Document of the Month March 2019

This month's document is chosen by Sarah-Jane Wilson, who produces our Document Wallets and helps to run the Film & Picture Library. 

The document that I have chosen for this month is a 1959 advertisement from the British Farmer magazine. It promotes the Lucas B90 Immediate Exchange Scheme from Joseph Lucas Limited with an illustration by eccentric British cartoonist and inventor, Rowland Emett.

Why this document?

The B90 Exchange Scheme was introduced in 1938 as an alternative to buying a new part for a car or agricultural vehicle and meant that customers could exchange their worn or damaged unit for one that was factory-rebuilt. It was given the name B90 because this indicated the page number and section of the ledger that the details were recorded on. The new project covered countless components from distributors, dynamos and horns to direction indicators, starter motors and magnetos, the item that is shown being replaced in the drawing.

The illustrator of the advert, Rowland Emett, was born in London but moved to Birmingham, the same city that Lucas was based in, to study at the Central School for Arts and Crafts. He remained there throughout the 1930s, working in advertising and also submitting his cartoons, and having them accepted, to the famous satirical magazine Punch. During the Second World War, he became a draughtsman for the Air Ministry while also designing wartime booklets.

His design for the Lucas B90 illustration was a faithful tractor named Effie and her owners, farmers George and Willie, with the slogan 'Service – with a smile'. The idea was that Effie's magneto was no longer working properly and needed repairing so the farmers decided to use the Lucas B90 Immediate Exchange Service.  In the advert, George uses his pitchfork to carefully lift the magneto out and into a waiting box labelled 'To Lucas'. Above the tractor a bird, the Lesser Voltwit, lowers the replacement magneto into its place. With the help of this replacement, Effie is revitalised and all three can get back to work. The Lucas B40 advert was used several times in other editions of the British Farmer and also in Farmers Weekly.

A working model of George, Willie and Effie the tractor with inventor Rowland Emett.

A working model of the scene was created for Lucas and exhibited at various places including their stand at the Royal Bath and West Show. A note about the B90 article in the 1959 edition of Lucas Overseas Reflections states that the Lesser Voltwit is 'an intelligent bird of great lifting power, which makes its nest principally of earth wires and old insulating tape, and is given to helping farmers and other good works. The Bird nesting in the silencer has no right whatsoever to be there and is a Common Stowaway’.

After the war Rowland Emett moved into kinetic sculpture and mechanics. He developed an interest in railways and designed several steam trains, naming them Nellie, Wild Goose and Neptune. He was offered the task of creating a miniature railway for the 1951 Festival of Britain in South Bank so he helped design the Far Tottering and Oystercreek Railway that was used to transport visitors around the festival site. His automated designs usually incorporated household items such as cheese graters, colanders, spoons and forks. They were given unusual and lengthy names like Maud Moon-Probe Lunar cycle and the Featherstone Kite Openwork Basketweave Gentleman's MK11 Flying Machine.

His most famous moment came in 1968, when he was hired to create many of the contraptions used in the film version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by on-screen inventor, Caractacus Potts, including the Humbug Major Sweet Machine and the Little Dragon Carpet Sweeper.

One of his most popular surviving inventions is the Aqua Horological Tintinnabulator, a water feature and clock on display in Nottingham. His final piece of work, 'A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley', is a multi-automata sculpture made up of eight individual mechanical pieces that are based on the Far Tottering Railway, including a train driver toasting tea-cakes on the fire-box, a farmer playing his harp to a herd of cows and a fisherman catching a mermaid. Sadly he didn’t live to see it displayed in its completed glory.

After the success of his Festival of Britain railway and the inventions for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Rowland Emett was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1978 for Services to Art and Science.  He passed away in 1990 and although his work lost popularity in the years following his death, recently there has been a revival of his inventions with many museums and art galleries putting on exhibitions based around them.

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