Bagley, William Collins publishers & the Italian Masters of Commercial Art

Desmond Bagley The Golden Keel, High Citadel, Wyatt's Hurricane & The Vivero Letter collage © HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

A well designed book cover is often a keystone in a good marketing strategy for a publisher, from a distance the cover should be able to drawn the attention of the prospective reader thereby distinguishing the book from the many others on display. A good cover should engage the prospective reader enough to want to pick the book up and study it further, and suggest the quality, tenor and style of the novel.

In the 1960’s the publishers William Collins, Sons & Co Ltd. made outstanding choices in the artists used to produce the cover art for their books, this is nowhere more evident than in the cover art used for Bagley’s first edition novels. This article focusses on three Italian masters of commercial art: Renato Fratini, who designed the cover art for The Golden Keel; Pino Dell’Orco, who designed the cover art for both High Citadel and Wyatt’s Hurricane; and Gino D’Achille who designed the cover art for The Vivero Letter. They all led similar careers producing artwork for book covers, magazines and cinema posters.

Desmond Bagley The Golden Keel, High Citadel, Wyatt's Hurricane & The Vivero Letter collage © HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

Though you may not realise it, you will be very familiar with the work of these three Italian artists, they have all produced iconic artwork and at one time all worked for the prestigious agency Studio Favalli, Italy’s leading producer of film posters in the 1950’s. Agusto Favalli controlled many artists employed by the Cinecittà film studios in Rome and also took commissions from the prestigious British design agency Pulford Publicity controlled by the famous commercial artist Eric William Pulford [1]. The late 1950’s saw the closure of Studio Favalli and the relocation of many of the illustrators to Milan, Renato Fratini and Pino Dell’Orco worked alongside each other at the Milan based D’ami studios, run by Ronaldo and Pierro D’ami. It was during this period that Pulford and other British scouts not only commissioned work from the Italian artists but convinced some of them to relocate to London.

Renato Fratini

Desmond Bagley - The Golden Keel © HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.Whilst in Milan, Renato Fratini had received commissions from London based Fleetway Publications, arranged by art agents Bryan Colmer and Virgil Pomfret, which included Sexton Blake, Famous Romance Library and Thriller. In 1959, unable to speak a word of English, Fratini moved to London and quickly became one of the most exciting artists around, receiving book cover commissions from Corgi, Fontana, Heinemann, Panther, Penguin and Collins. His artwork for The Golden Keel, published in 1963, demonstrates the rich painting technique, which characterised his Fontana period, his later book illustrations combined paint and pencil to create evocative collages and landscapes. A particular favourite of mine is the cover for the March 1968 edition of Argosy: The Short Story Magazine, which demonstrates the style of an earlier commission in 1965 for King magazine, where, over the course of four issues, Fratini illustrated a Peter O’Donnell Modesty Blaise serial.

Renato Fratini book covers - © IPC Media, © Penguin Random House: Heinemann

Fratini’s work on film posters could hardly be described as monostylistic, his icon artwork for the film posters From Russia With Love, Waterloo, Khartoum and The Fall Of The Roman Empire contrasting with his later work on numerous Carry On posters and Morecambe and Wise’s The Intelligence Men, which use a style of realistic faces, with tiny simplified bodies. [2]

Renato Fratini - Cinema poster collage: © Paramount, © Rank Group, © United Artists.

Encouraged by the low cost of living and a thriving market for book cover illustration Fratini started a new life in Mexico where in 1972, aged forty, he suffered a heart attack and sadly passed away leaving us a legacy of iconic artwork.

Pino Dell’Orco

Pino Dell’Orco, whose career almost parallels that of Renato Fratini, was an aeroplane-obsessed schoolboy who grew up in Rome reading the comics of the legendary German/Italian artist Curt Caesar [3]. Following an apprenticeship to Enrico DeSeta he, like Fratini, joined Studio Favalli and later D’ami studios in Milan to work alongside Fratini. Dell’Orco also moved to London and joined the Bryan Colmer agency to paint book cover illustrations. An early commission for Collins was the cover for the 1961 book The Dark Crusader, by Ian Stuart, the pseudonym used by Alistair Maclean. Dell’Orco’s wonderful illustration on Bagley’s 1965 novel High Citadel, conveys beautifully the plight of the stranded air passengers fighting for survival in the Andes mountain range of South America. His 1966 commission for Wyatt’s Hurricane evokes the ferocity unleashed by Hurricane Mable whilst it crosses the fictional Caribbean island of San Fernandez.

