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Upcoming Events Sheer Beauty of His Cinema Posters Puts Tom Chantrell at the Front of the Pack

Tom Chantrell’s bold use colour—the red and blue contrasting here to good effect—and gorgeous depiction of Marilyn Monroe makes this “Bus Stop” poster a must-have for collectors.

Posters created by best-known of all British cinema poster artists offer prime collectible material.

Tom Chantrell is arguably the best-known of all British cinema poster artists. The reason why is partly due to the artist’s prolific work rate. However, Chantrell was also commissioned to work on some of the most popular titles in 20th century cinema: from “Star Wars” to “Bus Stop,” from “Hammer Horror” to some of the best loved Carry On’s. Of course, under-pinning hard work and luck is the sheer beauty of Chantrell’s art, which is both distinctive and highly memorable. In this introductory article, we will look at some collectable examples of Chantrell posters.

“Bus Stop” (1956)
The U.K. Double-Crown poster for this Marilyn Monroe film serves as a good introduction to the world of Chantrell poster art. First, one can immediately see that Chantrell was not afraid to use colour—the red and blue contrasting here to good effect. Relative to many later Chantrell pieces, the “Bus Stop” artwork was fairly restrained, but then again, the gorgeous depiction of Marilyn scarcely needed any embellishment. Chantrell clearly had an eye for the female form and this was to influence a large body of his later work. In the current market, expect to pay £2,000 plus for a nice “Bus Stop” DC.

Because there were no stills from the film available, Chantrell posed for a photo and used this as the template for the poster for “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave.”

“Dracula Has Risen From the Grave” (1974)
One of the most popular of film genres during the 1960s and ’70s were the horror films produced by Hammer. Chantrell produced artwork for all Hammer films during the period 1965-70 and was responsible for a good number of titles thereafter. The “Dracula Has Risen” U.K. quad poster was a typical Chantrell piece; the colours bold and vibrant, and the poster containing a generous proportion of artwork. What is particularly interesting about this design is that the central figure, though purporting to be Christopher Lee, was actually a self-portrait of Tom Chantrell. In the absence of any suitable stills from the film, Chantrell posed for a photo and used this as the template for the poster (for the full story, see Sim Branaghan’s excellent book “British Film Posters”). It is still possible to find this Hammer quad for £250-£350.

The “Carry On Cleo” U.K. one-sheet shown here is rare, as the poster was recalled under threat of suit by the producers of Elizabeth Taylor’s “Cleopatra.”

“Carry On Cleo” (1964)
Rivalling the commercial success of Hammer during this time were the “Carry On” films. Chantrell undertook a number of the earlier “Carry On” titles. The “Carry On Cleo” U.K. one-sheet shown here is interesting as this is a rare poster bearing the “banned” Chantrell artwork. Carry On Productions were notoriously frugal and its spoof of the blockbuster “Cleopatra” went so far as to resurrect sets and props once Liz Taylor, et al, had finished. When Chantrell produced this poster, copying a famous “Cleopatra” publicity shot of a reclining Ms. Taylor, this proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. The “Carry On” team were hit with the threat of a legal writ and Chantrell’s posters were pulled, a slapdash alternative, hastily being put together. Surviving “Carry On Cleo” posters with the banned artwork as here, are very rare, so expect to pay in excess of £1,000.

“Star Wars” (1977)
One of the most iconic of all 20th century cinema poster designs is this “Star Wars”” image, and yes, it’s another Chantrell. Although this U.K. quad poster design was used for the global ad campaign for “Star Wars,” this was not originally the intended poster design. Initially, the Hildebrandt team were commissioned to produce the poster for the film but George Lucas was not happy with its design (the characters appearing too anonymous). Although the Hildebrandt design was printed in small numbers, it was the Chantrell composition which Lucas endorsed and it is this imagery which is known the world over.

Chantrell drafted his family support to create the poster design for “Star Wars,” as his wife Shirley posed as Princes Leia.

This really is a Chantrell classic, full of action, vibrancy and colour. The likenesses of the lead characters are almost photographic in their accuracy. Interestingly, Chantrell drafted his family support to create the poster design, photographing his wife Shirley posed as Princes Leia! The poster shown here is the very early pre-Oscar nomination poster. Once Star Wars was feted with Oscar plaudits, these were added as text to the background lower right. The non-Oscar poster (as here) is the more valuable of the two. After the London premiere, it was customary, to unfold a film into select West End cinemas and the major metropolitan centres. Several weeks later, films would be distributed into towns and villages, and it was to the hinterland that most posters were destined to go. Therefore, only a small number of pre-Oscar posters were printed and these can command prices up to £1,500. Expect to pay approximately £500 for an Oscar-titled Star Wars.

“Come Play With Me” (1977)
As the 1970s progressed and the “permissive age” took hold, so a cinema industry much under pressure, alighted on the great idea of “sexploitation.” Cheap nudie films could be turned out at a high rate to cater for the sex-starved populace and, although cinema attendances were in sharp decline, these films proved commercially successful. By 1972, Chantrell had become frustrated working in the increasingly stifling corporate environment of his Agency Allardyce Hampshire and he quit to go freelance. Though a risky move at the time, such was the standing of Chantrell in the industry that he was soon inundated with commissions. Tom’s depiction of the female form had always been popular and, allied with his mischievous sense of humour and a facility to create tongue-in-cheek designs, he was perfectly placed to plug into the demand for sexploitation material.

By 1972, Chantrell had become frustrated working in the increasingly stifling corporate environment and he quit to go freelance. He was soon inundated with commissions that allowed him to stretch his artistic legs, such as with “Come Play with Me.”

The “Come Play With Me” U.K. quad is an excellent example of the numerous sexploitation pieces that Chantrell produced in the 1970s and early 1980s. Again, we can appreciate Chantrell’s use of colour, his willingness to “fill the canvas” and his innate understanding that his posters were meant for a purpose: they had to sell and pull the punters in. Many Chantrell designs were boundary pushing and surplus flesh often had to be obscured by petals or added clothing, a frustration for both the artist and the adolescent youth of the time! A poster such as “Come Play With Me” cannot purport to be high art, but it is an integral part of our popular culture and should be treasured as such. Whilst it might have been tempting to sneer at such posters in the past, Christie’s regularly feature this example in their Cinema Poster Auctions. Expect to pay £300-£400 for a good example.

There were a number of other highly skilled poster artists operating at the same time as Tom Chantrell. The likes of Brian Bysouth, Vic Fair, Eric Pulford, etc., all spring to mind. Yet, Chantrell’s work has become particularly collectable. Due to Chantrell’s prolific work rate and his willingness to tackle every genre under the sun, numerous examples of Chantrell posters are available. We have picked some of the most sought after examples here but it is still possible to acquire lesser known Chantrell Posters for £20-£50, so the barrier to entry is not high. It is likely that as the U.K. market for cinema poster collecting matures and becomes more sophisticated, so more will be drawn to Chantrell’s brilliant archive of work.

By Michael Bloomfield

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  1. I love these posters, i do think they can look fab in a picture frame on your wall. they look good in traditional or modern settings

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