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Haythornthwaite, William Carleton (Bill)

1913–2009

Commercial artist, poster designer and businessman

This biography, written by Kate Jordan, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2023.

Bill Haythornthwaite was a pioneer of commercial art and design, advertising and visual communications in New Zealand. His company, W. Haythorn-thwaite Ltd, best known for the posters it designed for Tasman Empire Airways Ltd (TEAL), set the standard for tourism promotion in New Zealand and gained international recognition. Haythornthwaite was determined, innovative, and relentlessly creative, believing that ‘where there is no way, make a way’. He was committed to developing local talent and helping other people, both in his professional capacity and through his involvement with a variety of Christian organisations.

Early life and education

William (Bill) Carleton Haythornthwaite was born in Lancaster, England on 30 April 1913 to Margery Eleanor Carleton and her husband, butcher William Haythornthwaite. Another son, Lawrence, arrived in 1916, and four years later the family emigrated to New Zealand. They settled in Henderson, Auckland, where William established a butcher shop. Bill struggled to fit in and was teased for his English accent, slight build and lack of sporting ability. William was a severe man who was often verbally abusive, and Bill later realised that his success came from a need to prove himself to his father. The family attended a Methodist church and were very involved with the choir.

Haythornthwaite attended Mount Albert Grammar School in Auckland. In 1932 he was awarded a scholarship to attend Elam School of Fine Arts, where his school grades and portfolio allowed him to skip the first two years and enter senior classes immediately. He earned money for his course fees and the bus fare to Elam through odd jobs, including cleaning, designing and screen-printing signs for land agents and posters for Amalgamated Theatres, and as a local correspondent for the Auckland Star.

When Haythornthwaite attended Elam, it was focused on the fine arts and there was a prevailing negative attitude toward using artistic skills for commercial purposes. Despite the disapproval of Elam Director Archie Fisher, teachers Stephen Champ and John Weeks encouraged Haythornthwaite and some of his peers to investigate commercial art. Although Haythornthwaite was a skilled painter, he was attracted to the energy of commerce. He read books and magazines on applied art from the Elam library, taking particular interest in the magazine Commercial Art. Through this magazine Haythornthwaite discovered the work of British and European poster artists Tom Pervis, Frank Newbold, A. M. Cassandre and Ludwig Holbein. Holbein, in particular, would have a significant influence on Haythornthwaite’s style.

Early career

Haythornthwaite finished his studies at Elam in 1934, entering the job market during the Depression. He taught briefly at Elam before the position was disestablished, and a period of hardship ensued. Haythornthwaite and his friends Eric Tice-Martin, Alan Hart and Uffe Moller were able to get work with printers and advertising agents, but times were tough. The group slept on their studio floor, shared the food they had, and sometimes went hungry together. At three o’clock every morning Haythornthwaite would go to the Herald office to check the situations vacant column, hoping to find steady work.

Eventually he got a job as a junior artist at Alex Harvey & Sons, a manufacturing and tin printing company. He then worked for the advertising group Dormer Beck, printers Clarke & Matheson and the New Zealand Herald. At Whitcombe & Tombs, a printing, publishing and bookselling firm, he worked as a commercial artist, designing labels, showcards and brochures that helped secure new clients for the firm.

Personal life and army

Haythornthwaite met Annie (Ann) Pilkington at the Epsom Methodist Church, where she was a member of the choir; they married there on 20 April 1940. Their first son John was born in 1941, followed by Peter in 1944. The household was vibrant and creative, delighting in books, art, music, and travel.

In June 1940, Haythornthwaite, who had previously served in the New Zealand Territorial Force, signed up for overseas service. Due to his flat feet, he was deployed on home defence. As an officer, Haythornthwaite made many useful business contacts, including Hylton Leys (son of the Auckland Star owner), Graham Speight (later Chief Justice) and David Beattie (later Governor General). Bill and Ann played music and sang for the troops in their spare time. Haythornthwaite rejoined the Territorial Force after the war, serving as public relationships officer for the Northern Military District from 1949 until 1956, when he left the Territorials.  

Around this time Haythornthwaite became involved in Moral Re-Armament (MRA), an international, non-denominational evangelical movement which sought to bring peace to the world by bringing individuals into direct contact with God. Haythornthwaite searched for a closer connection to God throughout his life, and was attracted to the movement’s four moral absolutes (purity, unselfishness, honesty and love). He embraced MRA as a force for good, particularly in opposition to communism, while remaining an active member of the Epsom Methodist Church.  

W. Haythorn-thwaite Ltd

Released from full-time army service in June 1944, Haythornthwaite joined the Auckland branch of Spanger Advertising as a commercial artist, quickly progressing to senior artist. He then struck out on his own, establishing W. Haythorn-thwaite Ltd in 1946 (a hyphen was added to the name to help people with pronunciation). One night when he was working late, Oscar Garden, chief pilot and operations manager for Tasman Empire Airways Ltd (TEAL), visited the office. Garden needed a badge for TEAL pilots’ caps designed in time for a board meeting the following day. Haythornthwaite and designer George Moore subsequently developed a logo modelled on the British Overseas Airways Corporation ‘Speedbird’ emblem, a stylised bird in flight. Haythornthwaite and Moore experimented with a bird with different wing and body positions, settling on one wing forward and one back, later identified as a maroro (flying fish), an appropriate emblem for an airline flying the Coral Route in the Pacific Islands. TEAL and later Air New Zealand aircraft used the logo until 1982.

