Monday, 16 September 2013

Who's that Girl? Who were the Aero Girls?

Earlier this year I introduced you to Rowntree’s Aero Girls paintings, which were commissioned for use in Aero chocolate advertising in print and television from 1951 to 1957. Since then we’ve managed to track down the only living painter who worked on the 1950s campaign, Frederick Deane RP, as well as three new Aero Girl paintings fresh out of the Nestlé archives. I'll be telling you more about these discoveries in my next blog post.

We’d love to find out even more about this enigmatic collection of figurative paintings and invite you to share your stories at our upcoming free exhibition Who were the Aero Girls? on show at York Mansion House from 12 October to 20 October 2013.

For those of you a little further afield, below is an interactive image map of our entire collection of twenty Aero Girls paintings. Hover your mouse over the images and click on the dots to find out more information about the artworks, and for links to York Digital Library of images.

Do you recognise any of these women? Were the Aero Girls life models, fictitious characters, wives, girlfriends, your grandmother, your sister, your best friend? Where are they now? We want to hear from you!

Credit: Images above are shown with kind permission of Nestlé UK

Anna. Alice. Wendy. The Country Girl. The Art Student. Who were these women? And what was their story? Where are they now? What happened to the paintings that are missing from the Rowntree’s collection? If you were an Aero Girl or if you know of one, the Borthwick Institute would love to hear from you. Please contact us at, call +44 (0)1904 321166 or come along to chat to us at the exhibition in York city centre.
Who were the Aero Girls? Discovering Hidden Art in the Archives is part of Chocolate Week 2013. On display for the first time since leaving Rowntree’s factory, will be a carefully curated selection of our Aero Girls collection. A unique opportunity to glimpse into some of our lesser known archive holdings, the exhibition also documents the Borthwick Institute’s journey so far to unwrap the mysteries and unearth new information about these little-known artworks. Visitors are encouraged share their stories, to ask new questions and continue the research, at the Borthwick Institute and beyond.

Aero chocolate is still made in York to this day by Nestlé, who took over Rowntree’s in the late 1980s and are official sponsors of our upcoming exhibition. Nestlé archivist Alex Hutchinson said, "We're delighted that some of our old treasures are being shared with a wider audience. The Borthwick Institute do a great job of looking after parts of our archive and we’re really proud to work with them. Although we have a large collection of original artworks, some have gone missing over the years. We'd love to know where the rest of the Aero artworks are now, and what happened to the painting's sitters, what were their stories?"

Who were the Aero Girls? Discovering Hidden Art in the Archives takes place at York Mansion House, St Helen’s Square, York from Saturday 12 to Sunday 20 October, from 11am – 4pm daily (closed Tuesday 15 October). Admission is free.

This blog post was written by Kerstin Doble, National Archives Trainee.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Answering Critics with Laughter, Shakespeare and Toilet Paper: The Comedy of Alan Ayckbourn

In a preface to his 'Norman Conquests' Alan Ayckbourn writes that
"Few women care to be laughed at and men not at all, except for large sums of money".

This seems somewhat appropriate from one of the most successful and prolific playwrights ever to emerge from these shores. Ayckbourn's work has been engaging audiences with biting wit, flourishes of comic genius and well-tuned subtleties of pathos for over half a century and now the Borthwick Institute for Archives in York has been given the opportunity to delve into drafts, letters and scripts of a writer largely considered a national treasure.

Photograph copyright of Scarborough Theatre Trust/Stephen Joseph Theatre

Throughout an extensive career, it is perhaps Ayckbourn’s masterful use of comedy to illustrate what can sometimes be the ugly truth that has and will continue to immortalize him. For a playwright who walks the thin line between comedy and tragedy, often moving his audience to tears of laughter and sorrow in one sitting, the boundary between the two genres is often blurred. As one admirer put it, Ayckbourn’s writing is “a superbly funny and devastating commentary on corruption”.  This week, I have been looking though the many letters sent to Alan Ayckbourn by audience members who have come away from his theatre with an all-consuming discomfort that comes with the knowledge that everything you thought you knew has been challenged. Or, after an Ayckbourn play, ripped from your cradling arms with all the brutality of a powerful genius. And yet, in amongst countless letters of complaint and reproach, Ayckbourn fervently defends his artistic choices. 

