Between the two World Wars, the British Empire entered a period of steady decline, as its subjects began to question the concept of unswerving loyalty to ‘The Mother Country’. Everywhere there were calls for more autonomy and in India, the Congress Party was demanding nothing less than full independence.
As the Colonies became increasingly restless, the British Government saw the need to strengthen its Imperial ties. In 1924, the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley celebrated the richness and diversity of the Imperial possessions. In 1926 the Empire Marketing Board was founded. Its main aim was to promote inter-Empire trade using all available media, including advertising, documentary film and poster campaigns encouraging the public to ‘buy Imperial goods’.
Max Gill was commissioned to produce a series of posters for the EMB. His first, measuring twenty feet by ten, depicted the ‘Highways of Empire’, the sea and air links uniting Britain with her colonies. It first appeared on the streets of Great Britain on January 1st 1927 and caused a minor sensation, as the Daily Telegraph reported:
EMPIRE ADVERTISING – STRIKING POSTERS
‘The instant effect is to rivet the attention and closer study reveals a mass of detail on the map, so full of humour and instruction that it is no wonder that the police have already had to exhort people to ‘move along please’, at the hoarding in Charing Cross Road, where the first one has been exhibited. It is only necessary to mention that the artist is Mr MacDonald Gill, who drew the comic maps for the Underground, to give some idea of what the public may expect to see.’
Image: Poster map of New Zealand, 1931. Produced for the Empire Marketing Board. Private collection.