This is a reposting of the article that originally appeared here on the Better Letters blog.
On 4th July 2016 I received the following email in response to a book I was working on at the time:
I care for an elderly gentleman in Bristol, now nearly 96, who was a sign painter after the Second World War. He has recently been telling me the fab stories of this time when he took his ladders, paint etc on his motorbike sidecar and precariously hung on the sides of buildings painting, what you now call, ghost signs. One of his still survives on the side of the old Webs of Warmley bike shop in Warmley Bristol. This shop has been sold for development as flats but his sign is to be saved as a landmark of the Warmley high street. I wondered if it had made it into any of your publications… He would get such a kick out of that!
It is a large Raleigh Humber sign that he painted in early 1950s and thinks he got £18 for the job. Like his signs, he his slowly fading so if you know anyone who would be interested in his stories of the 1940s up a ladder, brush in hand, please let me know… Plus, he still has all his old ladders and gear… He never throws anything away! Thanks, Mrs Karen Gilmore
It was the first time that I’d found a direct connection between an existing ghost sign, and the person that actually painted it. This resulted in an ongoing email exchange with Karen, and an introduction being made to James Cooper of Dapper Signs, and his partner Katie. They were regularly visiting Cliff Headford by the time I managed to organise a trip out to Bristol with film maker Dan Bassett. The result is the first in what is intended to become a series of short films about retired signwriters, When Better Letters Met Cliff Headford.
The interview was filmed in October 2016, screened for the first time in June 2017 at the Letterheads meet in Oslo, Norway, and then shown again at the Art House Crouch End in London, alongside Everyone Back to Joby’s. Sadly, Cliff passed away in January 2017, before these events. It was a pleasure to be welcomed into his home and some photos of the visit are below, followed by some of Cliff and his brother’s work kindly scanned by Karen Gilmore.
Thank you to everyone that helped make the film and screenings possible, in no particular order: Karen Gilmore; James & Katie Cooper; Dan Bassett; Lawrence Dodgson; Luke Welch; Adrian Harrison; Richie Chlaszczak; Sam, Jack & Chris at Art House Crouch End; Utile Studio; 12-B.