Paperback painters, Peff and Pat, in conversation with Steve Chibnall.

Between them, Sam Peffer (Peff) and Pat Owen must have painnted more than 400 covers for Pan Books between 1956 and 1967. Their experiences offer a fascinating insight into the world of paperback illustrators during its 'silver age'. After meeting them at London artwork sales, Steve Chibnall arranged to record their conversation as they chatted about old times and sorted through a selection of their book covers.
First some background information.

Sam Peffer 

Sam's father was an interior decorator and was wounded twice in World War One. Sam was born in 1921 and began his career by painting front-of-house displays for West End Cinemas. He served in the Navy during the Second World War, surviving the sinking of his ship in the Malta convoy. 

After demobilisation, Peff took a course at Hornsey School of Art and found work with Theatre Publicity, a firm who made projection slides for cinema.  By the mid-fifties he was in charge of the art department at Pearl and Dean where he began worked with John Vernon, an artist ho would go on to paint 100 covers for Ace Books In 1955 he began to offer his talents  as a freelance illustrator, working first for Panther Books before being recruited by agent and Pan art buyer, Tony Bowen-Davies.

In the 1960s Peff also worked for Digit books and even did a few Hank Janson covers for Compact. During the
1970s he produced over
200 film posters, mainly for
British Sex
comedies. He is now retired.

Pat Owen

Pat was born in Sussex in 1931 and was able to view the Battle of Britain before being evacuated to Leicesershire. He spent  some time at Brighton College of Art before national service, and worked for a sign company specialising in cinema foyer

He began to freelance around the same time as Sam Peffer, working for Ward Lock, Panther and Pan before spending twoyears in Kenya as an art director in an advertising agency. Returning in 1960 Pat began working for Pan in earnest, producing some James Bond and Inspector West covers among many others. He left Pan in 1967 and paperback cover painting shortly afterwards, to resume his career in advertising.

He still lives in Sussex.

PAN Book Covers Used to Illustrate The Article

PAT: The covers didn't set out to be art. No one really thought of them like that.

PEFF: The thing was to get a cover that would be saleable.

PAT: But once in a while one would come along that was really good in its own right, but so what? Who paid the most, Sam?

PEFF: Corgi and Pan, but in the 1960s my money was gradually going down, not up. The most I ever got for my covers at Pan was £45.

PAT: Yes, it went up to £60 and that was where it stopped. Our grievance with Pan was always the low price they paid. They wouldn't agree to royalties and they wouldn't agree to second-rights sales [selling reproduction rights to other publishers].

PEFF: I started with Pan in 1956.

PAT: Was Tony Bowen-Davies art buyer at Pan in 1956?

PEFF: Yes, he must have been. One day Tony came round and knocked on my door when I lived at Finsbury Park.

PAT: What, he came recruiting artists did he?

PEFF: Yes, for his agency, John Martin and Artists, they were interested in taking me on. Well, I was already established with Panther Books on my own, without an agent, but I was interested in doing the Pan stuff and I let Tony Davies have my connections with Panther Books. Therefore, I started paying him a commission.

PAT: So you gave him money for nothing?

PEFF: Yes, he was doing Corgi stuff at the time with Edward Mortelmans and probably Roger Hall. I did five or six covers for Corgi.

PAT: I never knew anything about Tony until 1957 when I went to Pan to see if I could do any work for them and I met him.

PEFF: Well you would, him being the art buyer.

PAT: But he was an agent as well and this was always the killer. But being an innocent lad I didn't give a thought to any of this but years later I realised it lead to endless trouble with the staff of Pan There was always this resentment.

PEFF: But not any of us really gave a thought to it. All we were interested in was getting the work doing the painting and getting paid for it.

PAT: It was usual to have an agent, but the fact was that Tony was not only an agent taking 20 but he was also employed by Pan Books as an art editor. It was completely unethical. Because of that I think a lot of the artists were treated the same way that he was - with great suspicion, which was a but unfair There was always this faint hostility between the freelance artists and the staff at Pan and that was probably the reason. I did half a dozen drawings and then I disappeared abroad. I came back in 1960 and started again.

STEVE: How did they decide who to give a commission to, because they obviously had a lot of artists to choose from?

PAT: Well, there were some artists who could do anything, and they were obviously given anything to do. There were some who were better at some things than others but, beyond that it was really who was available, who could do something quickly. David Tayler, for example, I'm pretty sure I am right in saying he needed about a month, so what he was given had to be carefully sorted out and we wouldn't give him what we thought at the time was a trashy old book to do. He was given books worthy of his ability. Sometimes you would do sets - all the books by an author. I did all the Creaseys at one time.

STEVE: Did you read any of the American pulp magazines?

PEFF: I used to read westerns years ago.

STEVE: Not the detectives?

PEFF: I have read quite a number of them.- I used to take the Colliers and Saturday Evening Post and all those. I used to like the artwork they produced in those - James McCarthy, Norman Rockwell, people like that - very good stuff.

