A Memoir (1976)

Boswell’s lithograph Sunday Morning which David Caplan posed for.

I first met James Boswell at the end of 1937 when I joined the studio of the Asiatic Petroleum CQ. (Shell), in the heart of London’s City.

We soon became fast friends; he had a strong, attractive personality, broad in build with fair, almost white hair, twinkling eyes and, surprisingly, a snub nose. Perhaps his major attraction was his deep, musical voice.

We had both been very active politically, supporting the government forces in the Spanish Civil War. After the war, Jim organised a supply of artists’ materials to be sent to the prison camps in Southern France for the defeated Spaniards.

Jim was very quick to laughter and fond of singing folk ballads like ‘Waltzing Matilda’ (at that time unknown here) accompanied by my modest efforts on the guitar (an instrument also almost virtually unknown here at the time). The rest of the repertoire was American: ‘Careless Love’, ‘Frankie and Johnnie’, ‘Jesse James’, ‘The Streets of Laredo’ and ‘Birmingham Jail’.

Maxim Gorky by David Caplan from Our time Oct-Nov 1941.

He was studio chief (there were four of us) and we all admired him and enjoyed working under him. His compelling personality also attracted the other non-artist members of our department who were continually popping into the studio on trumped-up pretexts and stopping to chat, usually on politics (it was the time of the Munich appeasement). They were at the opposite pole to Jim politically but all liked him immensely. It was difficult to imagine anyone actually disliking him. He was an indefatigable worker and an impressive speaker and writer. He drew with speed and facility - his line was magic! In our studio he had to spend a lot of time on the phone during which he would doodle on scraps of paper fantastically sexy tarts which, on termination of the calls, were consigned to the waste-paper basket, later to be rescued by me. Now, nearly thirty years later, I treasure these little masterpieces.

James Boswell’s tragic death left a permanent hole in the lives of those close to this enormously talented, lovable man.

David Caplan (1910-1986), graphic designer and typographer. Worked at BP and publicity dept. of Shell Mex.