Tom William Chantrell
(1916 - 2001)
Below is the text from the Guardian obituary, reproduced without permission (which I will attempt to get so this can be permanent). Original Guardian obituary can be found here:
Master commercial artist behind the posters of some of Hollywood's biggest hits
Sim Branaghan Saturday July 28, 2001 The Guardian
In a career spanning half a century, the commercial artist Tom "Chan" Chantrell, who has died aged 84, defined the look of British film advertising. He designed the posters for hundreds of films, from The Amazing Dr Clitterhouse in 1938, to Star Wars in the late 1970s, taking in Brighton Rock, Let's Make Love, The King And I, Carry On Cleo, One Million Years BC, and Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd en route.
He knew he could sell a film, and had a sometimes outrageous commercial instinct. When Warner Brothers despaired of selling Far From The Madding Crowd, it was Tom's idea to subtly market it as a Wessex western. He had a tremendous technical ability, and an instinctive feel for an eye-catching image. His best posters are a riot of brilliantly deployed colour across epic, wonderfully composed canvases. Tom rarely saw the films he was paid to illustrate, considering this a waste of time. All he required was a synopsis and a handful of stills. If the right image was not available, he would get his friends and family to pose for reference snapshots. They then often turned up, minimally disguised, in the posters - thus did his second wife, Shirley, appear as a radar operator in The Bermuda Triangle, and a victim of cannibals in Eaten Alive!, while Tom himself features as Dracula in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave.
Born in Manchester, the youngest of nine children, Tom's father was a trapeze artist. At primary school, a teacher paid the five-year-old a penny for a painting he had done, inspired by Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies. Later, at 13, he won a League of Nations poster competition.
Unimpressed by Manchester Art College, he left at 15 to join Rydales, a local advertising agency, where his work mostly comprised architectural and engineering illustration. He moved to London in 1933 and, after five years at Allardyce Palmer, began to specialise in film posters, starting with Edward G Robinson as Dr Clitterhouse. From 1940 to 1946, he served in the Royal Engineers bomb disposal unit. A squaddies' life expectancy was low - he spent much of the war digging mines out of Sussex beaches - but Tom reckoned the posting gave him more opportunities to spend time with his new wife.
From demobilisation in 1946 until the 1970s, he worked at Allardyce Palmer, almost exclusively on film posters. From offices in Soho, he turned out about 7,000 designs - generally three layouts and one finished artwork per film - and painted most of the great Hollywood stars. Working incredibly fast, his average turnover was three posters a week.
As Tom told it, he could not walk down Wardour Street in the 1960s without being accosted by half a dozen different producers. With some clients, notably James Carreras of Hammer Films, his posters were often commissioned before a film was made and used to sell the concept to raise the money. After that, Tom painted another poster for the public. He assembled a team of apprentices who collaborated on the final artwork. Many of them went on to produce their own posters.
Changing trends ended his career. Original artwork for film posters fell out of fashion in the early 1980s, and the exploitation films which had been his bread and butter - kung fu, British sex comedies, Hammer and curious continental shockers - ceased to be released. In the 1980s he designed video covers, but by the next decade even this market succumbed to computer graphic design. In more or less enforced retirement, the only painting he did was the occasional family portrait, and an annual Valentine for his wife. But then film poster collecting came into fashion, and he saw the beginnings of the cult appreciation that will inevitably gather around his work.
Loyal, generous, open and funny, Tom had a way with droll one-liners and an amiable Mancunian lack of pretension. While proud of his skills, he refused to take himself or his work too seriously - a good poster was a "ripsnorter", and his anecdotes revolved around his old- fashioned craftsmanship, the speed he worked at, and the tricks of the trade.
He is survived by Shirley and their two daughters, together with a son and daughter from his first marriage.
• Thomas 'Chan' William Chantrell, commercial artist, born December 20 1916; died July 15 2001
Hammer Comedy Thriller Adventure Drama Family War Western
Ones that got away...For the interest of other collectors, Hammer posters that I don't own, have never owned or only have a reproduction of.
This site was last updated 04/05/10