-60, Assistant Government Whip 1962-64, Opposition Deputy Chief Whip 1964-67, Chairman Royal Society of Arts 1973-75, Kt 1974, President Rye Conservation Society 1983-91