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Hitler, Scrooge and Nixon: How to illustrate the Bogey Man

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Ashley Stewart-Noble Ashley Stewart-Noble | 11:16 UK time, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Illustrating radio programming on BBC iPlayer is not as straight forward as it really ought to be. I've mentioned the way we illustrated the Absence of God and how I always try and avoid rows and rows of headshots looking like Britain's Most Wanted.

To break repetition of images, we commission images from a pool of external illustrators. The Third Reich and Roll is a great example of how best to use an illustration:

Illustrator: Neal Fox

In the words of one of my picture editors Dominik Klimowski:

"[I]t mocks an iconic, evil man like Adolf Hitler, illustrating the whole documentary in one simple image. It can, of course, elicit a knee-jerk response which misses the point, but on further observation it is by far the most effective method. What alternative is there with photographs? An archive photo of Hitler would be too serious and out of context, likewise a picture of the narrator Stephen Fry. Some pictures of tape machines may do the trick but then I don't think they'd grab the 'casual clicker' as much as the illustration we have used."

The relationship between the BBC and the illustrators is an open one and often involves several sketches and drafts before the final look and feel is decided upon, These are sketches for Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall and The Duchess of Malfi. Final images are below:

Dominik continues:

"Commissioning illustrators is like having kids; you have great plans for them but in the end you have to let them do what they want and it usually works best that way."

And this relationship has given the iPlayer and the BBC Online homepage some of its most striking imagery while raising the profile of the hidden gems of our output. Here are some of our favourites:

Adolf Hitler: My part in his downfall

Illustrator: Neal Fox

The world's funniest man and his part in Hitler's fall from power.

A Brief History of Cunning

Illustrator: Neal Fox

Nixon and Machiavelli, together at last, trying to 'out-fox' each other

The Duchess of Malfi
Illustrator: Steph von Reiswitz
Not many good-guys in this play. Here the mood even extends to the typography. The whole sinister feel of the illustration is enhanced by one of the characters casting his beady eye over the viewer.

A Christmas Carol
Illustrator: Bill Bragg
Another one looking at us. The notorious Scrooge. Bill Bragg, who illustrated this one went back to the original text, and purposefully stripped the story of it's 'Disneyfication'

Edgar Allen Poe: Loving the Raven
Illustrator: Dominik Klimowski
Not really a bogeyman, as with Poe it's all in the mind. Again, melodrama works so much better with illustration than with photography, particularly when a 'generic' image is required to illustrate a whole series.

Fortress Totobag
Illustrator: Swava Harasymowicz
Although not featuring a 'bogeyman', the programme deals with an unpleasant and violent situation. It would be difficult to do with archive photographs without explicitly using recognisable faces. Illustration gets round this problem.

Ashley Stewart-Noble is Senior Content Producer, BBC Online, BBC Future Media & Technology

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