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Sam Peffer (1921-2014)

23rd March 2014

MI6 looks at the life of Sam Peffer, the artist who created the look of James Bond for many Pan paperback editions of Ian Fleming's adventures

MI6 logo By MI6 Staff
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Sam Peffer was born in 1921. He was the son of an interior decorator who had previously served in the Royal Navy during World War I, who was wounded twice in the line of duty. In his early days, Peffer made a living painting front of house displays for cinemas in London's West End.

When conflict broke out again in 1939, Peffer followed in his father's footsteps during World War II, also serving in the Royal Navy.

Disaster struck when his ship was sunk by enemy action during whilst in convoy in Malta. Peffer survived and after demobilisation, he decided to follow a career in art despite being an promising amateur boxer with agents interested taking him in to professionalism.

 
Above: Sam Peffer models himself for a jacket he painted in 1958, during his tenure as 007 cover artist.

He joined a course at the Hornsey School of Art and worked for Theatre Publicity, a company that created projection slides for cinemas. Peffer moved up the ranks and then joined British cinema advertising company Pearl and Dean, and by the mid-1950s had taken charge of the art department. It was there that Peffer met colleague John Vernon, who would go on to create over a hundred covers for Ace Books.


Above: Sam Peffer's visualisation of James Bond on the Pan paperback "Casino Royale"
(3rd to 7th editions, 1958 - 1961)


In 1955, Peffer started to work as a freelance illustrator, and was quickly picked up by Panther Books. His talents were spotted by Pan art buyer Tony Bowen-Davies, who visited Peffer at his flat in Finsbury Park and recruited him to his agency John Martin and Artists.
The Art Of Sam Peffer

 

The "Peff" era at Pan began in 1956, with Peffer being paid up to £45 for each cover, but no royalties or second-right sales. At the time of publication, few viewed the covers as art in its own right, with the priority set on creating a "saleable" design. Much to the chagrin of art editors, he signed all his covers "Peff", a nickname his picked up during his Navy years.

Pan held the rights to publish the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming in paperback between the 1950s and the 1980s.

Artist Josh Kirby created American style pulp covers for Pan's first few 007 publications with varying depictions of Bond, but Peffer created a consistent visualisation of the popular hero when he took over the series in 1957, basing the character's appearance on model Dick Orme.

During the swinging-sixties and the height of Bondmania, the money being offered by Pan for his artwork was in decline as film tie-in covers were cashed in with the launch of Sean Connery as 007, and cheaper artwork flooded in from Italy. Peffer also painted for Digit books and created some Hank Janson covers for Compact.

Left: "From Russia With Love" British Pan paperback 1st-9th editions (1959 onwards)


By the 1970s, Peffer had moved from book covers to more lucrative work on British cinema quad posters, where he was paid up to £200 a time and created over 200 film posters for sex comedies, sci-fi and adventure movies.

He produced a lot of his posters for Stanley Long and was noted as a painter for "the raincoat brigade".

Right: British quad poster for the 1978 sci-fi adventure "Prisoner of the Cannibal God" starring Ursula Andress

 

Sam Peffer died on March 14th 2014 at the age of 92. He is survived by his wife Kitty (Kit) who had modelled for many of his covers.

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