Holtom was a professional artist and designer who studied at the Royal College of Art. He was born in 1914 and had been a conscientious objector during World War Two.
He was working for the Ministry of Education in 1958 when he came up with his logo for nuclear disarmament ahead of the Aldermaston March organised by the Direct Action Committee.
Holtom’s design was entirely unsolicited and presented first to his local committee in Twickenham.
He explained that he had first drawn a white circle within a black square in which he added various versions of the Christian cross. However, the cross had unfortunate connotations as far as the movement was concerned, not least because of the Christian blessing given to the Enola Gay before it flew to Hiroshima.
Holtom allowed the arms of the cross to drop and combined the letters N and D for nuclear disarmament in semaphore, as shown above right.
Eric Austen, who adapted Holtom’sdesign for ceramic lapel badges, said of it that ‘the gesture of despair motif had long been associated with the death of man, and the circle with the unborn child.’
He might well have been referring to close similarity with the runic symbol Algiz which became part of the mysticism of Nazi Germany and was the symbol of the 4th Panzer Division (left) from 1943 to 1945.
In this inverted form, the ‘stick-man’ with arms held high came to represent ‘life’, which is what Holtom would have preferred, but his final design with arms down symbolised ‘death’.
The logo has never been copyrighted but was adopted by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at the offices of Peace News, the pacifist magazine founded in 1936.
Holtom died in 1985 aged 71 and is buried at Royal Tunbridge Wells in Kent where his gravestone bears his peace symbol.