Painter of Signs: Giles Francis

In junior school in the early 1980s, we were assigned to either of the two clubs, Sparrows and Magpies. But on Sports Day and for inter-house games, we were free to align (mentally) with one of the four Houses of the senior boys.

When I was a very young Loyolite, I chose SS House. There were three weighty reasons: the attractive red flag of Sputnik Spacemen; the logo with a prominent Superman-like ‘S’; and that the House Captain commuted along with us in Bus Number 3.

Ten days ago, I met the man behind the red flag and the super logo.
Giles Francis - Photo: Ashok

Giles Francis, son of an army officer, was schooled for the most part in northern India. In 1963, he returned to Trivandrum and joined Mar Ivanios College to study Economics. While there, Giles did not merely draw demand-supply curves as I was to do thirty years later; he enrolled in a correspondence course in art. By the time he graduated in economics, Giles had also become a qualified commercial artist.

In the early 1970s, he drew greeting cards (bought by USIS staff in Trivandrum), designed textiles for firms in Madurai and Coimbatore, and in his spare time, privately tutored schoolboys in Hindi. Among his students were Loyolites.

One day (in 1973 or 1974), a Loyola student of his took the artistic Hindi teacher to Fr C.P. Varkey. The four Houses in school — Green, Yellow, Blue and Red — had recently been rechristened Apollo Pioneers, Gemini Giants, Jupiter Jetsetters, and Sputnik Spacemen. Giles was asked to design the logos of the four Houses and make a flag for each House.

Giles Francis in front of the building where he painted the House flags in the 1970s - Photo: Ashok R Chandran

Giles Francis in front of the building where he painted the House flags in the 1970s – Photo: Ashok R Chandran

In going about the task, was he influenced by the Houses in his own school, the Jesuit institution St Xavier’s, Hazaribagh? “No. The Houses there were Britto, Gonzaga, Loyola and Xavier”, Jesuit saints light years away from the space age names he encountered in Sreekariyam.

Logo of Apollo Space Program - Courtesy: Wikipedia“I was interested in calligraphy. For Apollo Pioneers, I used a monogram with the letters A and P joining together,” Giles revealed. “Sputnik Spacemen…the House colour was red. For the logo to be prominent on red background, I chose white. The ‘S’ with an orbit just struck me.”

I told Giles that I found the Gemini Giants logo quite complicated. I mean, AP had the spacecraft and SS had the orbit, but GG was bewildering. He asked, “Isn’t that the Gemini twins?” Gemini Space Program - Courtesy: WikipediaEven as I wondered whether it was he or me who had a memory lapse, I quickly drew a crude version of the logo. He took one look at it and said “Yes. That’s the astrology symbol for Gemini.” In less than a minute, by pointing to the stylised symbol for Gemini, Giles had snatched my admiration from the SS camp and placed it in GG.

As a kid I could barely say Jetsetters and the dark blue House vest is as unappealing now as it was then. Thankfully, I was in Jupiter Jetsetters only for one year. Yet, that’s where my loyalty lies. Because I led JJ House in my final year of school. And when you are house captain, you don’t fail to notice that on Sports Day, you carry a light blue flag but wear a dark blue vest. Giles unravelled the puzzle. “On a flag, from a distance, dark blue can look like black. That’s why light blue was chosen,” he explained.

Giles' original flag was light blue and had only Giles should know because he was the one who went to Chalai and selected the cloth for each flag. “The cloth is crape, not satin,” he said. That’s another Loyola myth broken. How little we know about the objects we worshipped in school! Giles tells me the benefit of silk,”Satin is heavy. A flag has to flutter. Crape is best.”

Giles used fabric paint to paint the logos on the flags of Houses. He then made badges for the House Captains, the School Leader, the Assistant School Leader, and the General Captain.

