Haute Horribilia: Olympic Souvenir Design

This time next year it will already be over. So how will we keep our memories of the 2012 Olympics alive? By shopping for souvenirs, of course. On visiting the Museum of 1951 at the Royal Festival Hall recently, I was struck by the high quality handiwork and timeless design of memorabilia from the Festival of Britain. I thought it might be fun to compare some of the retro ’50s pieces with items of official merchandise, devised at great expense, for the London Olympics:

In terms of branding, you’d think that 60 years of progress in corporate logo creation would equate to a significant improvement in design. But sh**e is a word that accurately describes the 2012 effort.

And, whilst the word ‘iconic’ often grates, it seems curiously appropriate when used in conjunction with that abiding symbol of the Festival of Britain, the Skylon tower. Hardly so for the official mascot of Great Britain’s Olympic team, Pride the Lion – shown here in a ‘cuddly three pack,’ priced at a scary £45.

Scarier still are the other mascots:  weirdly one-eyed Wenlock (below right), named after a place in Shropshire – and the Paralympic monster mascot, Mandeville (left)– named after Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where the first Paralympic Games took place. Large sized soft toy versions are available, retailing for up to £170.

If that’s a bit too pricey, why not tempt the kids with Paralympic temporary tattoos at only £3 a set – as shown above (top), ‘children love these fun temporary tattoos that are an ideal party bag filler.’  I don’t suppose they had party bags in 1951? The children’s games and novelties available at the Festival of Britain were much simpler, more modest – and certainly a lot more educational…

And adults were treated to beautifully printed silk scarves, ties, handbags and hand painted brooches.

Today’s lady looters shoppers will no doubt covet this ‘sporty shorts* charm’ (*the sort Katie Price wears) to celebrate the London Olympics. For men, there’s the £123 unisex Stones Hoody by Stella McCartney, which is ‘adorned with hot-fix studs, symbolising the medals captured by the British at the Olympic Games in Beijing.

Others will wish to purchase special mementoes to treasure for years to come, or presents to take home for loved ones. The enamelled powder compacts and delicately embroidered silk handkerchiefs for ‘mother’ and ‘wife’, from the Festival of Britain, are as collectable today as they were in the 1950s.

As for the Olympics next year, the fact the event starts in July and runs into August will surely serve to remind us that we’re already well into the Christmas shopping season? However, should you wish to buy your Christmas 2012 gifts a year and a half in advance, the official merchandise is already available for online purchase in August 2011. So, how about a ‘highly collectable hand decorated glass figurine’ of Wenlock in its own ‘wooden keepsake box.’ Or Mandeville’s Union Jack mascot snowstorm?

Finally, for a truly lasting memory of the riots games, why not buy ‘your very own special limited edition Wenlock policeman’ – or perhaps you’d prefer printed pin badges of Wenlock PC and Mandeville WPC (sic).  No?

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About Author Profile: Susan Muncey

Trend consultant Susan Muncey, is Editor of Visuology Magazine. In 2008, she founded online curiosity shop, ShopCurious.com. She writes on style and trends for several blogs, including Visuology.com, ShopCuriousMag.com and The Dabbler. She previously owned cult West London boutique, Fashion Gallery, one of the first concept stores in the world. Susan graduated in geography from Cambridge University and is also an Associate Member of the CFA Institute. She lives in London with her husband.

18 thoughts on “Haute Horribilia: Olympic Souvenir Design

  1. Wormstir@gmail.com'
    August 20, 2011 at 12:16

    Very interesting to compare the two Susan! The current stuff is really rather rubbish isn’t it? My favourite Olympic design has to be otl aicher’s amazing stuff for the Munich 1972 Olympics, real ground breaking design

  2. jameshamilton1968@googlemail.com'
    James Hamilton
    August 20, 2011 at 13:33

    There always was something profoundly stupid and depressing in building the 2012 logo around, of all things! graffitti. It looks even worse, if that were possible, in the post-riots era.

    But as you illustrate so well here, there’s been a general decline in the design standards accompanying great events of this type – and the Festival of Britain stuff isn’t exactly breathtaking. Compared to what e.g. the LNER produced to accompany the launch of their streamliner services in 1935, all very defeated and pedestrian.

    Something similar’s happened in sport: the Olympic gold medal design – a restrained, dignified and appropriate affair – remained the same between 1928 and 1968 before being intefered with for Munich 1972. You can see all of the designs here. And compare George Best’s 1968 European Cup winner’s medal with Sir Alex Ferguson’s of forty years later.

