AnglepoiseAn Iconic Light
There is something peculiarly personal about working by the light of an Anglepoise, as though the light is there for you, and you alone.
There’s something a little intimidating about attempting to describe an Anglepoise lamp while being lit by its beam. So human is its form, with its gangly, perky limbs and swivelling, slightly quizzical head, that I feel as a portrait painter must. How should I capture the character and appearance of my subject as it stares inscrutably back at me?
The Anglepoise on my desk is an aluminium Type 75, the same one Paul Smith re-coloured in grey, pink, blue, and yellow last year, but I will confess to a secret yearning for the more angular aesthetic of the Original 1227. Yes, I know I’m starting to sound like a classic car collector, but that’s the effect the Anglepoise has on me. The motoring analogy isn’t actually a bad one; the Anglepoise was designed in Bath in 1932 by an automobile engineer who specialised in suspension systems. The appropriately named George Carwardine realised that a system of springs that holds whichever position is chosen for it would make the perfect adjustable desk lamp. His first design featured four springs, but was deemed too industrial for the domestic market, so the number of springs was cut down to three. It’s a fact I’ve always found rather funny, somewhat like Marilyn Monroe being judged too alluring and asked to tone down the shade of her lipstick (as if that would help). Equipoise, the lamp’s original name, was turned down by the Trade Marks Office on the grounds that it was already ‘common parlance’. Though how it was possible to drop the term into a sentence so easily in those days is beyond me. Thankfully, the name, which sounds like a tonic for the symptoms of menopause, was dropped like a hot coal, and the infinitely preferable Anglepoise was chosen instead.
The lamp has made walk on appearances in the James Bond film Skyfall, on a postage stamp, in Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children whose protagonist Saleem Sinai writes his story by its steady, illuminating beam, and in Peter Gabriel’s 1982 music video Shock the Monkey, in which human sized, cuboid lamps come to life. The anthropomorphic qualities of the Anglepoise have long been recognised. It’s not just a question of shape, but also the sense of life that comes from its eagerness to stand to attention in exactly the place that’s asked of it, like a well trained spaniel. Its puppyish tendencies were exploited brilliantly by Pixar Animation Studios, who marked their launch with the short animated film Luxo Jr. The film, which charmed cinema goers, was inspired by the Anglepoise lamp on Pixar founder John Lasseter’s desk. A young, chirpy Anglepoise plays happily with a rubber ball while its Anglepoise parent looks on indulgently. The Anglepoise is now as indivisible from Pixar as Ratatouille, Woody, and Mr. Incredible. It even features in the company’s logo.
The upward trajectory of a true design classic can be charted by the urban myths that coalesce around it. Think about the story that the Apple logo was inspired by mathematician Alan Turing’s last, fatal cyanide laced bite. It’s completely untrue (as is the suggestion that the bite out of Apple’s apple is a comic reference to a byte). In reality, the apple had a piece chomped out of it because the designer was worried it looked too much like a cherry. One of the best stories about the Anglepoise, however, is entirely factual, which makes it even better. In the 1940s, a BBC guide was produced for staff to help ensure that no smut or innuendo inadvertently crept into its programming. Michael Standing, the author of The Green Book, as it was called, issued an edict that no member of staff should be allowed to work by the light of an Anglepoise lamp, unless the ceiling lights were on too. The danger, so he thought, was that the private, intimate illumination provided by the Anglepoise would lead to dangerously risqué thoughts. Actually, I think Mr. Standing was on to something – although not quite in the way he imagined. There is something peculiarly personal about working by the light of an Anglepoise, as though the light is there for you, and you alone. It’s like a perky little spring loaded puppy, willing you on to produce your best work.