Maria Floris with the 80th birthday cake she designed for Churchill in 1954 | © TopFoto, colourised by Tom Marshall at PhotograFix
Thanks to the long-standing association between Topfoto and National Trust Chartwell, a particularly scrumptious exhibition has come to life this year: Winston’s Spectacular Cakes, recently opened in Kent and running until 25 February.
2024 marks 150 years since Sir Winston Churchill was born. To kick start the celebrations, Chartwell’s winter photography display showcases Churchill’s most spectacular birthday cakes with newly colourised images. A series of 16 historic photographs from Topfoto’s archive has been colourised especially for the display, vividly telling the story of Churchill’s birthdays and the press frenzy that surrounded the cakes – a forerunner to the love of extravagant and themed bakes today.
After the Second World War, Churchill’s birthday became a moment of great interest for both the press and the public. Photographers would descend on his home to see the cakes, each of which were designed to showcase his career, achievements and interests in sponge and icing. From the late 1950s, interest had grown to the extent that there was a special photo opportunity for press to take snaps of the cakes at the bakery, before they were dispatched ready to take centre stage on the big day.
The press frenzy around Churchill’s cakes made a celebrity of Maria Floris, the Hungarian pastry chef who became the preferred baker of the Royal Family and high society.
Tom Marshall from PhotograFix, who colourised the photographs for the National Trust, explained how he came to choose the colours used: “The work is carried out digitally using Adobe Photoshop and each photo took between two and four hours to complete, painting digital colour layers over the monochrome photos. The process is a combination of research and artistic licence. I watched a lot of archive news footage, as most of Sir Winston Churchill’s birthdays were well documented in the newsreels of the day. These gave me more angles of the cake decorations to work with and showed some details and context not initially obvious when viewing the black and white photos.”