    • info@shopcurious.com'
      August 20, 2011 at 18:12

      Much prefer the more classical look on a medal – shame they didn’t revert to the original 1896 design. The recent football medals look more like something you’d use in a coin operated laundrette.

  3. andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
    August 20, 2011 at 13:54

    But did they complain about all the tat in 1951? Mind you, £45 for the lions? Sheesh.

    ‘Wenlock’ is significant for the Wenlock Olympian Society Annual Games, a 19th C forerunner to the modern Olympics. Remarkable story, worth a look.

  4. info@shopcurious.com'
    August 20, 2011 at 14:16

    Thanks for the fascinating link, Brit – doesn’t appear to account for the weird, one-eyed mascot though..

    Re: the 1951 souvenirs, it would be interesting to hear the views of people who attended the Festival.What I’ve gleaned from relatives is the event as a whole was very impressive. And my opinion of the memorabilia is that it’s well made and useful.

    Worm, I agree, the current stuff is totally naff.

  5. jameshamilton1968@googlemail.com'
    James Hamilton
    August 20, 2011 at 14:42

    (I think my earlier comment might be in moderation because of too many links!)

    • Brit
      August 20, 2011 at 15:11

      Released from the holding pen – see above.

  6. info@shopcurious.com'
    August 20, 2011 at 14:55

    Earlier comment? Can’t see anything in admin, James…

  7. jameshamilton1968@googlemail.com'
    James Hamilton
    August 20, 2011 at 15:25

    Looking again at those sinister one-eyed policemen, it does rather reinforce the old saying “beyond satire”, doesn’t it? “2012” was supposed to be a comedy in the style of “The Office”, but I don’t remember anything remotely as ridiculous being floated in the programme as these.

  8. mail@danielkalder.com'
    August 20, 2011 at 17:15

    A few weeks back we were discussing declinism. I think here we see a clear example of how utterly rancid, in certain areas, the UK has become, n’est-ce pas?

  9. info@shopcurious.com'
    August 20, 2011 at 18:23

    And they’ve spent lots of our money on this, Daniel.

    So far the Olympic venues all look rather splendid – and the recent Royal Wedding was well organised – so there’s hope we’ll manage to pull off the event at least. Shame we have to remember it this way though…

    • jameshamilton1968@googlemail.com'
      James Hamilton
      August 21, 2011 at 09:11

      I’m an optimist about this, Susan – you’re right, the venues do look very good (and we built them on time! and under budget!!). Perhaps we won’t remember the Olympics for the souvenirs, and indeed, to do so would be rather like criticizing the Festival of Britain because it led in the fullness of time to the building of the Hayward Gallery. And perhaps these horse-scaring souvenirs are really Hayward Gallery souvenirs, mildly retouched…

      • Gaw
        August 21, 2011 at 13:32

        Some of us even like all that South Bank concrete… But can we imagine what revolution of taste would be required to make us cherish those Limpick designs?

        At least they give us something to hang our pessimism on. Great venues, on time, under budget, and sold-out – it’s looking worryingly like a success.

  10. becandben@gmail.com'
    August 20, 2011 at 22:50

    Just asked my son if he wanted Wenlock PC for his fourth birthday. The answer was an emphatic “No”.

  11. dkldr@yahoo.com'
    August 21, 2011 at 06:42

    Advanced cretinism, at great cost.

  12. nigeandrew@gmail.com'
    August 21, 2011 at 18:42

    Great cost indeed, Daniel – not least to us poor sods who have to carry on trying to get to work and earn a living while this ludicrous jamboree is going on – at our expense, needless to say. London can only just cope with normal demand levels on its infrastructure, esp transport – one dreads to imagine what it will be like with all these extra people. Never mind, the Olympian panjandrums needn’t worry as they’re chauffeured at speed along VIP lanes while the rest of the city’s gridlocked. That’s not to mention the alarming possibilities opening up for would-be looters and terrorists… Oh and of course we’ll all be paying for it for generations to come. Isn’t life grand?
    Your images say it all, Susan – a great post. I wonder, by the way, if there were any souvenirs of the 1948 Olympics?

  13. Gaw
    August 21, 2011 at 21:11

    Don’t forget the Limpicks will be preceded by the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, God willing. So we can probably look forward to even more of Nige’s inconveniences. At least the souvenirs – bone china mugs, etc. – will be more reliable.

  14. dkldr@yahoo.com'
    August 21, 2011 at 21:46

    They should make a one eyed QE II doll, a la Wenlock.

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