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Designing Britain 1945 - 1975 > Oral testimony and the Interpretation of the Crafts > Themes > Golden Egg Restaurants

The demise of the coffee bar

The 1950s coffee bar is often referred to as a phenomenon, and one that died by the end of the 1960s. The work of Newland, Hine and Vergette is also frequently referred to as, 'of its time', stylised and out of date. This is meant as a criticism, yet at the time Dora Billington, (Head of Ceramics at the Central School of Art, London), wrote that
But won't this amusing contemporary pottery very quickly date? Of course it will, just as quickly as a pastiche of seventeenth century slipware, or thirteenth century Sung wares; all aspects of twentieth century studio pottery; to be judged, a hundred, or even fifty years hence, by standards probably very different to ours. The standards of good workmanship which we recognise in all good pots of any period, and to which we cling, passionately and a little dogmatically, need to be restated and interpreted afresh by each generation; and each making its own imaginative contribution.1
The implication is that they knew their work was of its time but also that was what attracted the buyers to it. Their work was fashionable and as with all fashionable things: they would go out of fashion. As far as the coffee bars themselves are concerned, they have never gone away, (indeed the 1990s saw an explosion of new coffee bars in Britain). However, in their early, independent, bohemian manifestation, they had largely faded away by the mid 1960s. As proprietors found that selling food was more profitable, their bars were turned into cafes and restaurants.

Write 500 words in response to the following activity:

In business terms, in what way does the current growth of coffee bars on the British high street differ from the 1950s London bars? What difference might prevent the current bars from fading away like their predecessors?

This section uses the article 'Eating out Can be Fun', from Design, 1966, as the primary source. Malcolm Newell's book, Mood and Atmosphere in Restaurants, 1965, is also a valuable contemporary source of information.

Reilly's article was all about the ways in which the coffee bars offered something new at a time when going out in London was a fairly uninspiring experience. Newland, Hine and Vergette's ceramics were part of that newness: they weren't refined or subtle but they were of their time and they elicited comment. As the coffee bars began to fade away Newland and Hine began to work more and more for the Kaye Brothers and their new Golden Egg restaurants. The sense of brashness, fun and individuality with which the coffee bars were heralded by Reilly was to be closely echoed in the Baynes' article.

Many people can remember Golden Egg restaurants from the 1970s as colourful, cheap and homogenous: the same layout whether you were in Dover or Dundee. However, Philip and Reggie Kaye began the Golden Egg restaurants in the early 1960s and each one was very different. Some had an Italian theme, others Spanish and some pure Hollywood. They were a mixture of coffee bar and moderately priced restaurant: they had separate areas for drinking coffee and eating. Whilst the later Golden Eggs were rather soulless chain restaurants the earliest ones used handmade ceramics and modern materials such as coloured plastics and fibre-glass. Although handmade ceramics in a cheap restaurant chain may seem incongruous, one element of their design is entirely in keeping with Newland's style: colour. In his 1965 book, Mood and Atmosphere in Restaurants, Maclolm Newell writes:
The most controversial use of colour in British restaurants has come from the Golden Egg chain where riotous colour schemes and brilliant opaline lights have brought a jazzy mood to eating in low-price popular restaurants. Philip Kaye and his family, proprietors of the chain, had no knowledge of colour scheming. They just wanted to break away from the tradition of conservatism. And the success of the chain shows there is public appreciation of this dramatic approach. 2
Having built up a reputation for making brightly coloured sculptural ceramics, Newland and Hine were in the right place at the right time to decorate the interiors of the Golden Eggs. Not being part of the ceramic establishment and eager to make a living, they were happy to make objects to fit a designer's scheme, however outlandish. Philip Kaye said that a sculpture of Newland's for the Edgware Road 'Golden Egg' was a
ghastly eight foot high head but that people stopped to look, they were horrified and they were mystified, but it intrigued them and they went in. 3
Light fittings, coloured walls and diners. OTC00097 Light fittings, coloured walls and diners.

