How election leaflets used to look

Earlier this month I highlighted how election posters in Australia, and other countries, feature close up head shots of candidates in a way that is almost completely unknown in the UK.

Large head and shoulders photographs did, however, previously feature heavily in our election literature – on leaflets if not posters. For decades many leaflets look like this effort from Sir W Lacon Threlford who was standing for election as a City of London Alderman in 1935:

Lacon Threlford election leaflet

Pausing for a moment of sympathy for the clerical helpers who had to correct the polling hours on the leaflet, it is notable that his name is not clearly presented anywhere on the front of the leaflet and his signature is not the most readable.

The reverse of the leaflet does give his name, along with a write-up of reasons to vote for him:

Lacon Threlford election leaflet - reverse

The underlying messages here are very similar to those used by candidates now: went to school here, worked here, active in local organisation, active in worthy organisation, impressive career, served country, generous person and so on. The language and phrasing is very different, and no web address, reply slip or bar chart in sight.

So just for a bit of fun, how you would present this record in a modern election campaign?

(Sir W Lacon Threlford’s name lives on, by the way, in the form of the Chartered Institute of Linguists which he formed and which has a regular Threlford Lecture in his memory.)

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • We had to hand change a leaflet once for a ward, by hand, correcting a timing – some things never change 🙂

    (The original had said polls open at 7am and close at 11am – whether that would have got a good early turnout we will never know…)

  • Simon Titley 26th Aug '10 - 12:33pm

    No bar charts. See, it’s easy if you try.

  • Wasnt everyone who fought in the First World War awarded three medals (Pip, Squeak and Wilfred for the army if not the navy)? Dreadful bit of spin!

  • Peter Laubach 26th Aug '10 - 1:29pm

    Talking of Australia, I’ve been hoping that someone would provide an intelligible analysisof how the voting went, given that the AV system used could be compared with what would happen here if we win next year’s referendum.
    I appreciate voting is compulsory there (as I think it should be here), and there may be a difference in that ALL preferences have to be shewn there (not sure if that’s proposed here), but otherwise I would have thought that people here would find such an analysis helpful. Does anyone have any info?

  • David Worsfold 26th Aug '10 - 1:32pm

    I’m not sure how representative a City of London election leaflet is. I don’t suppose they have actually changed that much today.

  • Mark Smulian 26th Aug '10 - 2:08pm

    I once took part in a local election in the early 1970s where the Liberal Party used a circular, orange but completely blank window bill (other than an imprint). The idea, so I gathered, was the create a local talking point about the orange blobs that had appeared all around the area before these were replaced by conventional posters a week later. It was thought up by Southend councillor Mike King, an unsung pioneer of Focus-style leaflets as early as 1966, but this was one of his innovations that didn’t catch on.

  • “ONLY [NAME] CAN WIN HERE!” would surely be the modern equivalent, no matter where and which party?

  • I think David Worsfold is right – the City of London isn’t really an administrative entity that can be compared with normal local authorities. Having said that, I bet Tony Greaves has got hundreds of similar leaflets from that period.

  • Irfan Ahmed 26th Aug '10 - 7:02pm


    I agree with you about Tony Greaves and his vast collection of election leaflets!

  • toryboysnevergrowup 26th Aug '10 - 7:49pm

    Just reminds me that the City of London Corporation still exists as a stain on our Democracy, despite the behaviour of the City in recent years. Perhaps the LibDems in government may want to something about it – if only to distinguish themselves from their Tory masters.

  • Experienced one of our candidates (Tory background) – issuing an election address about 1995 – not consulted with anyone – started “Gentlemen” ended “Your obedient servant”. I asked who’d written it – he said “I adapted my great uncle’s address (that was in late 1890s – women didn’t have the vote !).

  • Having just attended a big family event I dug out my great grandfather’s address for Micklegate Ward in York for 1911. Not very different.
    Clearly there was no campaigns department input

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