Giles’ artwork for Loyola was not limited to the logos of Houses. Fr Kuruvila Cherian was a man of ideas. He had worked with Giles on the design of logos, and as Vice-Principal he commissioned a series of paintings on Jesus Christ (Jesus as a toddler, a young boy, and so on), one to be hung in each classroom.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Giles drew a school map on a wooden panel, designed a school magazine cover, and served as a judge at La Fest. His other connection with Loyola is that Giles is a cousin of the former Rector Fr Dominic George.

When Giles’ father retired from the army, he had settled in Trivandrum and set up a foreign languages institute. But it did not take off. Today, on request, Giles takes language classes in German, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and spoken English. His students include Japanese computer professionals visiting India, and Indian doctors wishing to learn Chinese.

After retiring from Keltron (where he worked in the advertising and public relations department), Giles has also been running a homestay for tourists. It was at Graceful Homestay, with a glass of pineapple juice in one hand and an afternoon breeze in the face, that I heard the story of Loyola’s logos. “You are the first to ask me about it,” said Giles.

As I took leave, it was his turn to quiz me, “Do you know who designed the emblem of Loyola School?” I began hesitatingly “Er…you did that one too?” “No,” he replied, “Laurie Baker designed it.”

Acknowledgement: The tipster wishes to remain anonymous. Fr Edassery and Madhu uncle helped me take the photo of the new JJ flag.

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32 Comments

  • Ashok,
    Keep these articles coming. I am glad you have taken this challenge and keeping us all connected. I am glad to hear the story, never thought about it while in School, even though I was part of AP and JJ (led it 1980-81). Had fun time being in the houses. I will always remember the sports day parades and getting chewed by CP for not marching properly (my first yr in Loyola 1978, and that is what remember happened).

    Regards
    Varghese

  • Hi Ashok,
    Great article! As you said, we seem to know so little on the history of things which we worshipped at school. Remember talking about this to you a week back. A great history unravelled :-).

  • Ashok, when I read this post, I could see where this blog will lead you to. Good luck on that. Nice article and thanks for bringing out the contributions of Mr.Giles to several of the abiding symbols in our school. And yet another Laurie Baker connection to Loyola – that was a valuable fact that you unearthed!

    Talking about the four houses – their names and the superbly designed flags were probably the first reasons for every junior loyolite to rally behind these houses from a very young age. I can still remember the initial fascination I had when placed in the JJ house and getting to wear the blue vest! I was heartbroken when I was moved to the GG house in the 5th and had to trade it in for the yellow vest, but now I am a GG-House supporter for life! Down with all you other houses! Hehe.

    When I finished reading this post, felt an urge to get into a GG House vest and play a game of basketball. Wonder if they have adult sizes available at the school store?!

  • Wonderful post, Ashok! Any clue who came up with names for these four houses? Quite unconventional names, aren’t they? I, as a kid in junior school who could barely say AP or GG or JJ or SS was awe-struck by these names… Over my 12-year life in Loyola, I have been in all houses, except SS. My allegiance still remains with JJ, in which I was a member for maximum number of years. And yes, as you said, the color of the JJ vest was very dull compared to the others. πŸ™

  • Varghese, oh yes, the march past. The Sports Day used to be carnival-like, with tents and crates of soft drinks. By the 1990s, the tents had disappeared.

    Karthik, I hear that this year the school might move towards documenting its history, now that golden jubilee is not far off. To my surprise, I discovered that the ‘Loyola nostalgia spirit’ is most among old boys, not Jesuits or teachers. Maybe one needs to leave the school (‘lose’ the school) to get interested in its history. We yearn for what we don’t have.

    The adult vests can be part of the Loyola merchandise. Jiby, I’m sure your wish will come true.

    Sandeep, the person who came up with the cool names…success has many fathers. πŸ™‚ I’ve got two names in hand, but need to verify before I publish.

    The dull colour of JJ often leads to that House losing out in the march past. Maybe we should start a campaign to make JJ shiny, bright blue (if there is such a thing!).

    All those who’ve commented here have been in more than one House. I think the present practice is for the student to be in the same House across years. Recent batches and current students can confirm this.