In addition to the design work, Haythornthwaite also did most of the copywriting for the Coral Route advertising campaigns. One, ‘Pop up to Fiji’, ran from March to July 1956 and included giveaways such as toys. As TEAL had no competitors on the Coral Route, the campaigns primarily focused on the adventure and relaxation offered at the holiday destinations, rather than the airline itself. New posters were released regularly to maintain public interest. Throughout the 1950s, Haythorn-Thwaite artists, including Moore, Linwood Lipanovic, Arthur Thompson and Nobby Clark, created a visual ideal of the Pacific. The success of these campaigns has influenced the way Pacific Island countries and cultures are still viewed.

Picking up TEAL as a client gained attention for Haythornthwaite’s young company, and three major advertising agencies asked him to undertake work for them. Instead, Haythornthwaite gained the accreditation needed to place advertisements in newspapers himself, giving him control of all creative work.

W Haythorn-thwaite Ltd became the first New Zealand company to have work published in an international design journal when artist Arthur Thompson’s poster ‘Fiji by air by TEAL’ was featured in Modern Publicity. Editor Frank A. Mercer offered New Zealand ‘special congratulations on the quality of its advertising for Teal airlines’. Another public success came when the agency’s work was included in the Auckland Advertising Association’s first public exhibition in 1953.

In 1953, Haythornthwaite appointed a business manager for W. Haythorn-thwaite Ltd, so he could open a branch in New York. The family lived in London for a time on their way to the United States, where Haythornthwaite became very interested in the new medium of television. Television was not yet available in New Zealand, but the format was booming in the United Kingdom. Haythornthwaite visited many studios, made many connections, and learnt as much as he could about television and advertising. After six months, however, with the US economy in recession, the business in New Zealand struggling in his absence, and Ann’s mother unwell, the family returned to New Zealand. 

By the late 1950s, W. Haythorn-thwaite Ltd was one of New Zealand’s larger advertising agencies, with a staff of around 40 and branches in Auckland and Christchurch. In the 1960s, Haythornthwaite expanded into television advertising and public relations. He drew on his experiences in the UK and as an owner of an experimental Bell radio television set to set up a rudimentary studio for making television advertisements in Gillies Avenue, Auckland. In 1963 he founded Creative Public Relations Ltd, and developed a relationship with a large Australian public relations firm, Eric White. He also advocated for a design course at Auckland Technical Institute (later Auckland University of Technology) and assisted with its development and teaching.

Spiritual life

Haythornthwaite continued searching for a closer connection with God alongside his entrepreneurial ventures. In 1959, he, Ann and son Peter attended an event where American evangelist Billy Graham preached. Graham’s events attracted more than 350,000 people in New Zealand’s main centres and he encouraged audience members to come forward and pledge their lives to Christ. Haythornthwaite, despite feeling self-conscious, went to the front of the crowd and publicly affirmed his faith. The event changed his life, and afterwards he felt a closer connection to the Holy Trinity. The family started attending a Baptist church, and Haythornthwaite joined various Christian organisations and began writing spiritual verse and music. He also refused to work for clients selling tobacco or alcohol, a strong stance at a time when these companies were big earners for advertising companies.      

W. Haythorn-thwaite Ltd was again performing well by 1968, but while it was providing Haythornthwaite with a degree of financial freedom he found himself preoccupied with business concerns and personally unfulfilled. He decided it was time for a change, and sold his company to Wardlaw Advertising Agency Ltd, which become WHT Advertising and Marketing. 

Haythornthwaite saw the merger as an opportunity to focus more on spiritual interests, and he and Ann moved to the United States. There they joined the Wycliffe Bible Translators, a group committed to translating the Bible into every language, and Haythornthwaite assisted with the production of the organisation’s monthly magazine. In England, they joined Underground Evangelism, an organisation which smuggled Christian materials into communist countries, hiding bibles inside vehicles and undertaking other covert activities. While this work was exciting, it could also be dangerous, which eventually became too much for Ann. They moved to Florida, where Haythornthwaite worked on New Wine, a magazine of the charismatic renewal movement. He was editor for five months, introducing a new logo and new features, including a forum and information on audio and video resources. 

Later life

In 1973, Bill and Ann returned to New Zealand to focus on their family. Haythornthwaite undertook design work for small companies and taught design at a secondary and tertiary level. He became a founding member and first president of the New Zealand Christian Writers Guild in 1983. Ann died in February 1989, and Bill married Margaret Helen Penman in Auckland on 3 December 1989. In 1991 he wrote a book entitled You can write poetry for the Christian Writers Guild.

Throughout his life, Haythornthwaite constantly had new ideas for design and publishing projects and businesses. With strong multi-disciplinary skills, he put many of these ideas into practice himself and suggested ideas to other people, such as establishing weekly local newspapers in Auckland. He also encouraged many people to develop their own skills, employing many who became well-known designers, including George Moore, Lin Lipanovic, Brian Burton and Billy Apple. He was a thorough and serious teacher from lettering at Elam in the 1950s through to design at a local high school and university in the 1970s.

Bill Haythornthwaite died in Auckland on 12 January 2009, aged 95, and was buried at North Shore Memorial Park Cemetery. Margaret Penman had died in 2000.

How to cite this page:

Kate Jordan. 'Haythornthwaite, William Carleton (Bill)', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2023. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/6h11/haythornthwaite-william-carleton (accessed 19 April 2024)