Obituary: Corinne Bellow

CORINNE BELLOW arrived at the Tate Gallery in May 1954 as personal assistant to Sir John Rothenstein, its director. She went on to create the press and PR office at the Tate, and as Head of Information Services presided over an extraordinary period of creative and successful press coverage and sponsorship.

Sir Roy Strong once said of his own museum experience in the late Fifties, that you were "always to put the telephone down on members of the press". Bellow changed and shaped the Tate's approach to press and sponsorship over 34 years, many of them at a time when even thinking about public relations was rare among museums and galleries.

In 1954, the Tate, like all the other national museums except the Victoria and Albert, had no press or PR office; these things were dealt with personally by the director. Rothenstein was the most high profile of all the directors, in charge of a gallery which, with its modern art, was often in the news and seemingly never far from controversy. Bellow came in the immediate aftermath of the so-called "Tate Affair" in which allegations about fund shuffling, followed by the resignation of the artist Graham Sutherland as a trustee, culminated in the trustees having to decide whether or not to fire the director - a public relations disaster.

Bellow came from a well- established Leeds family. After graduating in Modern Languages from Leeds University she continued her studies at the Sorbonne followed by a year at the University of Perugia and a period working in Paris as a translator. Rothenstein, too, had a strong Leeds connection. Like Bellow's, his family had also prospered in the Yorkshire textile industry and he had been Director of the City Art Gallery in 1932-33. In his interview with Bellow, they spent much of the time talking about a mutual Leeds friend, the artist Jacob Kramer.

Rothenstein early on felt able to trust his new assistant with increasing responsibilities. Outside the gallery he referred to her as his "eminence grise". He valued in particular "her organising capacity, her sense of proportion, her benevolent, reassuring presence". Soon, she became the only other person in the Tate to deal with press enquiries and, increasingly, after the gallery became independent of the National Gallery in 1955, took a bigger part in the way changes were introduced.

After Rothenstein retired in 1964 Bellow continued as assistant to his successor Norman (later Sir Norman) Reid for two more years. Rothenstein had already suggested that she might take up a career in publishing - she had translated from the French, and edited, Huisman's and Dortu's substantial book Lautrec by Lautrec (1964). The Arts Review commented that the translation "read like an original" and the same deftness of touch can be found in her translation, from the Italian, of Alberto Martini's essay on Monet which appeared in the weekly part-work The Masters in 1966. None the less, Bellow decided to stay at the Tate.

Under Reid's wise directorship the Tate during the 1960s and 1970s possessed an extraordinary energy and ability both to catch and contribute to the exciting mood of the times. The completely rehung collections opened to the public in early 1967 and took annual visitor numbers over the million mark for the first time. All this meant a steadily rising demand from press and visitors alike for information, a heightened awareness of visitor comfort and an awareness of the Tate image and how press interest in it might actually be initiated rather than just reacted to.

Since in her work so far there was barely an aspect of these matters she had not already dealt with, it was inevitable that Corinne Bellow, by 1966 Press and Information Officer, should have particular responsibility for them in the director's team.

Before deciding on this change in her career, she had discussed it with Charles Gibbs-Smith, Keeper of Public Relations at the Victoria and Albert Museum - still the only national museum to have such a post. An eminent aviation historian of huge energy who believed in flying saucers and ghosts, Gibbs-Smith paced up and down his office swinging a golf club while talking encouragingly.

In 1970 Bellow became Head of Information Services. In this post, hampered by lack of funds and staff, she showed considerable originality in conceiving ways, now taken for granted across the museums' world, of raising the Tate's profile. This was not that simple. The gallery, for all its youthful zest, was still governed by civil service rules and many achievements which fell outside the Whitehall norm were hard won.

The possibility of advertising an exhibition widely, other than through posters, at minimum cost, first manifested itself in her persuading the Publications Department to produce a "flyer" for the 1970 Richard Hamilton exhibition. This was a "first" for the gallery and it was sent to individuals and organisations on a specially created mailing list - itself an innovation - in addition to which Bellow and an assistant went round the trendy shops in the King's Road persuading the owners to display them.