  • I’ve been quite unaware of the history behind the logos and it’s really nice to read about the things that i’ve been part of. Keep unearthing stuff like these, it’s interesting for any Loyolite to read about it. By the way I’m a staunch JJ supporter though I’ve been in SS in junior school.

  • Hey Bro…Great stuff..amazed at your spirit to come up with all these useful info.Luckily i didnt have to trade houses..All d way from Junior school till tenth a staunch loyal Apollo Pioneer(the ultimate sports day champs)..:)hope the Loyola Merchandise dream get wings and start flying soon.Longing to get an AP house vest.

  • Any idea whether the houses inspire any spirit at all nowadays? When my batch left, in 2004, interest in house rivalries was on the downswing..the youth festival had been made a shoddy half day affair..quite sad..lafest was partly to blame..the seniors couldn’t be bothered with ‘petty’ affairs like the youth festival!

  • Great stuff, ashok….Is it actually true that house rivalries have come down along with youth festival as someone has posted here? If thats the case i think we “oldies” have really reasons to get nostalgic! Or maybe better things have come up these days…

  • Thomas and Anish, glad to hear that you like such stuff.

    Bimal, I too have heard what you wrote. The La Fest generation (which includes you!) tells me that La Fest dealt a blow; the staleness of the school infected the youth festival, the Houses system, etc., I believe. La Fest plucked the seniors away and further weakened such things.

    Sreejesh, haven’t heard of “better things” coming up. The Houses still exist, though its spirit and practice are nowhere near their old glory (early 1980s). I think the decline of House spirit happened because the House spirit never crossed the threshold of fanaticism. I mean, there was competition, but not so fierce as to turn each House into a an inward-looking club.

  • That was a great post, Ashok. I was part of the JJ house. Had some messy fights with my friends in GG. Ya its true that the house spirit had started to mellow with the popularity for Lafest on the rise. But during our years it was the +2 guys who used to manage Lafest while the high schoolers took the responsibilty for the house competitions. And it worked really well.

  • It is untrue to say that post 1980s house rivalry was not stiff enough.
    Sports days and Youth festivals were ‘contested’ until around year 2000.
    It is then that the downswing began.
    We would wait for bated breath on the last day evening when results of tide-changing events like tableaux would be imminently declared. I was AP for a long time.
    Even now some blood in my veins is green. The doctors couldn’t do anything about it. πŸ™‚

  • “Sports days and Youth festivals were β€˜contested’ until around year 2000”. Vishnu, that’s exactly what Ashok also seems to be saying. The LAFest, after having become more streamlined since it’s inception seems to have lessened the interest of the seniors in the Youth festival.

    Is it an inevitable consequence? Don’t know..

  • Don’t think its an inevitable consequence! Its just that the seniors need to be there to inspire the juniors. If I’m not mistaken, the house captains are still chosen from 10th std? If that’s the case, then the diversification of interest of the 11th and 12th really shouldn’t matter. I still remember the first week of 5th standard when my house captain (JJ) came and gave me a pep talk on how we should win this year and so on. I swear, house loyalty came oozing out of every pore that evening!!

    Here’s, as so many seniors are wont to do (justified or not), hoping that the ‘good ol’ days’ return!!

  • Yes,
    And V.C Jacob Sir used to manage the youth festival.
    House loyalty was there, it was religious.
    It can be brought back.
    Youth festival should not be shoddy half-days.
    Tableaux, drama et al should be revived big time!
    I have fat bundles of YF certificates (mine were solos usually though).

  • Ashok, fantastic post!! Frankly, I never thought of the origin of either the names of our houses, or the flags.
    Kudos…
    Keep it rolling..
    Regards,
    Uday Rane
    ICSE 82

  • Theoretically, with the 10th as leaders, things should work fine as Bimal says. But (1) it isn’t working and (2) the first thing Loyolites point a finger at is La Fest. Perhaps the 12th asserts superiority, dismisses and undermines 10th Std leaders, etc. Instead of organising an inter-school fest, will the 12th enthusiastically organise an inter-house festival?

