Originally published in the Guardian on 3 January 1966
The illicit art of writing on walls is becoming modernised. Once it was easy to rub out the "Sid Loves Ethel" ? or worse ? chalked up on the bus shelters and lamp-posts and other amenities of our towns and cities.
Now two factors have combined to give wall literature a permanence which, if not Shakespearean, is at least equal to the local authorities' determination to remove it. Designers of the rebuilt cities have taken to smooth, highly receptive surfaces such as plastic, terrazzo, high-finish concrete and mosaic ? and the secret bards have taken to felt-tipped pens ? which are more indelible than chalk, pencil, or crayon.
The Precinct, the centre of Coventry's rebuilt city centre, has steadily become a literary anthology and art gallery in this way. The subways, faced on both sides with terrazzo, have proved especially tempting. Felt-tipped pens left behind a legacy that had to be scrubbed off with abrasives doing the surfaces no good at all. Following this, the walls were deliberately coated with advertisements ? only for the nubile young ladies pictured on them to acquire unlikely beards, pince-nez, and warts.
The nature of many of the sentiments expressed on public property has suggested that people between the ages of 15 and 22, rather than schoolchildren, are principally responsible. All the same, the local authority had to start somewhere, and the education committee has discussed the matter.
Councillor N.P. Lister, vice-chairman of the committee, says: "It was all very well for a courting couple years ago to spend a whole afternoon carving 'Jack Loves Judith' on a tree. It took them a long time and the marks grew out anyway. With a felt pen on some of these new surfaces you can do lot of damage in a few minutes and nothing will wash it out."
The short-term answer, in the opinion of the committee, is to make the culprits feel that there is no future in their particular art form. "The marks should be scrubbed out immediately, so no one thinks he is leaving a monument to posterity behind him," says Mr Lister. This solution is rather Utopian, as it is estimated that it would need a gang of half a dozen men working full-time for a week, to clear up the present crop of outpourings in Coventry.
The long-term solution lies in the education of the young. Here Coventry is leading the way. The Education Committee is to ask the Head Teachers' Association to consider the possibility of making a film about the wayward art of the wall literati. This would be the first film of its type. "I should think the censors would have to give it an X certificate," said a corporation workman sadly.