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.
On the border of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, and surprisingly near the ghastly conjoining of the M1, the M6 and the A14, is Stanford-on-Avon. Parkland trees surround the red brick Hall built in the late 17th century by Sir Roger Cave, a monument to the early aviator Percy Pilcher sits out in a field, and amongst the few houses of the village is the 14th century church of St.Nicholas. Don't do as I have done for years and just wander by, idly remarking on its imposing appearance, but get in there. Your eyes won't know where to look first, the nave and side aisles being stuffed with fabulous monuments, including an extraordinary one of 1896 to Edmund Verney. A life-size hussar in full rig steps up to place a wreath below a medallion portrait, at his side a shield and spear looking as if they were discovered like this, dropped hurriedly on the South African veldt.
Last Saturday I once again stopped under the trees outside, seeing as if for the first time this oversize mound, lit just for me it would appear, against the dark east end of the church. My first thoughts got me very excited. Could it be an ancient tumulus, a reminder that the early church respected what had gone before on this very same spot? Fleetingly I entertained the notion that it might be the resting place of a deceased circus elephant, an example of which I know exists out in a Lincolnshire park. Back home I fruitlessly scoured my Pevsner and Shell Guide, hoping for at least a clue. Nothing. So, with more time to spare on Wednesday, I made the detour to Stanford again. Closer inspection of the mound showed two iron grilles half way up, presumably set in to provide ventilation to the inside of the mound. But for what? The answer came in the simple little leaflet propped up amongst the postcards. A list headed Finally, the visitor should notice concluded: Outside the church, at the east end, is a mound covering the family vault of the Cave family, Lord Braye's ancestors. Of course it is. I assume entrance was once gained from a doorway behind the altar. I've seen vaults outside churches and amongst lesser tombs in cemeteries, but never without some sort of inscription that at the very least would stop my wild imaginings about altruistic early Christians and elephants suddenly finding themselves in the eternal Big Top.
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), Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012) and English Allsorts (Adelphi 2015)