Henry Hooper

Designer for 30 years of London's Blue Plaques
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The Independent Online

Henry Hooper left his mark throughout London, and further afield, as the designer of the famous Blue Plaques.

Henry George Hooper, letterer and sign designer: born London 23 September 1926; married 1955 Barbara Bath (one son); died Addlestone, Surrey 10 February 2005.

Henry Hooper left his mark throughout London, and further afield, as the designer of the famous Blue Plaques.

Born in Southwark in 1926, the son of a laundryman, he was one of the lucky London youngsters who enjoyed a form of vocational education which could serve as a model for today's needs. He passed a "13 plus" exam which enabled him to attend a specialist school, which offered the basics of an academic education in the morning, and then specialist training in the afternoons. On reaching school-leaving age pupils could then do a Higher Diploma in their chosen discipline.

Hooper trained as a signwriter and decorator at London's flagship of vocational education for the construction industry, the Brixton School of Building. After completing the National Diploma in Design at the age of 20 he was called up for National Service, and served in the RAF in India in the aftermath of the Second World War. On de-mob he was recruited into the army of artist/craftsmen who were creating the Festival of Britain on the South Bank, where he worked for Holland, Hannen & Cubitt, one of the festival's main contractors, on the myriad signs that guided visitors around the attractions.

In 1954 he was appointed as a designer in the Architect's Office of the London County Council, with special responsibility for the Blue Plaques. These ceramic roundels, which commemorate famous people who have lived in London, are a highly visible landmark.

From 1955 to 1985, when the LCC's successor body, the GLC, was dissolved by the Thatcher government, Hooper was the designer of several hundred of these plaques. Immediately on being given the task he set about redesigning the alphabet which was used to make it more suitable for the technique of "tubelining" which the ceramicist Alan Dawson had to use for manufacturing the plaques. He used this sturdy Roman letterform for all his designs - except for two: the plaques for Frank Pick in north-west London, and for Edward Johnston in Hammersmith. Both of these were designed using the "block letter" alphabet that Pick commissioned Johnston to create for the London Underground: the typeface later extended as the style used on all London Transport buildings and buses.

The LCC had inherited responsibility for the plaques from the Royal Society of Arts in 1901. This was carried on by the GLC until its demise, when English Heritage assumed control. Hooper designed a few plaques for them until they started to use computer-generated designs. He was proud that in his tenure every aspect of the plaques' design and manufacture, from drawing the letters to the final fixing, was done by hand.

Thereafter Hooper was commissioned to create designs for a wide variety of authorities throughout the UK and Europe. Whilst in post with the GLC he created many other sign systems for the capital even, including the neon design for the National Film Theatre.

Harry Hooper was a most amiable, unassuming and self-deprecating man. In his retirement he took to watercolour painting and flat green bowling. Evidence of his early design training could be seen in the trompe l'oeil steam train on his garage doors.

Jon Gibbs

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