While trawling through newspapers I keep an eye out for interesting aircraft-related advertisements. These are not uncommon, most obviously in relation to industries which could claim some relationship with aviation (after any record-breaking flight, there was usually at least one ad pointing out how much the triumphant pilot owed to some petroleum product or other). Other companies had to try a bit harder to make some aerial connection (Lyon's swiss rolls, for example). But this magnificent example goes way beyond most! Actually, aviation is only one element of its vision of the future, designed to sell Field-day, a shaving lotion made from olive oil.
Here's the text which appears below the image:
What of the future? What shall we wear? Eat? Drink? Shall we live in glass houses? Travel in Gyroplanes and wear Television on our wrists? Who knows? But we do know how we shall shave -- for "Field-day" is one of the 'Things to Come' that's here already! Revolutionary! Incomparably better! Different -- not only from lather but from other 'brushless' creams. Fast -- for the age of speed. Blades last longer. Simple and safe, too! Safe because you can see through "Field-day" as you shave instead of blindly guessing! Made with pure Olive Oil .. free from Caustic Alkali (an essential part of lather!) Made for the Future. On sale NOW. Are you going to wait -- or be one of the 'Moderns'? For the sake of your skin and your razor-blades do step out of that rut. 1
So how is the future invoked here in the pursuit of higher sales figures for Field-day? Most obviously, the city of the future has giant skyscrapers, with aeroplanes (and giant tubes of shaving lotion, ridden by a man who is clearly accustomed to boldly taking charge of his destiny in his dressing-gown) flying in between them. In fact, one of the skyscrapers is also an airport: there's an aeroplane just taking off from it, and at the top of the tower is a windsock. Aside from the odd heliport or two, downtown airports have failed to materialise, but they remained a possibility in the 1930s. 2 The text mentions such wondrous technological possibilities as glass houses, autogiros, and wrist televisions. 3
Then there is the rhetorical, almost ritual, use of the names of those two great novels about the future to come out of Britain in the 1930s, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) and H. G. Wells's The Shape of Things to Come (1933) (or rather, the 1936 film-of-the-book, Things to Come). Neither of these can be said to look forwards to the future without any misgivings, however; the one is a dystopia (albeit one masquerading as a utopia), and the other might as well be, at least for the hundreds of millions of people killed along the road to a technologically-sophisticated, tunic-wearing paradise. So they might seem an odd choice for a straightforwardly optimistic (if not entirely straightfaced, perhaps) depiction of the future. But that's par for the course: the titles of both books very quickly became a shorthand for the unknown future, often with little relation to anything in Huxley or Wells. 4
Finally, there are all the key words defining the attributes which are to be associated with the future, and with Field-day: it will be revolutionary, incomparably better, different, faster, longer lasting, simple and safe. What man could resist a shaving lotion so laden with futurity? It is indeed the shave of the future, NOW. I do so want to be one of the Moderns, and I'd buy it myself, for sure -- except that judging by Google, it looks like neither Field-day nor J. C. and J. Field, Ltd., its manufacturer, actually made it into this future. O brave new world, that doesn't have such things in it!
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- Daily Mail, 8 May 1937, p. 14.
- For example, in 1935 the Corporation of London was reported to be considering buying up land for a city airport along the south bank of the Thames, possibly near (or between?) London Bridge and Tower Bridge. Another possibility was to actually build a landing platform over the Thames itself. Daily Mail, 2 February 1935, p. 5. Even more extraordinary was the proposal made in 1931 by Charles Glover, an architect, for an elevated airport above the railway siding yards at King's Cross and St Pancras stations. This would have taken the form of a wheel half a mile across, with the spokes acting as runways. There is a drawing and a bit more detail in Felix Barker and Ralph Hyde, London As It Might Have Been (London: John Murray, 1995 ), 212.
- So we're still not in "the future" yet, although an increasing number of people effectively have a television in their pockets or hand bags, combined with telephone, still camera, movie camera, gramophone ...
- Yes, "brave new world" is itself lifted from Shakespeare, where it's used differently; but The Times could only find occasion to quote the phrase twice in the almost-century-and-a-half before the publication of Huxley's novel, and then used it at least 11 times in the rest of the 1930s (not including direct references to the book or to The Tempest).