Pino Dell'Orco book cover art collage © HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

Dell’Orco is perhaps best known for his commissions to produce war cover illustrations for Fleetway Publications. This move, originally suggested by Bryan Colmer, was to result in over 300 commissions during the 1960’s for Fleetway’s Battle, War and Air Ace Picture Libraries. These truly icon illustrations, for which this particular schoolboy has fond memories, managed to capture with great skill, clearly evident in the Air Ace series, Dell’Orco’s love of aviation with dynamic illustrations conveying adroitly the tenor of classic war stories.

Pino Dell'Orco cover art collage © IPC Media.

Pino Dell’Orco returned to Italy at the end of the 1960’s and more recently produced a stunning series of paintings for an aeronautical museum in Italy [4], he sadly passed away in 2013.

Addendum February 2020

I am indebted to Linda Compagnoni Walther, from Switzerland, who runs a website about the books of the late French author Juliette Benzoni. Linda kindly identified a cover design by Dell’Orco for One Love is Enough, published by Heinemann in 1964. The cover is strikingly similar in style to that of Angelique and the Sultan, also published by Heinemann in 1961, which bears the name of Renato Fratini as the cover designer.

One Love is Enough - Juliette Benzoni - Heinemann 1964

Gino D’Achille

Desmond Bagley - The Vivero Letter 1968 - Cover artist: Gino D’Achille © HarperCollins Publishers.

Gino D’Achille was born in Rome in 1935, his talent as an artist led him to study at Rome’s University of Architecture and during his spare time he produced commercial art for Studio Favalli. Like both Fratini and Dell’Orco he made the move to Milan where he took up a full time career as a commercial artist. His artistic talent was spotted by British talent scouts and he too was persuaded to move to London in 1964. His first commission for Collins was to produce illustrations for David Kossoff’s Bible Stories [5], and in 1968 he produced the illustration for Bagley’s novel The Vivero Letter. His artwork depicts divers on a high-stakes trail for gold in a cenote located deep in the dense jungle of Quintana Roo, South America.

Gino is perhaps better known for his paintings for the ‘John Carter of Mars’ book series by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the cover art, over 100 paintings, for other science-fiction titles published by Daw Books, Ace, Ballantine and other publishers. He also produced the covers for George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman novels and during the 1980’s took commissions from D.C Thompson & Co. Ltd, to produce cover illustrations for Commando War Stories in Pictures.

Gino D'Achille Book cover art collage - © HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, © Pan Macmillan Publishing, © Penguin Random House: Ballantine Books, Barrie & Jenkins, © D.C. Thompson & Co. Ltd.

Whilst Pino Dell’Orco’s illustrations for Battle, War and Air Ace Picture Libraries showed a preference for aviation, D’Achille favoured depicting the German soldier in battle. It appears that D’Achille sourced photographs of German soldiers in battle during World War II and based his paintings on these images, the realistic artwork was then supplied to D.C Thompson to create stories around the images. [6]

Today Gino lives in London and Corsica with his partner, painter Mim Hain, still working you can both view and purchase his artwork by visiting his website

The outstanding choices made by William Collins, Sons & Co Ltd. in choosing these Italian commercial artists to produce some of their cover art has left us with a legacy of iconic images to go along with those great novels we continue to read.

Update: Sadly only a few weeks after I posted this piece, Gino D’Achille passed away on 10th February 2017. His website is still accessible as are his Twitter and Instagram social media accounts. A link to his obituary in The Telegraph can be found here.


Images © HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., © IPC Media, © Penguin Random House:Ballantine Books, Barrie & Jenkins © Paramount, © Rank Group, © United Artists, © Pan Macmillan Publishing, © D.C. Thompson & Co. Ltd.

1. Film On Paper (2012). ‘An interview with Brian Bysouth’ [online]. URL [Accessed 30th December 2016]

2. Roach, D. (2012). ‘Taking the rough with the smooth’ – Illustrators – 2012. (Issue 2), pp. 82-89.

3. Peng, L. (2008). ‘Film On Paper – The (Cover) Art of British War Comics: Day 2’ [online]. URL [Accessed 30th December 2016]

4. Lever Gallery (2016). ‘Pino Dell’Orco’ [online]. URL [Accessed 30th December 2016]

5. D’Achille, G. (2017). ‘About Gino’ [online]. URL [Accessed 5th January 2017]

6. Richardson, P. (2011). ‘Commando, Komando and Sonderkommando’ Cloud 109 – 12th October 2011 [online] URL [Accessed 5th January 2017]