    Glad to see that the post has evoked memories, brought out more information on Loyola, and generated enjoyment. Thank you Paul, Aju and Uday for the encouragement.

  • Ashok,
    Great post.
    I was one who continued to be in SS House throughout. Right from Std I to Std XII.
    Captained SS while I was in Xth, and was always proud to be in SS.
    And that feeling when you march with the flag, for sports day, is just great.
    You just set my mind on a roll.

    And to Mr.Aju, my classmate, I just love reminiscing this always.salute to you, man.
    When I marched with the flag, when we reached the pavilion, I had Aju (from the front row of SS House flight) calling out with a booming voice, “SS houuuuuuuuse, eeeyeeessss righttttt!”. Just love thinking of that. Forever fresh in memory.

  • Ashok,

    I am at loss for words to express how it feels after reading this post. You dont cease to surprise. Many more things I wanted to say have been said already and am turning out to be a big fan of your postings.

    Regards,
    Rajiv (1986-1997[SSLC])

  • I guess I had 2 vastly different experiences with the house based selection. Since I was not into sports (at least not in school) I had the honour of being picked last when the House Captains came around for dividing the classes. Around ’86 or so, the Youth Festival which was till then held class-wise was also held House-wise. That was more my forte then and I was one of the first to be selected. Pretty strange, how the equation changes with the rules. I guess I’ve been in all the houses but somehow favour JJ. Does anyone r’ber the the unbloggable nicknames we gave these houses? πŸ˜‰

  • I used to think that I wrote the blogposts. Your comments remind me that even as a reader reads a blogpost, he interprets words in his own context, and ends up writing the blogpost — each in his own way. Vijay and Rajiv, happy to hear that you enjoy the fare here.

    Hari, as I remarked in the comments section (my first comment), success has many fathers.

    Issac, even though I was not conscious of it until the final year of school, the House selection process was akin to a cattle market. While a few ‘stars’ massaged their ego, it demoralised many. (I did not complain then probably because, like you, I was often a beneficiary). Heard that they’ve done away with that system of House Captains choosing the members. Thankfully!

  • In my time (i.e. till end of March 08) I went through 4 house selections.
    Each time, a new house. But among the four creeds, I was a Spaceman and a Jetsetter the most. Never tought of the flags and its design before. Chetta, I would have missed on some very vital info there. Thanks for all that.

    I am missing school already!! πŸ™

  • Lovely memories. I was in Apollo Pioneers.
    Still remember Principal Fr C.P Varkey.
    My first holy communion was in the school chapel.
    Can’t forget the big python, rubber trees, big grounds, library etc.

  • I am Peter Gautam from the 2008 batch. House captains have been selected from the 11th standard since 2005. I’m not sure that is how it is even now, but it sure was that way till a couple of years ago.

    Loved the article. Stories from a bygone era we all cherish. The weekends when I go to Loyola to play at our beloved PT ground with friends from school never ceases to be the best days of my life these days. The past does indeed feel tangible at that ground! πŸ™‚

  • The designs of the flags were something I always looked upon while at school. The story behind it is simply wow! Houses were shuffled only throughout the 12 years for us (2012 Batch), if I’m right. Carried the dark-blue JJ logo on the shirt during the initial years, and the most-attractive SS house red logo for a longer time till the 12th.

  • Almost 15 years after I’ve passed out, I thought of searching about “Gemini Giants” / “Jupiter Jetsetters”, and your blog answers all I wanted to know.

    Was Giles also involved in the design of our school buses ( white and blue design) ?

  • Doubtful, Nidhin. I don’t remember asking the question. But my interview with him was so long and wide (thanks to his indulgence), that he would’ve mentioned it if he had been involved. Perhaps a few of the seniors who read this blog can tell us when the school bus got the white-and-blue design and how.

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