Owen Miller (Auckland 1907-London 1960)

Born in New Zealand he worked his passage to London as a deckhand and worked as an illustrator for J Lyons & Co. In 1942 he began work for the Ministry of Aircraft Production and after the war produced posters for National Savings.

Born in Auckland and educated at Wellington College he worked as an artist in New Zealand, working with the Maori peoples and as an illustrator for a Wellington newspaper.

Finding working life difficult in New Zealand during the depression he signed on as a deckhand working his passage to the UK. Arriving at the Port of London with £5 to his name his first job was an illustrator for J Lyons & Co, the famous Corner Houses company. His greatest work there was to decorate the directors’ dining room as an aircraft interior. Following the outbreak of war Miller began to work for the Ministry of Aircraft Production in late 1942.

When Lord Beaverbrook commenced his term as Minister of Aircraft Production in May 1940 it was an industry beset with problems. Aircraft parts were produced in sufficient numbers, but assembly into flyable aircraft proved more challenging – the Castle Bromwich Spitfire factory had not produced a single completed aircraft by this point. Moreover the RAF central depots had large supplies of aircraft that had not been issued to squadrons. Once this was all brought under Beaverbrook’s control, aircraft production increased rapidly. During the Battle of Britain, the British production of fighter aircraft was two-and-a-half times that of Germany. Britain had 644 operable fighters at the start of July 1940 – when the Battle of Britain began – against the German 725. By the end of October 1940, when the German offensive finished, British fighter aircraft had – despite significant losses – increased to 732 whilst the Germans were left with just 275.

To achieve this great productivity increase the Ministry was run on informal grounds; few notes were kept; staff members had few formal roles. Essential to the success were  motivational posters in the aircraft factories, such as those produced by Miller for the Bayly-Souster commercial art studio in Fleet Street in London for whom he worked.

Life as an artist dreaming up fantasy motivational posters could have hidden risks. One poster Miller produced was a stylised aeroplane without a propellor. Needless to say the jet engine was Top Secret at that time and he was duly summoned to explain what he knew of it – of course the answer was nothing.

Following the war he worked for National Savings, whilst also selling his own art – both sculpture and paintings. He can be seen below at the National Savings Art Office, c.1950 (Miller facing camera, right) with Ernest Bendell-Bayly (facing camera, left); and at home with his wife, surrounded by his own art.