The man who re-invented the sexy, pictorial, promotional calendar is Yorkshire-born Derek Birdsall. In the early 1960s, he persuaded tyre company Pirelli (founded in Milan in 1872) that, rather than show pictures of beautiful female models sitting on motorcycles or farm equipment, they could just show the girls. For the 1964 calendar, Birdsall and Beatles photographer Robert Freeman headed to the Mediterranean for a three-week shoot – and an enduring cultural icon was born.
When Birdsall returned to make the 1968 calendar, this time with photographer Harri Peccinotti, he re-invented the form a second time. Using the theme of ‘Love poems’, twelve cards are suspended from a black plastic backboard to make a calendar that can be rearranged each month. The rounded corners of the cards for pictures and months echo the die-cut slots used to hang them up.
Birdsall’s long career has included Penguin reference books, The Independent’s Saturday magazine, the lavish Mobil customer magazine Pegasus and the Book of Common Prayer for the Church of England. To steer the 1968 calendar away from the clichés of sun, sea and sex, he chose twelve moving love poems as a ‘brief’ for his team.
Peccinotti’s photographs respond to the verses, the models and the Tunisian landscape in a manner both joyful and sensual, in grainy contrast to the overt sexuality of later Pirelli calendars. Each poem is printed in silver over the image.
Pirelli Calendar 1968.
Designer and art director: Derek Birdsall.
Photos: Harri Peccinotti.
The love poems are overprinted in silver on the colour photographs.