"... Architecture without Tears"

from an AAARUK contributor, 28 October 2010


One of the motivations for contributing to these pages is promoting the cause of architectural education and the public understanding of the practice of architecture. In the opinion of this contributor, many of the late Osbert Lancaster's publications served that purpose beyond measure, such that to the public honours he was given there could well have been added the RIBA Royal Gold Medal (as had been awarded to Pevsner and to Summerson); and he would have been an adornment to the Honorary Fellowship. 

Some of his names characterising house types, still to be seen in London's environs and far away, have passed into the language: Pont Street Dutch, Wimbledon Transitional, Stockbrokers Tudor, By-pass Variegated. 

The source for the Pillar to Post thumbnail used here is the website of an exhibition at the University of Otago "The Word on Modernism: How books aided a revolution in design, 1925-1965".  The page headings of the website include: Architectural Review, Le Corbusier, European Tradition, American Tradition, English Tradition, New Zealand - Beginnings. "English Tradition" includes an image of the dust-jacket of "Pillar to Post" with a brief description of Lancaster's concern with architecture as he observed and experienced it:  "... Osbert Lancaster’s (1908–1986) ...  labeling of suburban house types ... picked up on the modernist distaste for pointless decoration and aping of historical style... [with] genuine concern for the lost opportunities for architecture to improve existence for people. Lancaster’s earlier Progress at Pelvis Bay (1936) was a... critique of uncontrolled development in a small seaside town."

Dustjacket of Osbert Lancaster's "Pillar to Post: English Architecture without Tears". John Murray, 1948


Sir Osbert Lancaster, CBE (b. London 4 August 1908 – d. London 27 July 1986) was an English cartoonist, author, art critic and stage designer, best known to the public at large for his cartoons published in the Daily Express... Intending a career in law, he failed his bar exams and instead entered the Slade School of Art in London... He initially worked with John Betjeman at the Architectural Review.

In 1936, he published Progress at Pelvis Bay, [cp. Bexhill-on-sea, below] the first of his many books of social and architectural satire. In 1939 he became cartoonist at the Daily Express, where he pioneered the Pocket Cartoon, a topical single-panel single-column drawing appearing on the front page, since imitated in several British newspapers. In these he sympathetically mocked the British upper classes, personified by his characters William (8th Earl of Littlehampton, formerly Viscount Draynflete) and his wife Maudie.

'The Opening of Historical Buildings', a drawing by Lancaster featuring Maudie and William Littlehampton.

During his Express career he drew some 10,000 cartoons over a period of 40 years. During World War II, he worked for the press censorship bureau, then in Greece as a Foreign Office press attaché. During the war years, his cartoons provided comic relief from the privations of rationing and bombing raids.

After the war he published Classical Landscape with Figures (1947), The Saracen's Head (1948) and Drayneflete Revealed (1949), the last dealing with the Littlehamptons' architectural and artistic inheritances. Along with The Littlehampton Bequest (1973, foreword by Sir Roy Strong), it provided a humorous and satirical, but well-informed, survey of architectural and aesthetic trends in British and European history.

In 1951, he worked with John Piper on designs for the Festival of Britain, followed by stage design work for opera, ballet and theatre including productions at Sadler's Wells and Glyndebourne, among them Frederick Ashton's production of La Fille mal gardée.... When he was knighted in 1975 he became one of only a small number of cartoonists to have received the honour, John Tenniel and David Low being others. Apart from his knighthood, his honours include a CBE in 1953, an honorary DLitt from Oxford, as well as honorary degrees from Birmingham (1964), Newcastle upon Tyne (1970), and St Andrews (1974). He is buried at West Winch, Norfolk. He was fondly summarised in his Times obituary:

"The most polite and unsplenetic of cartoonists, he was never a crusader, remaining always a witty, civilized critic with a profound understanding of the vagaries of human nature."

He was the illustrator of many other books including Noblesse Oblige (London, Hamish Hamilton, 1973) edited by Nancy Mitford, and some editions of C. Northcote Parkinson's books, including Parkinson's Law, its sequel The Law and the Profits, In-laws & Outlaws, and Law of Delay.

His drawings and cartoons were the subject of an exhibition marking the centenary of his birth, entitled 'Cartoons and Coronets: The Genius of Osbert Lancaster,' at The Wallace Collection from October 2008 to January 2009. Curated by James Knox and supported by the John R. Murray Charitable Trust of John Murray (publisher), it coincided with the publication of a new biography about Lancaster, Cartoons and Coronets: The Genius of Osbert Lancaster (Frances Lincoln Publishers, 2008).

Source Wikipedia: page as last modified on 6 October 2010 at 03:31.

For The De La Warr Pavilion, 1935, Bexhill on Sea, designed by architects Eric Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayef see here, or at the RIBA website How We Built Britain.

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