Saturday, 9 May 2009

Dead in the water?

I've moaned before about those, set by chance as custodians of our historic environment, who have no vision. But what happens when the vision is desperately wrong, and at odds with a century or more of best practice?

I was going to hold off from this, but:

Tit of the Week (and probably Tit of the Year) is Dame Simone Thurley, known (behind his back at English Heretics) as Gloriana. Anyone who doesn't understand this opprobrium has presumably not watched the previously media-savvy Thurley wrecking his organisation's reputation by inviting in the same TV crew who gave the National Trust a good kicking a couple of years ago. Exactly what he expected to gain by this four part BBC 2 series is unclear, but those of us "at the coal face" are less than enchanted by last week's episode where "the squint test" was introduced (if you squint at a Grade II* listed building after it's been gutted, it looks the same, so plastic windows, concrete tiles, the sophistication of the original design with varied but controlled infill, etc, no longer matter, according to EH), while this week's performance hints at familial corruption (we never imagined he even had a wife, though she made Lady Macbeth look like the kitten cuddling type - which in itself speaks volumes) which would make the Dear Leader Gordon blush.
No doubt Simone would say something about the recipe for omelettes requiring broken eggs. But note that English Heritage's impoverished relative, CADW, in Wales, for all its own failings dictated by circumstance, has at least managed a few notable conservation successes (not least in presenting its own properties), without them being tied to the "personality" of its own Chief Executive. Can anyone name him? I thought not.

Simon Thurley is an architectural historian of modest ability, who in normal life might be expected to make a living at a minor university (like the one I attended, except that my tutors had open eyes and minds, and encouraged the same in their students - even me). But his slight media talents (as a young Dan Cruickshank-in-waiting) have propelled him beyond his abilities. And now he has allowed that deficiency to be broadcast to the world.
If anyone fancies a (hollow) laugh:
Thou art weighed in the balance, and found wanting.


  1. Dear me, such equivocation! You're being far to soft on Thurley and the fatuities of EH.
    Sad to say, however, that CADW isn't beyond reproach; blinkers seem to be as much a part of the official uniform there as they are in Savile Row.

  2. Oh, EH aren't in Savile Row any more, they moved to the terracotta towers of Holborn quite a while ago (and allowed their decent old HQ, a late 1940s work by the very able Curtis Green) to be pulled down rather than listed because they don't understand the history of 20th century British architecture. (Or rather, because under Simone, they've become the developers' whore).

  3. To the tune of Pulp’s ‘The Common People’

    Dame ‘Gloriana’ came from Godmanchester with a thirst for knowledge
    He studied history at Bedford College
    Then became a Museum Director
    That's where he, caught her eye
    He told her that he was a rising media star
    Tessa said: 'In that case you'd better come and manage our historic environment for us'
    He said: 'Fine'
    And then, in three years' time
    He said: 'I’ve made you become the developers friend’
    I want to sack all our decent people and pay the rest pittance
    I want to do whatever mediocre media people do
    I want to go on BBC2 and prance, pontificate and screw (you over)
    Practice nepotism and waste public money on ‘les grande project’
    And want to watch EH slide out of view
    I want to behave like posh people do
    There's nothing else left to doooooooo

  4. Welcome, Dame Gloriana. Perhaps now you might pay back the public money you spent getting EH photographers in to help you oppose a planning application just along the quay from your second (or is it third?) home in Kings' Lynn?

  5. Oh, and perhaps you could bring your immense influence to bear in sorting out that old shyster Roger Gawn, who (or is it his wife, or his ex-wife, or his lover, or his offshore company?) owns a string of "Buildings at Risk", including one that's very close to you at the weekend, and so bad the natives have taken direct action?

  6. "Mr Thurley declined to comment to The Times. Mr Hill said of his neighbour: “I put a letter through his door but I did not get a response. I think he's too busy, and he's just had twins.”"
    Most of us leave that side of things to the little woman...

  7. No doubt Simone would say something about the recipe for omelettes requiring broken eggs.

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