Claude Blair: Authority on arms and armour who campaigned for the Victoria and Albert Museum in a time of crisis

Claude Blair was not only a world authority on arms and armour. He revelled in the subject, and to the end of his life travelled widely in pursuit of new understanding, but he was also a doughty fighter for causes close to his heart.

He was the keeper of metalwork in the Victoria & Albert Museum for ten years before his retirement in 1982, but afterwards continued to campaign on behalf of his subject and of the museum during its greatest crisis.

He was born in Manchester; his father worked in the clothing trade but was fond of history and encouraged his son's early interest in arms and armour. He was educated at William Hulme's Grammar School, the Second World War intervening before he could continue to university.

He served in the Royal Artillery, but while stationed in Ireland was sent with colleagues to fetch the regimental beer supply. The truck in the back of which he was riding braked sharply so that Blair's leg was caught between two beer barrels, breaking it, so that he had to be invalided out of active service. He remained in the army, however, testing small arms, becoming an excellent shot and rising to the rank of captain.

After five years at Manchester University he emerged in 1951 with a history degree, later magnified on dissertation to an MA. He spent another five years as an assistant at the Tower Armouries (later the Royal Armouries), joining the V&A as an assistant keeper in 1956. He became deputy keeper 10 years later, and keeper – head of department - in 1972.

He was indefatigable in seeking out and cataloguing interesting items. His former V&A colleague Anthony North recalled visiting a small country museum's store above a bust station and finding a box labelled "Daggers" wrapped in a newspaper of 1942. With mounting excitement he opened the box, expecting to find an unregarded treasure, and discovered a 17th century English dagger, beside it a letter, signed by Claude Blair, precisely identifying it and adding a bibliography.

It was in 1989 that he rose to the defence of his former colleagues when the biggest change to its management in the V&A's history was put in place involving the displacement of its keepers and the amalgamation of departments; nine senior members of staff were either made redundant or resigned. By founding the Save the V&A Campaign when serving members of the staff had the Official Secrets Act invoked to them, forbidding them to speak publicly, he kept the issue in the public eye. He confronted one trustee who was defending the changes, Sir Christopher Frayling, face to face on the BBC's Newsnight and repeatedly referred to him impishly as "Professor Failing", perhaps slightly diminishing the seriousness of his argument.

The then director, Elizabeth Esteve-Coll, wanted to rationalise the museum's complex management structure by dividing "scholarship and housekeeping", but it was against a background of simmering unease in which, as Linda Christmas wrote in her 1989 book Chopping Down the Cherry Trees: A Portrait of Britain in the Eighties, "keeper barons of the various departments enjoy competing with each other but not with the outside world".

However, Blair and the curators sensed an irretrievable corrosion of the scholarship that had made the museum's international reputation. "The curatorial practice at the V&A had always been to acquire all-round knowledge of the objects in every aspect," said John Mallet, keeper of ceramics at the time and one of the curators who was displaced. "By separating the curators from the objects that vital relationship was being destroyed, and Claude believed it was never restored".

Blair campaigned on other issues as well, including – through the letters page of The Independent – the moving of the Royal Armouries "to form part of a theme park in Leeds" which he saw as the beginning of the privatisation of the national heritage.

He clashed with the Royal Armouries again seven years later over the acquisition for £114,000 of a 16th century helmet said to be by the Italian master armourer Filippo Negroli. "The Armouries made a blunder," he told The Independent. "This is a very dubious item and I condemn them for not consulting widely enough".

Church monuments were a lifelong passion of his, and he made a study of the medieval monuments in Cheshire churches while still a student. Together with his friend A.V.B. "Nick" Norman, the former Royal Armourer, he founded the Church Monuments Society in 1978, serving as president for some years. He also served on the architectural advisory panel of Westminster Abbey, the Council for the Care of Churches and the Churches Conservation Trust.

He joined the Monumental Brass Society in 1946, and was a vice-president. Last year he was very excited to travel to Finland to see the 15th century brass to St Henry of Finland at Nousiainen, on which he was writing an article at the time of his death. Blair was an enthusiastic member of the Society of Antiquaries and had the rare accolade of being awarded the society's Gold Medal in 1998.

He wrote prodigiously, publishing European Armour in 1958, still the standard work. There followed more than 200 books and articles on arms and armour, other historical metalwork and monuments, and in 1998 he published his two-volume study of the British crown jewels.

He was made an OBE in 1994, given an honorary doctorate by the University of Manchester in 2004 and he became a Companion of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) in 2005. He married his wife, Joan, in 1952, and she died in 1996. Their son John is professor of medieval history and archaeology at Oxford.

Claude Blair, historian; born Manchester 30 November 1922; Keeper, Department of Metalwork, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1972–82; FSA 1956, OBE 1994, CVO 2005; married 1952 Joan Drinkwater (died 1996; one son); died 21 February 2010.

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?