top of page


In 1932 Imperial Airways approached Theyre Lee-Elliott, one of London’s leading graphic artists and painters, and asked him to create a symbol which they could easily reproduce on their posters and luggage labels. Lee-Elliott had been strongly influenced by the avant-garde work of Edward McKnight Kauffer and his designs echoed Kauffer's angular bird forms in his 1918 poster for the Daily Herald. Other notable works by Lee-Elliott include posters for the London Underground and the Airmail logo. Many of his paintings and original artworks can still be seen at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Lee-Elliott came up with a minimalist, simple, linear design representing a stylised bird in flight which soon became known as the Speedbird. In time it would become the best-known airline logo in the world and remains widely recognised, even to this day (at the time of going to press, British Airways had reintroduced it on one of their 747s). By 1938 it was appearing on the nose of aircraft, which was unusual in an era where most airlines, including Imperial Airways, kept their aircraft in a bare-metal finish with minimal signwriting. With the outbreak of war, BOAC aircraft had to be painted in wartime camouflage without titles, but most still sported a Speedbird on the nose.

In the 1950s the Speedbird was prominently featured on the tail, initially in blue on a white background, and later in white on a dark blue background. As air traffic control developed, so ‘Speedbird’ became the call sign of BOAC flights and it is still the callsign of British Airways.

When Giles Guthrie was appointed Chief Executive in 1963, he decided to completely redesign the livery of BOAC aircraft, feeling that the 1950s scheme was now looking dated. He specified however, that the Speedbird must remain on the tail. The result was a new, modern look with a gorgeous dark blue tail and cheatline, and a much larger Speedbird emblazoned on the tail in shining gold. It was an eye-catchingly beautiful design and in an era of strong airline logos it stood out at every airport that BOAC served. The new gold Speedbird, which the airline retained until the merger with BEA, helped define BOAC as a visible icon of the 1960s and it has rarely, if ever, been bettered by any airline.

From BOAC AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF FLYING. £17.50 reduced from £35.

140 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page