Pioneering Women #4: Freda Lingstrom

For the next in the Pioneering Women series, I’m delighted to host a guest post by my friend and colleague Rebecca Savage (University of Birmingham). Rebecca is a PhD student whose research looks into the lives and works of female poster artists living in Britain between 1900 and 1939. Her work considers the intersections between fine art and visual culture and attempts to assess how poster design provided 20th century women with new artistic, social and economic opportunities.

Freda Lingstrom, Cheap fares for school and pleasure parties (1929). © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection
Freda Lingstrom, Cheap fares for school and pleasure parties (1929). © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection

Freda Violet Lingstrom had a career which spanned over 70 years. By the time of her death in 1989 she had worked as a commercial designer, poster artist, author, illustrator, and Head of BBC Children’s Television, responsible for creating some of the most memorable children’s characters of all time. Despite this illustrious career however, Lingstrom’s work is often overlooked, leaving her legacy – like that of the other women discussed in this pioneering women series – largely unknown.

Lingstrom was born in Chelsea, London in July 1893. She did not grow up in a particularly artistic family and in fact stated herself that as a child she possessed no particular artistic talent. According to the trade magazine Commercial Art she claimed that she was

a perfect fool at school and quite the worst at drawing in the class. So bad indeed that her father said ‘You are too bad to be true, you had better learn to be an artist’.[1]

Regardless of the truth of these claims by the 1910s Lingstrom appears to have honed her artistic abilities enough to gain a place at Central School of Arts and Crafts. From here she gained work in the rapidly developing arena of poster art and began to produce artistically designed adverts for companies such as the London Underground, Macfisheries fishmongers and the Big Four Railway companies.

Freda Lingstrom, Broads (1926). © V&A.

Lingstrom’s poster Broads (1926) which was produced for the London North Eastern Railway demonstrates her considerable talent in the field of poster art. The poster showcases Lingstrom’s ability to work in modern abstract styles which were just emerging within graphic art during this time but are more commonly associated with male artists such as Edward McKnight Kauffer. In Broads Lingstrom uses just four colours to depict three ships at sea. She subverts the traditional colour scheme by replacing the blue water with a light shade of green and uses geometric shapes to suggest the shadow of the boats sails.

Alongside the production of poster art Lingstrom worked to improve the relationship between artists and the companies commissioning works. She acted as secretary for the Society of Industrial Artists and at a meeting in 1932 explained to the almost entirely male committee, how the organisation would ‘safeguard the interests of industrial artists’ and ‘act as a liaison body between artist and industrialist’.[2] Lingstrom was also a member of the short lived Society of Poster Artists, who again hoped to strengthen the relationship between artists and companies.[3] This involvement demonstrates Lingstrom’s desire to improve working conditions, not only for herself, but also for her fellow artists and designers.

Freda Lingstrom, Norwegian Ski (1932). Image via Flickr.

After the Second World War however, the demand for poster art dropped dramatically and like many artists Lingstrom was forced to find other forms of work. This change would prove to offer a second career for Lingstrom as she started to work for the children’s department at the BBC.

Over the following decades Lingstrom – alongside her friend and living companion Maria Bird – was responsible for producing a variety of children’s programmes which revolutionised children’s TV. Based on the principle of ‘inform, educate and entertain’ Lingstrom created programmes such as Andy Pandy (1950), The Flowerpot Men (Bill and Ben) (1952), and Watch with Mother (1953) and in 1955 was rewarded with an OBE for this work.[4]

Although officially leaving her role in television in the mid 1950s (by which time she was in her 60s) Lingstrom continued to freelance in children’s TV for the rest of her life. This continued effort exemplifies the determination and hard work she displayed throughout her career and helps to explain the success she was able to achieve.

Freda Lingstrom, Leamington Spa (c. 1930). Permission of www.limitedruns.com

Thank you to Limited Runs and London Transport Museum for their help with images for this article.


[1] K O Fearon, ‘Freda Lingstrom,’ Commercial Art, 7:42, December 1929, 263

[2] ‘Relationship between Art and Industry’ Staffordshire Sentinel, Friday 24 June 1932, 7

[3] ‘The British Society of Poster Designers’ Commercial Art, 5:27, September 1928, 91-94

[4] http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/464710/index.html

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