meWhen you grew up within the ’70s in Britain, you lived in Tom Karen’s world. When you had been a child, you in all probability performed Karen’s superb Marble Run, which continues to be in manufacturing as we speak. When you weren’t cruising the streets aboard a Raleigh Chopper, you would be the envy of the child who was. And you have been ready for the day once they invented a spacecraft that hovered on Earth like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars (and possibly nonetheless is). If I had been somewhat older, I might need pushed the smooth new Scimitar GTE, as Princess Anne did. Or, if I am somewhat trickier, possibly a three-wheeled Robin. Karen, who died on the age of 96had a hand in all of those and lots of different merchandise.
That so lots of Karen’s designs communicate to her period is not any coincidence, however Karen wasn’t precisely curious about type or modernity. Skilled as an aeronautical engineer, he was additionally very hands-on, however he understood that good design wasn’t only a matter of type and performance, but additionally of creativeness.
Take the chopper. Karen’s Ogle is approached by Raleigh’s advertising and marketing director Design in 1968 to create a bicycle particularly for kids, and Karen appeared to know precisely what his younger – and largely male – viewers wished: excessive handlebars and the L-shaped saddle of an Simple Rider chopper; a centrally mounted gear stick from a Nineteen Seventies muscle automobile; Big rear wheel, like a drag racer, full with dummy springs and disc brakes. It was radical, quirky, and playful, however with its straight-tube body, the bike was additionally stylish-looking and functionally constructed. Raleigh has bought an estimated 1.5 million of them.
Grownup merchandise had been no completely different. The Scimitar GTE, inbuilt 1968, was on no account a superior performer, however when it comes to ambition and post-war enjoyable, it definitely appeared the half, with its excessive, lofty contours and radical “hatchback”—improvements that will quickly develop into fixtures of automobile design. The brilliant orange three-wheeled Bond Bug was impressed by the youthful poppy aesthetic of the Mini, but additionally in The way forward for science fiction for the designers of the 60s Archigram, with its fiberglass physique and lifting parachute. No surprise George Lucas turned to him to design the Star Wars Earth Racer (which was tailored from the Bond Bug).
The Bond Bug’s most enduring successor, Relant Robin, grew to become related to the naffer facet of Nineteen Seventies and Nineteen Eighties Britain, although Karen resented the truth that the favored Trotters car from the sitcom Solely Fools and Horses was truly a believer. Mine, from the Fifties, is just not essentially the most elegant Robin by Karen. Admittedly, the Robin was nonetheless a bit brief—”for individuals who cannot afford a correct bike,” joked Jasper Carrott—however then once more, it was sensible: economical, adaptable, and technically certified as a motorbike, which implies you did not must. to a full licence, to drive one.
In his lengthy profession, Karen has designed rather a lot—the whole lot from residence home equipment to toys, planes, vans, crash check dummies, toys, and sculptures. He was an actual pioneer. Talking of Marble Run, which he thought of his most inspiring creation, he wrote: “My mind appears programmed to allow me to juggle various concepts on the similar time: perform, type, and methodology to make one thing. I let concepts seep into my thoughts and once they took a sure type, I used to be I jot it down in my sketchbook (by no means been with out it). This could clear my thoughts earlier than I deal with extra issues.” Evidently, he is received quite a lot of sketchbooks.
Having come to Britain from Czechoslovakia, aged 16, midway by means of the Second World Warfare, Karen will need to have skilled Britain throughout one in all its bleakest durations, however in his hilarious and sensible method he appeared dedicated to offering pleasure to posterity.