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Large format view of table from above. OTC00044 Large format view of table from above.

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Exterior of Golden Egg and Hospital. OTC00045 Exterior of Golden Egg and Hospital.

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Higher exposed view of restaurant. OTC00043 Higher exposed view of restaurant.

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View of birds in window. OTC00172 View of birds in window.

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Light fittings. OTC00173 Light fittings.

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General view. OTC00174 General view.

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Spikey sculptures. OTC00175 Spikey sculptures.

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Chefs cooking. OTC00176 Chefs cooking.

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London Steak House, 1966. OTC00028 London Steak House, 1966.

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The Sizzling Sausage OTC00038 The Sizzling Sausage

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Newland goes on to explain the rather organic nature of the commissioning process:
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…Well, the normal way we were commissioned was that if we had to do a job we'd take along drawing and meet the patron, the Kayes, and the architect and show them our drawings and the main thing of course, we were always paid but of course you looked after the guy who was going to pay you: if he approved it was alright and of course the architects were so hungry for bloody work that if the patron wanted something, they agreed too. So we more or less had a free, absolutely free hand. And we did some really crazy ones you know, and got away with it…Well crazy tile ones. I'll have to show you photographs of them. We did one in Oxford Street with ceramics and glass and lit from behind, there are all these sort of new ideas coming down. We did mosaics in ceramic, mosaics in stone, glass…4
Copyright the National Electronic and Video Archive of the Crafts, 2002.
The artists were able to go beyond their usual ceramics and engage with modern materials. They were producing modern designs for modern settings. The sixties were under way and colour was everywhere: in fashion, the cinema, the arts and in pop music. Newland and Hine were reflecting this trend in ceramics at a time when colour was still not the done thing.

Newland follows on from his comments above to give a sense of the modernity of some of the materials they were using:
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Well, I suppose the changing times. The fifties, the times of changing materials, sounds an odd term, but fibre glass had just arrived and one of the great things they did with fibre glass in the early days was do big sort of cylindrical chandeliers you know and lighting changed, you know all things changed. It's hard to, shelving changed, the great, there were very few shelves in homes and the shelf units coming through from Scandinavia you know and so if you'd got a coffee bar you'd probably got a lot of shelves on the walls. A new, quite a new thing yeah. And colours changed… Well, people start, well I think they just wanted to be bloody different. People started painting, you could get a black ceiling and a colour like, you probably know, bitter chocolate. Just arrived you know, no one had a chocolate wall…5
Copyright the National Electronic and Video Archive of the Crafts, 2002.
The importance of the Golden Egg restaurants is demonstrated by the response of other caterers. By the mid 1960s J.Lyons & Co. also ran 'The Sizzling Sausage' and 'Chips with Everything', firmly aimed at a youth market and intended as the prototypes for chains. By the time of their 1966 article, Ken and Kate Baynes were already seeing the calming down of the 'convinced vulgarity of the grass roots Golden Eggs'. Whilst the Baynes cannot restrain themselves from accusing the Golden Eggs of design vulgarity they acknowledge that, 'they are a tremendous, even a
fantastic, advance on the vacuum that existed a few years ago'.

Write 500 words in response to the following activity:

Find out about fibre glass and the other materials mentioned by Reilly, the Baynes and other writers of the period, (such as formica, wareite, vynide etc). Produce your own glossary of material terms with information about why they were useful or different from existing materials. (The images on this page include light fittings made from fibre glass).
1. Dora Billington, 'The new look in British pottery', Studio, vol.149, 1955, p.18.
2. Malcolm Newell, Mood and atmosphere in restaurants, Barrie and Rockliff, 1965, p.22.
3. Ibid, p.34.
4. NEVAC, AC118side1, (00:31:37 onwards), audio recording of William Newland, 1994.
5. Ibid.