“The balancing act is to say things that need saying without emptying the stalls. Tricky….My real fascination is in seeing just how much one can say through comedy. And sorry, yes, I also enjoy making people laugh….In this country, if we see pain coming, we close our eyes. Comedy is the Optrex of the mass
(Taken from a letter in reply to a complaint from a member of the audience of ‘A Small Family Business’. Dated August 1987)
It is in this vein that Ayckbourn answers his critics; with a careful balance of truthful response, seasoned with a (sometimes painful) pinch of wit. Although the majority of letters from his audience in this archive are overwhelmingly positive, Ayckbourn answers them all with the patience and grace of someone who truly understands and cultivates the relationship between playwright and spectator. With complaints ranging from the volume of the music, the acoustics of the theatre and the occasional expletive, Ayckbourn’s work never fails to come under scrutiny. One attentive member of the audience even wrote to Ayckbourn to inform him that the set designer had put the toilet roll on the wrong way around in the bathroom set.
But, it is precisely this wish to interact with and the boundless enthusiasm for Alan Ayckbourn’s work that has meant his enduring popularity. The audience feels it can write to this playwright of such repute and tell him their grievances because more often than not, they will receive a reply; albeit humorous, instructive and sometimes firm. Ayckbourn is a playwright willing to answer to his critics, but always ready to defend his craft. On receipt of a letter from a theatregoer complaining that they could only bear to stay for the first half of his play ‘A Small Family Business’, Ayckbourn replied by imagining the reaction of audience being subjected to one half of a Shakespeare play: “Just saw the second half of your play Hamlet. Really, Mr S, all those bodies…"
This post was written by Maddy Pelling, Ayckbourn Intern.
Read more about Maddy's work in her post Archiving Ayckbourn.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Unwrapping the Terry's Chocolate Apple

Advertising Image of Chocolate Apple and Orange, 1936
Terry's Product Brochure,1936, p.51
Did you know that before Terry’s Chocolate Orange, there was the Chocolate Apple? Neither did we until we delved into the Borthwick’s Terry’s archives and flicked through an old product brochure from the 1920’s.

The Terry’s ‘Dessert Chocolate Apple’ was made from 1926 before being outshone by the Chocolate Orange, which eventually led to the halt in production of the apple in 1954. Found amongst Terry’s other beautifully illustrated luxury chocolate boxes, the brochure demonstrates how the Chocolate Apple (and the Chocolate Orange) were once seen as special chocolates, perhaps only eaten on special occasions or in the homes of the ‘better off’. The name even suggests that it had a place at the dinner table as a dessert – a world away from how we eat chocolate today; in front of the TV, on the sofa, in bed, or on the way home from school.
Image of two decorated chocolate boxes 1934
Terry's Product Brochure, 1934, p.7
Image of a large box of Terry's chocolates with orange details 1929
Terry's Product Brochure, 1929, p.7

In our investigation of the chocolate apple we have seen how something as simple as chocolate can illuminate many different areas of our social history, from dining habits, to attitudes to certain foods. In fact, our research has led to some unexpected forays into the wider history of York - what’s the connection between an apple from the University of York campus and the Chocolate Apple? And what’s the connection between York’s Mansion House and Terry’s?

An apply tree on the University of York's Heslington campus
What is the connection between this tree and the Chocolate Apple?
However, one burning question remains – what on earth did the Chocolate Apple taste like?! To find out, we have organised a special one day event designed to answer this very question! As part of our Opening Up Archives programme of events we invite you to have a peek at the very recipe used to make the apple, as well taste some chocolate inspired by it, courtesy of the York Cocoa House. For a small fee you even have the option of making your very own flavoured chocolate bar!

We hope you can join us to taste the past and discover the power of archives by exploring some of the lesser known areas of York’s history.

Unwrapping the Chocolate City - Re-imagining the Chocolate Apple is a joint project between the Borthwick Institute for Archives, York Cocoa House and Mansion House and takes place on September 29th 2013 at Mansion House from 10:30am.
Book your place on the York Cocoa House website here.
This blog post was written by Francesca Taylor, National Archives Trainee.
You can read more about the National Archives Trainees' work at the Borthwick here and here.