STEVE: Did you read the books you illustrated?

PEFF: Yes, I had to read the books to get the situations to illustrate from the book. Yes, you always got the book from them and read it.

PAT: I think Pan had a high reputation for this sort of accuracy. It was old Foreshaw, the chairman, who was a stickler for getting it right. Even when it was mechanised - someone also would do a précis and then 2 days a week I would go in there and we would bash out pencil roughs which were then paraded in front of the chairman - to speed it up because the process of reading the book and doing a rough was a long winded process and they were producing so many books in the sixties that they couldn't keep up. So I went in there and did all the roughs for them and then we would send them out to the various artists.

STEVE: So art directors in the fifties didn't do much directing?

PEFF: No, art directors were only interested in seeing the finished art work.

PAT: They were art buyers. They had very little say. With the Pans and the Panthers there was very little for them to do. It was just a case of picking an incident from the book which the artist had pretty much free choice over.

PEFF: We would base our roughs on those and then the rough would to go Pan Books and they would say yes or no.

STEVE: So how did you decide which incident to illustrate?

PEFF: Something that would make an interesting cover, something with the right ingredients.

PAT: You would show the hero and heroine, that was almost a must and if they could be doing something interesting together, that was even better, something relevant to the book without giving the plot away, and maybe some other sinister character as well. It was that sort of formula.

PEFF: But we couldn't show violence on covers.

PAT: Its strange that - nothing really bad or nudity.

PEFF: No blood. I remember I did a cover for Pan Books and the girl was threatening another girl who was coming down the stairs with scissors I had to take the scissors out. There was no point to the illustration after taking the scissors out.

PAT: It was censorship. I can remember it happening with the Tamiko cover (Ronald Kirkbride, Pan G374, cover by S. Oval).

PEFF: Of course it wasn't, but it showed the mood of the time. I mean, you remember the picture. It had a tiny little bit of nipple.

STEVE: And someone in Pan's art department got out the white paint and raised the towel she is wearing a couple of inches. Apparently, the sales director would have preferred the towel to stay where it was! It looks as though you could get away with a cosh though [indicating Peffs cover for Jonathan Latimers The Lady in the Morgue, Pan G204]

PEFF: Yes, that was all right. See, the cosh has not landed there, has it?

STEVE: The photographs you used for reference, did you take them yourselves?

PAT: Sometimes, later on, but in the early days they were taken by a guy named Ken Simmonds, 'Simmy'. He did them all for us and he always had trouble with the lighting because he only had two floodlights, no spots, so you could never get really good outside lighting.

PEFF: Arthur Brilliant was the photographer that used to do the Panther sessions. He was in Gerard Street - that's now Chinatown.

STEVE: But you were there directing the sessions?

PEFF: Oh, yes, and they needed directing, some of them, some of the so-called models. Model fees in those days were two guineas an hour. But I often modelled myself. My wife, Kitty used to model, too, and my brother in law.

PAT: Actually, Pan were very good, they provided a lot of the photography and the models, and top models, professional models. Many of them were actors, like old Dick Orme and David Davenport - he loved doing ail the aggressive stuff. And Tony Bowen-Davies himself. If you've got the Pan book, The Cockelshell Heroes (CE Lucas Phillips, Pan GP59). The guy in the back of the canoe is Tony. He used to do quite a bit of modelling, especially anybody who needed to be shot and lying on the pavement. He specialised in corpses. He was very lively and enthusiastic sort of fellow who often made his own rules, he was certainly an unusual fellow old Tony.

PEFF: He went from being a top agent to being a furniture buyer for Parker Knole.

PAT: From artists' agent and man-about-town to furniture salesman!

PEFF: Here, look, that's Sam Peffer and his brother-in-law on the cover of Scorpions Reef [Charles Williams]. That's me doing the striking. I was nearly a professional boxer, but I though art was better. I was only an amateur, but I did have people chasing me to turn professional,. That's my brother-in-law, who was a top stuntman, falling out of the boat. He would do all kinds of risky stuff for Robert Shaw, Errol Flynn and all the stars around that time. He breeds dogs now. That's my first book cover for Pan, The Navy's Here [Willi Frischauer and Robert Jackson. GP56]. I'm doing all the posing on that one. And here's a Panther, Moscow [Theodor Plievier No. 611]. That was a costume my wife made, under my supervision.

PAT: You could have gone to a theatrical costumiers for that, but its very good.

PEFF: We used to get them from Maurice Angel, Bermanns, and Lathams. I used to have a full Army uniform, a full Navy uniform, but I never had an Airforce one.

PAT: That model in No Moon Tonight [D.E Charlwood, Panther 823] is David Davenport.

PEFF: And that's Peter Green, who became art editor at Panther, on Flying Saucers Have Landed [Desmond Leslie and George Adamski, Panther 663].

PAT: My brother did a lot of modelling for us too.

STEVE: Did he get standard modelling rates?

PAT: Yes, two guineas was the fee.

