Conran biographer hits back at critic

Marianne Macdonald reports on the latest round in the feud between two design gurus fuelled by 'monster' claim

The author of a controversial new biography of Sir Terence Conran yesterday defended his book against claims that he had portrayed the founder of the Habitat group and high-profile restaurateur as "a monster".

The allegations were made by Sir Roy Strong, former director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, in a review of Terence Conran: The Authorised Biography by Nicholas Ind, a 36-year-old design consultant.

In the latest salvo in a feud between the design gurus which dates back two decades, Sir Roy's review for the Sunday Times claimed that the book described Sir Terence, 63, as tactless, abrasive, bullying, misogynistic, ambitious and egotistical.

Sir Terence's treatment of his three wives and relationships with his children had rendered his family life "one long tragedy", Sir Roy wrote, saying he clearly had little interest in life beyond doing business. "Everything seems to have been deliberately sacrificed to that end, including those human values which set man apart from the beasts."

Yesterday, however, Mr Ind said Sir Roy had picked out all the negative points in his book and ignored all the positive. "The first paragraph in my biography pointed out that Terence Conran was a complex mixture of opposites. It said he was tactless and abrasive but charming and passionate, that he loved women but could also be misogynistic, and that he was ambitious but little interested in money.

"Roy Strong took that balance out and emphasised the negatives at the expense of the positive things. He could equally well have done the opposite and made the whole review sound totally sugary."

His view was supported by Tom Conran, Sir Terence's 31-year-old son who recently opened a pub-restaurant, The Cow, in Notting Hill Gate, west London. "Roy Strong's review was a bit vindictive. I thought it was taking every negative part in the book and putting it all together with a little bit of spice," he said.

Sir Terence's other children, Sophie, Sebastian and Jasper, have also defended their father.

The feud between Strong and Conran - the former representing the classical values of design and the latter the appeal of the new - dates from 1976, when Sir Roy analysed the Habitat catalogue for that year.

In his article for Design Magazine, he observed that the model on the catalogue's cover looked like a "1940s tart" and that the range of furniture pictured inside was fit only for a "Hendon semi".

Sir Terence wrote back that while he was flattered Strong thought his catalogue worthy of a sociological dissertation, "we are simply trying to satisfy the desire of many of our customers for comfortable furniture".

The two clashed again when Sir Terence decided to found a design museum called The Boilerhouse, which was set up in 1981 at the V&A (now reinvented as the Design Museum in Sir Terence's development at Butlers Wharf, south of Tower Bridge).

Sir Roy appears to have disliked Sir Terence's views on design, while Sir Terence in his turn thought him old fashioned - and suggested at one point that Strong should be stuffed and exhibited in a case at the V&A museum.

Mr Ind himself came close to alienating Sir Terence with the biography, although it was written with the subject's approval throughout. It charts not only Conran's career but his three failed marriages - his second wife was Shirley Conran, author of Superwoman and Lace - and his patchy relationships with his children.

Conran was particularly hurt by the comments in the work by his sister Priscilla, who said that Sir Terence and Shirley's treatment of their children was "appalling", and a rueful disclaimer by him in the front of the book admits: "I now realise that to allow your biography to be written while you are still alive is very foolish and egotistical."

SIR TERENCE CONRAN

Aged 63, he became Britain's modern design guru after launching Habitat in 1964, which sold stylish and unfussy furniture at affordable prices. He bought the Mothercare chain in 1981 but was forced out of what became his Storehouse conglomerate five years ago, when he refused to become an impotent figurehead after bringing in Michael Julian as chief executive. Since then he has opened the upmarket London restaurants Pont de la Tour and Quaglino's and remains chairman of The Conran Stores. Yesterday he was on holiday in France and unavailable for comment.

SIR ROY STRONG

Aged 59, he has worked as a writer, historian and organiser of exhibitions in addition to his museum career. He was applauded for his work at the V&A during his 13-year directorship, which ended in 1987, and he was always a distinctive figure because of his stylish dress and opinionated views. He has recently devoted more time to journalism, and three years ago wrote and presented a television series on royal gardens. Sir Roy could not be contacted for comment yesterday, but is reported as saying in yesterday's Sunday Times that he did not wish to explain his review.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?