Margaret Mcleod

British Council exhibition organiser


Margaret Henderson McLeod, exhibition organiser: born Croydon, Surrey 27 May 1924; Assistant Director, then Deputy Director, Fine Arts Department, British Council 1970-84; OBE 1980; died Perry Green, Hertfordshire 20 December 2006.

Margaret McLeod joined the British Council as a teenage secretary in the Second World War and retired 40 years later as Deputy Director of the Fine Arts Department, having organised a great number of exhibitions of British art around the world. She had worked closely with Henry Moore from the early 1940s and on her retirement from the council he recommended her appointment as a trustee of the Henry Moore Foundation.

The tiny Fine Arts Department played a crucial role during the Cold War, propagating British cultural values in the countries under Soviet domination. The succession of cultural exchange agreements signed between the UK and the often politically hostile countries provided both a secure environment in which to mount cultural events and the funds to organise them. Today those splendid art exhibitions in Central and Eastern Europe seem part of a golden age.

Born in Croydon in 1924, McLeod was educated at Manor House School, Godalming, until the age of 16, when she trained as a shorthand typist. After a spell as a land girl, she joined the British Council in 1942 and was assigned to the Fine Arts Department, under the formidable Lilian Somerville, its Director from 1947. In those days the typists were expected to work in white gloves, wearing a hat.

Methodical and disciplined in her work, McLeod played a key role at the heart of the department, becoming Assistant Director under John Hulton from 1970 and Deputy Director under Gerald Forte. Characteristically, she did not see her talents as those of Director and she retired in 1984 as Deputy Director under Julian Andrews.

Her eye for detail was born of immense experience, on which she drew for a "Draft Code of Practice for Escorts and Couriers" published in The International Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship in 1981, which provided the first professional guide to this function.

She had worked with Henry Moore on his exhibition organised by Curt Valentin in New York in 1943, and that shown at the 24th Venice Biennale, in 1948, when he was awarded the International Sculpture Prize. Subsequently there were few exhibitions abroad that included Moore's work in which McLeod was not involved, and she played a key role in the great Moore exhibition held in Florence in 1972. Even after retiring as a trustee of the Henry Moore Foundation, she continued on its advisory board.

Her bronze cast of the maquette for Henry Moore's Recumbent Figure (1938) is included in the current Moore exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.

Peter Cannon-Brookes

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