Born on May 30 1898 in Whitley Bay, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, one of eight children. He attended Sandyford School, followed in 1909, by Heaton Park Road Upper School. From a young age, he decided that he wished to emulate his father, a marine landscape painter and technical draftsman. Learning his skill by copying cartoons from Punch, by the age of fifteen he was contributing caricatures of famous celebrities to the Newcastle Evening Chronicle. Gilroy won a scholarship to Armstrong College Art School at Durham University, but on the outbreak of the First World War, Gilroy joined the Royal Field Artillary, serving in France, Italy and Palestine. Post-war, Gilroy accepted a place at the RCA, winning more scholarships, and accepting a teaching position. In 1924, he married Gwendoline Peri-Short, a fellow student at RCA. In 1925, aged 27, he joined SH Benson’s creative department as an ‘in-house artist’. Gilroy was soon working on high profile campaigns, including Colman’s “Mustard Club”, with fellow artist William Brearley and copywriters Oswald Greene and Dorothy L. Sayers. Best known for his campaigns for Guinness, Gilroy created well over 100 press and poster advertisements for Guinness over thirty-five years, many using humorous character-based advertising. Famous by the Second World War, he worked with the MOI studios to produced photo-lithographic posters on a salvage theme, having been personally commissioned to do work for the MOI by Embleton, Edwin.
Best known for his humorous Guinness posters, Gilroy had a ‘remarkable’ versatile drawing style and a wide range of ‘technical skills’, covering the range from ‘intricate pen-and-ink drawings’ to expansive poster canvases. Gilroy’s work, particularly landscape and portrait paintings (including the Royal Family, Winston Churchill and Rupert Guinness), were regularly exhibited at the RA. Gilroy described posters as ‘a king of aesthetic meal-in-a-minute. The man in the street is usually in a hurry to catch a bus or avoid being caught by one, and has no time for lengthy contemplation.’
Information collated from: Anonymous, ‘The Guinness Collectors Club – John Gilroy’, http://www.guinntiques.com/gilroy, accessed March 24 2004; Davies, J., The Book of Guinness Advertising, 1998, pp.68-69 (quoting Guinness Time, Vol. 5, No. 2, Spring 1952, p.19); McDermott, R., ‘Gilroy at His Whimsiest for Ministry of Supply’, Advertiser’s Weekly, Vol. 128, No. 1,674, June 21 1945, p.504; Questionnaire submitted by Royall, K. to Embleton, E., Royall, K., ‘Posters of the Second World War: The Fourth Arm of British Defence’, Unpublished M.A., University of Westminster, 1991, p.123.
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Mass Communications Academic, @MMUBS. British Home Front Propaganda posters as researched for a PhD completed 2004. In 1997, unwittingly wrote the first history of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster, which she now follows with interest.