The original is 60x69cm oil paint on canvas and was commissioned by the War Artists Advisory Committee in 1941. It was exhibited as part of a touring exhibition of CEMA (the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts – fore runner of the Arts Council) in 1944, and came into the Salford collection in 1947. It was shown at The Tate Gallery in 1965 and in Newcastle in 2004. Rodney Todd White whose company still specialises in photographing art works took the photograph used on the book cover. The work depicts bureaucratic officials engaged in earnest activity, which would not have seemed out of place in the Ministry of Truth where Winston Smith and Julia worked. The figures are rounded, but there is no cuddliness – there is furtiveness about the figures using the telephones that suggests their activity is not entirely benign.
This painting was used on three covers in 1966, 1968 and 1969 with slight variations in the title layout. These followed the so-called ‘Marber grid’ called after the Polish freelance designer Romek Marber, the image on such covers occupies just over two-thirds of the space, while the title section at the top is divided into three bands carrying Penguin’s colophon (logo), and the author and book title, which is set in left aligned type on the 1966 and 1968 covers, and right aligned type on the 1969 cover. This later cover also categorises the book as “A Penguin Modern Classic” whilst it is “a Penguin Book” in the two earlier editions. The 1966 and 1968 versions also feature orange type for the title and series and the 1966 version carries the price – three shillings and sixpence (17 1/2p).
As a design, the 1969 version is the most successful, the 1968, the least. The large series designation of the 1968 version (set in 36 pt Optima) was the so-called “Panic top’, a symptom of a troubled period at Penguin following departures of key members of staff.