Dear Miss, I want to run the V&A. Yours, Roy Strong (18)

Archive reveals remarkable letter that forecast a student's future. Paul Bignell reports

With hindsight it seems like a simple plan for an 18-year-old: take over one of the pre-eminent art institutions in the country, revitalise one of the nation's most eminent museums and be- come an internationally renowned authority. A remarkable set of ambitions, but one Sir Roy Strong achieved and surpassed.

Letters from Sir Roy's archive, copies of which have been obtained by The Independent on Sunday, reveal that he foretold, with pinpoint accuracy, the twin triumphs of his future career.

Writing from Queen Mary College, London, where he was studying history in 1954, to Miss Staples, his form teacher at Edmonton County School, the then Roy Strong said: "Queen Mary College is not exactly one's ideal of a college and I must admit the journey through the not very salubrious parts of the East End is extremely dreary, tiring and expensive ... I realise that one degree is not really much use – interesting jobs are so difficult to get. All I want to be is something like the director of the National Portrait Gallery or head of a Department in the Victoria and Albert Museum!"

He went on to become the youngest ever director of both the National Portrait Gallery and the V&A in London.

The letter has come to light after being donated recently, as part of Sir Roy's archive, to the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.

Other papers cover the period when Sir Roy became director of the National Portrait Gallery in 1967 at the age of 32. He set about transforming its somewhat conservative image with a series of extrovert shows, including "600 Cecil Beaton portraits 1928-1968".

He then moved on to the V&A at the age of 39, where he stayed until 1987. When his tenureship ended, he published an infamous set of diaries, criticising leading figures in the art and political worlds.

Speaking from his home in Herefordshire this weekend, Sir Roy said: "I had no idea I had written that letter. My school teacher sent it back to me years later and I read it with astonishment. I thought, 'Well, at least I knew what I wanted to do.' I was very fascinated that I had put all that down."

Sir Roy has donated his entire archive, which could take years to catalogue. He said it contains, among other things, letters from a very wide range of people, including Gianni Versace, the Queen Mother and Sir Frederick Ashton.

He added yesterday, however, that his triumph was tinged with regret: "The only problems I've had as a result of that saga is that I was too successful too young," said Sir Roy. "Let's face it, every director of the Victoria and Albert Museum since I resigned at 52 has been 52 or older when they've become it.

"If you fulfil your wildest dreams at the age of 38 you have a problem – there's an awful lot life ahead for which you then have to find a new direction and new aspirations."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy