I’m sitting in a suburban garden in Bournemouth talking to the man who created the Grange Hill flying sausage. The banger, which appeared in the comic book style title credits of the long- running TV school drama, has followed artist and illustrator Bob Cosford for more than 40 years.
He shrugs: “That title sequence will without a doubt be what I’m remembered for,” he tells me. And here we have the fundamental artist’s dilemma. Create anything that really captures the public’s imagination and it will stick. To this day you can buy a Grange Hill sausage mug, poster, even a t-shirt. But it was creating this iconic title sequences that set Bob on his professional path.
Joining the BBC straight from Art College in the early 1970s, Bob was soon on a path that would bring him a shed-load of awards and critical acclaim. He was nominated for a BAFTA, worked on TV dramas like Dennis Potter’s Pennies From Heaven and a raft of popular television series in the 1980s that included Nanny starring Wendy Craig, Bird of Prey with Richard Griffith, and Angels which was dubbed the Z-Cars of nursing.
He worked as a graphic designer and spent many years around Camden and Soho as a creative director for film and TV and ad agencies. It’s an impressive CV but that famous ‘flying sausage’ invariably comes up again and again. Bob is philosophical and recently told fan site Grange Hill Gold that he’s not only proud of the sausage but very flattered that his work has been so well received. “I’ve never actually seen an episode of Grange Hill,” he confesses to me. “The titles were for the first series ever made and the programme went out at 4.50pm, so I would have either been working or down the pub at that time.”
Now a widower in his sixties, Bob says his years working for TV art departments were among the happiest of his life. But he’s now enjoying a new artistic chapter as a freelance artist which started when he moved to Bournemouth eight years ago. After experimenting with a variety of styles he began to draw inspiration from memories of his youth in the 1960s and is now making a name for himself as a prominent makert of colourful fairground art.
His teens were spent in quiet suburban West London: a drab landscape filled with rows of identical houses, a couple of shops and a chippy at the top of the road. Highlights would be going to the church youth club on a Sunday, sneaking a smoke with his mates down the back alleys and playing footie on any open space they could find.
It was predictable and mundane but… “When the funfair came to town magical things began to happen,” recalls Bob, with a smile.
More than half a century later that magic is filtered through decades of artistic practice and memories that include not only images from quintessential English fairgrounds and shop signs but echoes of the American dream – a combination that perfectly captures the mid-20th century imagination of British youth.
Big cars, rock ’n’ roll, the spirit of Disney, Coney Island and Venice Beach have all been absorbed into Bob’s art along with a dash of Vegas. His vibrantly colourful images are a thrilling roller-coaster ride for the senses.The Bournemouth home that Bob shares with his pet whippet Jaffa, is full of striking examples of his work exuding an energy that proves above all else that he has succeeded in his stated aim of: “Trying to capture that old school frisson of adventure lost in a world of social media and digital sanitisation.”
There are big paintings – wild black horses stampeding across the kitchen table, a shapely pirate lass, complete with eye-patch, peg-leg and cutlass loiters by the back door and even in the garden I spy a gun-toting cowgirl staring through a shed window.
The works are hand-finished on wood or aluminium and cut, shaped, textured and riveted. Some are assembled in several sections and presented as triptychs or even ‘quadratychs’. They are evocative images which Bob developed out of social and politically themed Outsider and Urban Art that he produced in the early 2000s.
After moving to Bournemouth in 2011 Bob Cosford set up Eyedreampictures Company and rented a gallery-cum-studio in the Royal Arcade in Boscombe. But things didn’t work out.“It wasn’t a good location for my sort of work. Then the rent went up, there were service charges, the roof was falling down, I got burgled and my wife was seriously ill. It was all too much so I just gave it up and decided to work from home.”
He doesn’t regret the move to Bournemouth saying: “It’s great being in Dorset. The beach is a 15 minute walk away or five minutes in the car and it’s lovely to beable to take Jaffa for walks at Hengistbury Head.”
The delights of the Dorset coast may seem a little removed from the edgy urban art that originally led Bob to his current artistic practice but his bright, brash and deceptively complex fairground pictures somehow seem a perfect fit with this sunny seaside town.
Many will remember Bob’s earlier urban pieces which were produced under his own name and the pseudonyms Diablo, Pure Gold and Henry G. Look carefully and you can see the journey his art has taken: from the gritty street world of the outsider, reaching back to a time of innocence, and then the thrill and tantalising possibilities that once accompanied all the fun of the fair when it came to town.