Transformation and Jamie Reid

Yesterday I was looking at this page from the 6 February 1977 edition of the Sunday People:



The reason it's framed is because it's the actual page which was the source material Jamie Reid photocopied in order to create one of the most iconic British images of the late 20th Century:



Now, pretty much everyone of a certain age in this country loves this image. It captures something of the national character perfectly. But until yesterday I had no idea of where it had come from. The original photo of the Queen was from an opinion piece, the headline of which read: "On her Jubilee day, how the Queen may see us: SHE'S DONE HER JOB... HAVE WE?'

The full gist of the writer's argument has been lost, alas, as only the top half of the article remains, but the general idea was to question whether the British people, in the year of the Queen's silver jubilee, are worthy of such a perfect monarch. The writer, who was clearly very angry, and also mad, took the view that his fellow Brits must be something of an disappointment to the monarch.


Knowing this makes me see that image in a whole new light. What Jamie Reid did seems like pure alchemy to me - he took dirt and turned it into gold. Through an act of creative imagination, the intention of the original article was not just negated or subverted - it was transformed into an era-defining icon that was the antithesis of everything that the original article stood for. The original author's deepest fears were blown up into a Godzilla-sized monster, because to do so was hilarious, and because the original author was asking for it.

I wonder if the unnamed author ever realised that Jamie Reid's iconic image was, in part, his fault?


All this fascinated me because I've just spent a month writing a short ebook on the monarchy, for Random House in Canada. This will be out in June, I think. It is in theory a pro-monarchy book, but it offers a perspective on monarchy that is more likely to get me lynched by royalists than republicans. Looking at these images again, I started to wonder if I would have written the ebook I have just written if I hadn't grown up in a country where Jamie Reid's image was ubiquitous. And if I'm honest, I don't think that I would have. It is a powerful image indeed that has such a transformative effect on your relationship with your national identity.

The knowledge of where that portrait came from is, in this context, the icing on the cake. If it is possible to take an article like that and, through alchemy, create such a transformative icon, then what else is the creative imagination capable of?

The reason why I was looking through Jamie Reid's work was because I was with Daisy Eris Campbell, and Jamie Reid will be working with her on her Cosmic Trigger play and festival in November. Keep an eye on facebook.com/cosmictriggerplay for updates on that.

Until then, here's a piece of Jamie's more recent work to leave you with...