Another "first" - this time a real "flyer" - was commissioning artist- designed kites for sale in the Tate shop as part of the 75th anniversary celebrations of 1972. They were the first in a series of artist works commissioned as a way of generating good publicity. Bellow enjoyed flying one of the kites on Brighton beach.

With the Heath government's 1970 decision to impose entrance charges on national museums, she spotted a way of at last securing a departmental budget for advertising. Her logic was impeccable: since the gallery was going into business, then it had to have money to advertise itself. She approached the Central Office of Information, eventually received pounds 13,000, and was equally successful in subsequent years.

Publication of a free monthly calendar of events began and the way the Tate welcomed its visitors changed radically. The information point behind a small window off the main circulation space was replaced in 1973 by a large new Information Desk next to the main entrance. With its full complement of staff it was perhaps the finest expression of Bellow's enduring mission, in her own words, "to enhance the pleasure" of visitors. None of this could have happened without close attention to detail and it was just this which suggested to her one solution to the difficult problem of how to make the Tate, before the opening of Pimlico tube station in 1972, more accessible.

She noticed from her office overlooking the Thames that while there was no bus route passing the Tate entrance, one went across Lambeth Bridge and ran along the road opposite the Tate on the other side of the river. Why not, she asked, change the route so that it went in front of the gallery and crossed the river at Vauxhall Bridge further upstream instead? Once again the logic was irresistible and London Transport agreed to reroute the number 77 bus which ever since has stopped outside the gallery.

In 1977 Bellow had what she called her "baptism by all the elements" in the field of fundraising when the Tate decided to launch a public appeal to save two important paintings by George Stubbs. One element in it was the placing of two Minis (the main prizes in a lottery) in the central Sculpture Gallery. The positive publicity which the appeal generated under Bellow's skilful guidance was substantial - not least in the way she brought the London Evening Standard into the campaign. However, a perception within the Tate that it was inappropriate for a major national institution actively to seek outside, particularly commercial, funding for its activities remained, though the fact that the institution was young, "modern" and built on such largesse (Henry Tate's) somehow promised the right conditions for sponsorship to flourish when the moment came.

From the 1970s Bellow played an active part in the International Council of Museums (ICOM) and she was the first chairman of their Public Relations Committee when it was established in 1976 - a post she held until 1983. In 1986, the first ever handbook on museum public relations, Public View, with Bellow as contributing editor, was published by ICOM.

She felt it right that she should put her expertise at the disposal of other individuals and institutions and this she did freely. For example, she became a trustee of the Victor Musgrave and Monika Kinley Outsider Art Collection in 1987. But it was particularly her knowledge of sponsorship in the major museums around the world, combined with an acute awareness of the ethical issues which concerned the director and trustees, which enabled her to guide the Tate's first steps in this direction.

The Landseer exhibition of 1981-82, sponsored by S. Pearson and Son, was the first fruit of what was very much a personal initiative. Throughout her later career as a fundraiser, what gratified Bellow most was, first, the way many sponsors were happy to return to help the Tate - and a large part of this success was attributable to the fact that sponsors liked dealing with her - and second, that the beneficiaries of such funding were not only the Tate and its public but also the corporations and their PR agencies. She was careful that this should be the end result and that was the key to her success.

By the time of her retirement in 1988, Corinne Bellow had raised more than pounds 2m for the Tate. In retirement, she taped recorded interviews for the Tate Archive with more than 50 past and present gallery trustees and members of staff. As a colleague she was a warm, strong and perceptive counsellor. In her private life she was an unwavering friend to many and she enjoyed 28 rich and happy years with her partner Sidney Wasserman.

Robin Hamlyn

Corinne Bellow, museum official: born Leeds 1 December 1927; Press and Information Officer, Tate Gallery 1966-70, Head of Information Service 1970-88; MBE 1973; died London 3 May 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)

comedy

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
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.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own