PEFF: A couple of those girls who modelled for the Mr Adam cover [Pat Frank, Panther 688] became film stars.

PAT: It's amazing what these models would do. I mean these girls would come in and get undressed for a couple of pounds. It always mystified me that.

STEVE: How about that signature, Sam? Was 'Peff' a name you were always known by?

PEFF: Yes, I just shortened my name.

STEVE: When you were in the Navy, did people call you Peff?


PAT: Did they [the publishers] ever mention the signature to you?


PAT: I never remember being told not to sign things, but there was the odd grumble - not grumble, mutter - but this was probably just part of the general resentment.

STEVE: Were there any that you decided not to sign when you worked for Pan?

PEFF: I always signed for Pan and Panther and, when I was pretty pleased with what I had turned out, I signed for other companies as well. But, in the main, I didn't sign for Digit. Why I decided not to sign them anymore was because I was getting less and less work. My name was all over different publishing houses. I  was always doing book jackets but I stopped because they dried up. They just stopped giving me work at Pan.

PAT: I think it must have been Tony Bowen-Davies, because he and Forshaw decided who worked and who worked and who didn't.

PEFF: I carried on with Digits after Pan. I did their War Picture Library as well - I got £10 for those covers. They didn't pay much for those covers those people.

PAT: I worked for Pan for ten years, but I reached the point where I had just had enough. I couldn't bear the sight of that 141/2" by 9" space anymore. I just did the jackets day after day. I suppose ten years is not bad going really. In the sixties there was a lot of stuff coming over from Italy for next to nothing - very slick westerns and that sort of thing - for £25 a time.

PEFF: Oh yes. Italian artists took over I PC more or less.

PAT: Fratini, he did a lot for Fontana.

PEFF: He was good, though. He did a lot of Cinema posters.

PAT: He was a very good artist, but there was a lot of stuff that was churned out in Italy and sent over here to be sold on "spec".

PEFF: Just to get the foot in the door.

PAT: And so cheap it ruined the market here for us.

PEFF: It did.

PAT: And also there were second rights drawings over from the states.

PEFF: Especially for women's magazines.

STEVE: Panther started doing this as well with their westerns - they paid between £17 and £20 for the use of American paintings.

PAT: To do Pan credit, they would have nothing to do with that. They were tempted at one stage, I think but they didn't.

STEVE: And they did not put the artwork on the same book, either.

PAT: Oh no - any old book. I've actually seen the same cover on two different books on sale at the same time in England.

PEFF: Artists were ripped off all the time.

STEVE: Did you have any Association in the 50s - like the Association of Illustrators?

PEFF: Oh no.

PAT: We were individuals really. It's difficult to understand now but back in those days we were isolated individuals trying to make a living and we met through our work.

PEFF: That's right. Pan Books, at the end of the year used to throw a little party for their reps who were all over the country taking our covers around with them, and they used to invite the artists as well, and that's where the artists used to meet each other.

PAT: I was certainly never invited. We were all very isolated. You worked at home. You worked on your own. Really there were no social gatherings - no associations, no clubs, no anything really.

STEVE: Were the art colleges important?

PAT: Not in my day they weren't. No, it was left to you. If you wanted to be an illustrator you had to go about it in your own way. At Brighton College of Art the first thing they told you was that you would never make any money out of painting, and illustration wasn't recognised anyway. Curiously now they are the best college for illustrators. In those days they taught basic, classic drawing and you had to make of it what you could. I had a few seminars with a guy called Herrick who was a pre-war illustrator - a real old gent he was - and there was another guy called Lance Cattermole who I think had done some commercial drawing. They would just tell you what they knew, but there was no course on illustration as such. You just had to learn to draw and get on with it as best you could. You had to go and get a job in a studio to learn the procedures, and then, if you felt up to it, you risked all and became a freelance. You either went to Artists Partners or Tudor Arts. There was no real commercialism in it at all.

STEVE: But there was plenty of work for illustrators in those days.

PEFF: Bags and bags of work.

STEVE: It had gradually dried up in the 60s though.

PAT: Yes. My agent approached Pan Books to try to get them to pay us some more money, because we had been getting 60 guineas for about 5 years. But the comment came back that we were overpaid in the first place. The comment was that - we can go and get a photograph for 25 quid, why should we give the guys 60?

PEFF Which is what they started doing. Eventually all covers were photographs.

PAT: But for some strange reason it never worked, and they could never figure out why it was. It was like the old film posters. There was an element of drama in the painted film poster that wasn't there in the film still. So something got put into it in the process of doing the drawing that wasn't there in the first place.

PEFF: What happened on film posters was that they were getting more and more expensive and they wouldn't pay the money for them.

PAT: How much did they pay. I never did a film poster?

PEFF: Sometimes I got £200 quid in the 1970s. I must have done a couple of hundred film posters. I did a lot for Stanley Long. I was noted as a painter for "the raincoat brigade".

STEVE: You didn't sign those!

PEFF: No. I only signed the decent posters.


1991 by kind permission of the Author and Zeon Publishing