Casson, the creator of the South Bank, dies

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The Independent Online
SIR HUGH CASSON, the man credited with "knocking the stuffiness" out of the Royal Academy, has died after a long illness. Sir Hugh, who was 89, died on Sunday, the academy announced yesterday. He is survived by his wife, Margaret, and three daughters.

He was president of the Royal Academy from 1976 to 1984 and worked hard to increase the number of annual exhibitions held there. He was also responsible for several landmark shows including "The Genius of Venice" and "The Great Japan Exhibition".

He was once described as "a veritable jack of all trades: water-colourist, set designer, writer, interior decorator".

It was reported that the drawings with which he illustrated his letters were so impressive that members of the Royal Family framed them. He was also described as an artistic mentor to Prince Charles and was asked to do the interior of the Royal Yacht Britannia.

A spokesman for Buckingham Palace said last night that the offices of the Queen and the Prince of Wales had been informed of his death.

Sir Hugh was noted for his humour and his generosity as a benefactor. In 1986 his bright yellow Mini car was stolen as he attended a concert. Sir Hugh promised to present anyone who found it with one of his watercolours, and when two informants spotted the car - not half a mile from its original parking place - they each received a watercolour.

An architect since 1937, he once said: "I'm quite good at getting a lot of people, particularly artists, working together - without quarrelling that is."

Sir Philip Dowson, the current President of the Royal Academy, led the tributes last night. He said of Sir Hugh: "He was a much loved president who was also, in great measure, responsible for initiating the radical changes which lie behind the academy's present strength.

"The Royal Academy and visual arts generally will remain greatly in his debt. He will be deeply, deeply missed."

Sir Denys Lasdun, the designer of the National Theatre, said: "He was a multi-talented man and a great communicator, particularly with the young. In my view the most important and memorable work he did was the Festival of Britain which encapsulated his views on planning in cities and towns and was very successful."

One of the first things Sir Hugh did at the RA was to establish the Friends Organisation and the corporate membership scheme to give the academy more stability. It now has more than 80,000 members.

As well as being elected a member of the RA in 1970, Sir Hugh was also a former provost of the Royal College of Art. He was knighted in 1952 and made a Companion of Honour in 1985

Sir Hugh studied at Cambridge and during his time as an architect was responsible for a wide range of buildings including the Ismaili Centre in Kensington, west London.

When he stepped down from the presidency of the RA he admitted to feeling depressed at the prospect of retirement. But he became a regular contributor to the RA's summer exhibition where his water colours were acclaimed.

Obituary, Review, page 6