John Broadley - From North to South


John Broadley reflects on his early years as an illustrator and his move from the North to the South.


I moved to London about three years after completing my Graphics Degree at Liverpool. Somehow, I’d managed to get signed up by an illustration agency, and almost at the same time, a chance meeting with an old college friend paved the way to finally getting to the capital and becoming an illustrator.

It was 1994, and the flat my friend had rented was quite an exclusive residence near the Oval which had a famous mid-90s Young British Artist (YBA) living in the block. Camberwell was just down the road, quite villagey in my memory with a large pub. When we moved in the flat had just been refurbished after a fire. There was a pile of albums which had been left in a cupboard. Peter Frampton Live was one, also Unknown Pleasures and Closer, so I had them as my copies were quite scratched.   

I had some friends in nearby Clapham and it was the summer of the World Cup and a really enjoyable time. I don’t remember being that concerned about getting any work or how I was doing, although I had started to realise that the agency I was with wasn’t doing much to promote my work, and what work I was getting was not enough to live on, yet, at the same time, frequent enough to convince myself that I was, on the surface, functioning as an illustrator.

By 1996 I was no longer at the Oval, having had to move out of the original flat when my friend had got a job abroad. I’d found a bedsit in New Cross which was pretty bleak. I had a landline with incoming calls only, which was all I could afford, so had to call art directors back from the phone box across the road! Roughs would be sent via fax from the newsagents downstairs, and artwork was all original, rather than digital files, I used to take that to the offices and leave it at reception.

I’d read a lot of paperbacks set in 50’s and 60’s before moving down to London and I identified with the theme of the northerner with a chip on his shoulder coming down to the smoke to make his fortune, or whatever. Of course, the reality was probably more like the non-appearance of Billy Liar who lives it all in his imagination. A book called 'Scamp' by Roland Camberton (a ‘lost’ novel that was reprinted with an introduction by Iain Sinclair in 2010 with the original cover illustration by John Minton) concerns the type of character you might often come across in those days. The genius creative who’s being criminally overlooked, and 'Could you see your way to buying me a drink old friend?’

I knew a few people who were already living in London and we used to go out into the pubs of Soho on a Friday night; Blue Posts, The Three Greyhounds, Coach & Horses, Jon Snow. The area was just like what I’d imagined - it still had a lot of character in the 90s and very exciting to be there. Berwick Street still had a proper market down the middle of it and there were loads of little independent shops, it also had a lot more of a visible seedy atmosphere that has now dropped off, especially in the last decade. The area around Denmark Street too, there was a lot of scruffiness, you could walk along the streets parallel to the main ones and there’d be these surprising little shops which looked like they’d been the same for about thirty years.


John Broadley