I'm sad to hear of the passing of Wally Olins CBE, aged 83. Wally, along with creative hotshot Michael Wolff, were Wolff Olins, possibly the most exciting design group to be part of in the mid 70s. And although some of my contemporaries refuse to believe that it happened, I was part of it for a while. "You just happened to walk by one day and looked through the window" they say. But this isn't about me, but Wally, who taught me immeasurable truths about the business we were in. The stories are legion, but one I think typifies him for me. We had a client in the West Country, and reached the point where we needed to go and present a 'corporate identity' (as it then was) to a board of directors. Designer John Sorrell and I elected to go by an early train from Paddington, Wally said he'd drive and pick up Gerry Barney (incidentally designer of the British Rail arrows symbol) in Wimbledon. John and I arrived suitably refreshed at Newton Abbot station after a bumper breakfast (Gerry's arrows all over the restaurant car curtains) to find Wally outside casually leaning on the wing of his yellow Porsche, thumbing through an Egon Ronay guide. "I think I've found just the place for lunch chaps" he said, as we wondered how on earth he'd got there before us. Then we saw Gerry, still sitting in the passenger seat, white faced and staring ahead with a wild look in his eyes, muttering quietly to himself. Booted and suited after lunch I watched as Wally put up a 35mm slide on the projector in front of a line up of suspicious company directors. It was a silhouette of Mickey Mouse. "Who's that?" he asked. The correct answer was mumbled by most people in the room. "How do you know?" Wally barked, and what followed was one the best presentations I have ever witnessed.
I hadn't seen Wally for nearly twenty five years, but about three years ago or so I went to the David Hockney exhibition that opened Nottingham's Contemporary Art Gallery. Sitting on one of those Ottoman-style seats they put out so you can stare at pictures I was suddenly aware of a big coated big fedora'd man sitting with his back to me. It was Wally, and I quickly re-introduced myself to him. He stared at me like school teachers do who have seen countless numbers come and go under their auspices, but perked up no end when I introduced my girlfriend to him. Wherever you are Wally, thankyou.
I've probably misappropriated this image of him. It might belong to Creative Review, if it is, apologies and thanks.
I am a designer, writer and photographer who spends all his time looking at England, particularly buildings and the countryside. But I have a leaning towards the slightly odd and neglected, the unsung elements that make England such an interesting place to live in. I am the author and photographer of over 25 books, in particular Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2006), More from Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2007), Cross Country (Wiley 2011), The Cigarette Papers (Frances Lincoln 2012) and Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012)