Friday 23 August 2013

Britain is still a country for and says "Happy Birthday" to a flamboyant, controversial old museum curator called Sir Roy Strong

Roy, art historian, museum curator, writer, broadcaster and landscape designer is 78 years old today.

What you possibly didn't know about Roy, that he :

* was born in Winchmore Hill, North London in 1935, four years before the outbreak of the Second World War, had a father, who sold hats, who was a bully, in a family where there was next-to-no money.

* went to Edmonton County School after the War, then gained a first class degree in History at Queen Mary College, University of London and after earning his doctorate from the Warburg Institute, became a research fellow at the Institute of Historical Research.

* rose quickly and became Assistant Keeper of the National Portrait Gallery at the age of 24 in 1959, and came to prominence at 32 when he became the youngest Director of the Gallery and set about transforming its conservative image with a series of extrovert shows, including '600 Cecil Beaton portraits', to which the public flocked and the queues made national news.

* in these years,later said : " I discovered that I was photogenic and became the subject of every photographer from Cecil Beaton to Bill Brandt".

* astonished the art world in 1971 when he abandoned the bachelor life and 'eloped' at the age of 35 with Julia Trevelyan Oman, age 41 marrying her at Wilmcote Church, near Stratford-upon-Avon with a special licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

* in 1973, aged 38, became the youngest Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, remained there for 14 years and amused audiences in 1974 with his collection of fedora hats, kipper ties and maxi coats.

* regularly introduced new exhibitions and doubled attendance with 'The Destruction of the Country House' in 1974, 'Change and Decay: the future of our churches' in 1977 and 'The Garden: a Celebration of a Thousand Years of British Gardening' in 1979 all of which were credited with boosting their conservationist agendas.

* at his home in the village of Much Birch in Herfordshire designed, with his wife, one of England's largest post-war formal gardens,'The Laskett'.

* at the age of 45 In 1980, was awarded the prestigious Shakespeare Prize by the FVS Foundation of Hamburg in recognition of his 'contribution to the arts in Britain' and awarded The Royal Photographic Society's 'President's Medal and Honorary Fellowship' at the age of 68 in recognition of a 'sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography'.

* after leaving the V&A, published a set of diaries infamous for their often critical assessments of figures in the art and political worlds about which Jan Moir commented : "His bitchy, hilarious diaries caused a storm when they were published in 1997 and although he has no plans at present to publish another set, he is keeping a private diary again."

* In 1999, published 'The Spirit of Britain: A Narrative History of the Arts', his widely acclaimed 700-page study of British arts through two millennia.

* in 2008, hosted a six-part tv reality series, 'The Diets That Time Forgot' in which he acted as the Director of the fictitious 'Institute of Physical Culture', where nine volunteers spent 24 days testing three weight loss diets and fitness regimes popular in the late Victorian, Edwardian and Roaring 20s periods and 2 years later made 'The Genius of British Art'

Friends: Roy Strong with Gianni Versace* developed a friendship with the fashion designer, Gianni Versace who took a keen interest in his wardrobe, regularly sending him items of clothing.

* is a practising member of the Church of England, an altar server at Hereford Cathedral, a High Steward of Westminster Abbey and as its 'High Bailiff and Searcher' attended the funeral service of the Queen Mother in 2002.

* in 2007, in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral, delivered the annual Gresham College Special Lecture, entitled 'The Beauty of Holiness and its Perils (or what is to happen to 10,000 parish churches?)' and deeply critical of the status quo, said: "little case can be made in the twenty-first century for an expensive building to exist for a service once a week or month lasting an hour." and recommended someone taking "an axe and hatchet the utterly awful kipper coloured choir stalls and pews, drag them out of the church and burn them," and "letting in the local community" in order to preserve many rural churches in Britain.

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