Barney Bubbles was once described as the “missing link between pop and culture” producing record sleeves, T-shirts and stage sets for the likes of Hawkwind, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and Nick Lowe.
He also directed the 1981 video for the Specials song Ghost Town, featuring the band glumly crammed into a 1961 Vauxhall Cresta being driven through the empty streets of London.
On Monday, it will be announced that an archive of Bubbles’ work is now owned by the UK public, as part of a list of treasures by artists including Manet, Rembrandt and Chagall which are going into public collections thanks to the UK’s cultural gifts and acceptance in lieu (AiL) schemes.
The latter scheme, created in Lloyd George’s 1910 “people’s budget”, allows cultural objects be left to the UK as a way of offsetting or settling inheritance tax bills. The cultural gifts scheme was introduced in 2013, and allows people to leave treasures in their lifetime.
The 2019-20 year was a record one, an annual report reveals, with objects worth nearly £65m left to the public, settling tax of £40m.
The Belinda Syme archive of Bubbles’ work and paraphernalia was comparatively small in terms of tax settlement (£16,500) but it is arguably one of the most fascinating collections on the list, shining light on a figure who his many fans say deserves to be better known.
Born Colin Fulcher, Bubbles produced distinctive designs in the 70s and 80s for a huge swathe of punk, post-punk and new wave acts. He also designed the masthead for NME and the archer logo for Strongbow cider.
The science fiction writer Michael Moorcock described Bubbles’ record covers as “lasting images for fleeting times” while Factory Records designer Peter Saville called him the “missing link between pop and culture.”
Bubbles rarely signed anything he produced, shunned publicity – apart from an interview with The Face – and took his own life in 1983, aged just 41.
The archive includes sketchbooks, drawing equipment, collages, photographs, badges, stickers, album covers and his library of reference books. It has been permanently allocated to Liverpool John Moores University in accordance with the wish of the donor.
View image in fullscreenL’Écuyère by Marc Chagall, left to National Galleries Scotland. Photograph: Photo courtesy of Christies
Edward Harley, chair of the AiL panel, said two-thirds of allocations had been made to institutions outside London. “The variety of objects remains as diverse as ever, and it is particularly exciting that the number of institutions receiving items through the scheme continues to grow.”
Harley also highlighted significant acquisitions made to national museums in devolved nations. Wales has received an important Manet portrait of his cousin Jules Dejouy and a Corot landscape; Scotland a gouache titled L’Écuyère (The Horse Rider) by Marc Chagall; Northern Ireland six etchings by Rembrandt.
Paintings by Leonard Rosoman that include the first gay kiss in British theatre history have been allocated to the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex.
Other archives now owned publicly include those of Lord Carrington, foreign secretary under Margaret Thatcher, which has gone to the Churchill Archives Centre; and barrister Jeremy Hutchinson, who defended Penguin in the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial, which has gone to the University of Sussex.
The annual report reveals that this is the first year that the maximum amount of tax which can be settled, £40m, was utilised.
Among the more eclectic objects left is a collection of more than 50 fossils found in a West Lothian quarry which includes Westlothiana lizziae – or “Lizzie the Lizard” – thought to be the oldest known reptile. The collection was allocated to National Museums Scotland.
This article was amended on 21 December 2020 to remove a picture of Julian Cope that incorrectly said it was a photo of Bubbles and to properly credit the main photograph to his estate. It was further amended on 4 January 2021 to reflect subsequent changes to the annual report clarifying that the Bubbles collection was an archive donated by Belinda Syme.