Flames in the Sky

Pierre Clostermann, 1952.  Cover by Abram Games, 1958

Flames in the SkyFlames in the Sky (Feu du Ciel) is a collection of air combat stories from the Second World War, written from both the Allied and Axis points of view. Its author was a genuine fighter ace who joined the Free French Air Force in Britain in March 1942.

Clostermann originally planned a major history of the war in the air. However, in order, “to do justice to the courage and idealism” of those whose stories he told he chose just nine episodes. Each story focuses on an individual pilot on or a single operation, starting with the Allied attack on the Maastricht bridges in 1939. Reviewer G.T. Greenfield described his writing style as “ vivid, terse, and illuminated by the kind of personal insight which only someone who was himself an outstanding fighter pilot could know”.

Clostermann certainly knew what he was writing about. He flew 432 operational missions during the war, mainly in Spitfires.

After the war he described his experiences in The Big Show (Le Grand Cirque). One of the first post-war fighter pilot memoirs, it sold over two and a half million copies and was described by the novelist William Faulkner as “ the finest aviation book to come out of World War II”. Clostermann also had a successful political career as a member of the French National Assembly between 1946 and 1969. In 1956, four years after Flames in the Sky was published, he re-enlisted in the French Air Force to fly ground attack missions during the Algerian War.

It’s rare to see a Penguin book cover featuring the name of both the author and the designer. The bold cover design of Flames in the Sky is the work of Abram Games who was responsible for some of the most memorable graphic images of mid-20th century Britain. Games was a war hero of a very different kind. As an Official War Artist he designed over 100 posters urging Britons to do everything from join the army to grow their own vegetables.

2011EV3169_festival_britain_posterAfter the war he won the competition to create the symbol for the 1951 Festival of Britain. The Festival was organised by the British government to promote a sense of recovery in Britain. For many Britons Games’ image of Britannia festooned with red, white and blue bunting was the most evocative of the Festival and its ‘can do’ spirit. Games claimed that the famous  bunting was inspired by watching his wife Marianne pegging out washing on a line in the garden after the Festival Committee had asked for his original version of the logo to be made more festive.

Games was one of a small number of artists commissioned to design full colour covers for Penguin between 1957 and 1959. All of his cover designs are instantly recognizable by their striking colours and beautifully integrated typography. He was also an industrial designer and invented the Cona vacuum coffee maker.

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