A selection of ceramic mugs
Purchased on eBay by Adam Sutherland
This series of mugs were pretty ubiquitous in the 1970’s. Various ’World Best’s’ from Gardener, to Babysitter to Lover. I recall thinking at the time that it was pretty lame to identify yourself through a mass-produced comedy product. An ex-girlfriend’s mother made a big deal out of her ‘Worlds Best Grandmother’ mug (from the same series) – something about trying to get people to say she wasn’t old. Actually she could have more humorously had ‘Worst Mother in the World’ if only Clappison had thought to produce one. She used to walk round her house nude, singing pretend opera and gave me really offensive advice on sexual technique – if that sounds like she was a great British eccentric well that is exactly what she wanted you to think, so not that eccentric then.
The mug work of John Clappison defined the comedy mug genre, and secured the success of the Hornsea Pottery throughout the 1970’s and 80’s. The designs have a vestige of his earlier style drawing on mixture of modernist, primitive and arts and crafts simplicity. These mugs are another example of the cruel destruction of the modernist aesthetic by its own parents, exploiting the aesthetics and ideals in pursuit of popularity. They are quite heavily collected and spawned many much lamer versions, the best of which were from some of the other major producers like Portmeirion and at worst generated the branded mug and corporate mug of the ‘You don’t have to be mad but it helps’ office favourites.
John Clappison was born in 1937 in a room above the family butcher’s shop in Hull, East Yorkshire. An early exposure to modernist design via his father Philip’s self-build holiday bungalow in Hornsea based on the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright could explain some of the choices Clappison made in his career. Philip Clappison also had an interest in ceramics and when the family moved to Hornsea he met the founders of Hornsea Pottery, brothers Colin and Desmond Rawson and started to support the burgeoning Pottery financially.
After graduating from Hull College of Art, Clappison went on to work for Hornsea Pottery producing many of their most celebrated ranges such as Tricorn and Heirloom. During the 1970s, Clappison became a designer for Ravenhead Glass producing many popular designs such as the Barmasters ranges of glasses and Whitefire (a shocking rip off of Whitefriars - it was discontinued after legal action), Olympiad and Topaz.
After four years he returned to Hornsea Pottery and continued to design several collectable ceramic ranges, including Strata, the much admired 1980’s range of People Figures, a collection of Greek characters for the Coryfo Ceramics Company and many, many collectible mugs. In 1987 Clappison left the Pottery and took up a post as the Chief Shape Designer for Royal Doulton.
John Clappison is still designing work today and is seeking a manufacturer to produce it.
Hornsea Pottery was founded in 1949 by brothers Colin Rawson and Desmond Rawson with funding from Clappison's father. The factory's earliest pieces were mostly designed by Colin Rawson, these included character jugs and posy vases with attached animal figures, such as rabbits and deer. As well as Clappison the Pottery also employed other noted designers such as Dorothy Marion Campbell and Alan Luckham.
In 1967, the factory started to produce full ranges of tableware, the first being the 'mucky earthy' tones of Clappison's Heirloom, followed by his Saffron and Bronte patterns. In the 1970's, the Queensbury-Hunt partnership became involved in Hornsea tableware design, their minimalist-inspired Contrast and Concept ranges proving popular.
Like many manufacturers of the inter- and post-war years Hornesa Pottery had a manifesto to change peoples lives through design and even turned the pottery into a leisure site in the early 1960’s with remote control water boats, a model village and a playground in the shape of a wooden fortress. The original Pottery and leisure site was still there (if a little faded) up until 2000 when the company was taken over and turned into an outlet village for Laura Ashley, Wrangler etc.
Gone to Pot: The Life and Work of John Clappison, Pauline Coyle, 2007, ISBN-10: 0955545501
Hornsea Pottery, 1949-89: Its People, Processes and Products, Brian Heckford, 1998, ISBN-10: 095268280X