Obituary: Edward Craig
Friday 23 January 1998
Edward Anthony Craig adopted the name Edward Carrick in 1928 in an attempt to put a sensible distance, artistic and personal, between himself and his father, the tyrannical and obsessive artist and stage designer Edward Gordon Craig (himself ne Godwin), who had dominated the first 20 years of his life and who would have demanded complete subservience from a son less determined to follow his own vocation.
Born in 1905 into a family rich in its theatrical lineage, Edward Craig was the grandson of Ellen Terry, the most eminent actress of the Victorian age. "Granny" was the rock of his early years; she made up in her affection and counsel for what was so unforthcoming from his father. Trailing around Europe with him, though living mostly in Florence and Venice, he inevitably became his father's assistant in place of any formal education. Skills were self-taught and quickly, if he wished to avoid his father's wrath. Research for "EGC's" magazine, the Mask, photography, model-making as well as helping directly to finish work in progress of which EGC had tired: his father had conveniently grown a proficient third arm. This was abruptly severed in 1928 when the 23-year-old became engaged to Helen Godfrey. The "ridiculous" marriage was forbidden and he was forced to break acrimoniously with his father.
With his skill and artistic ability Carrick, as he was now known, fell almost immediately into the emerging film industry as Art Director for Welsh-Pearson, an extraordinary position for one so young.
His theatrical training and assimilation of his father's radical ideas of design gave him a unique talent as a designer of sets made expressly for film. Art direction was in its infancy and rarely taxed the abilities of an interior designer or set dresser. Carrick's forte was the ability to create atmosphere and to help the action and the actors with an economy of design.
His other ability was in convincing others of this technique and showing them how to achieve it. Vincent Korda was an admirer and would always request art directors who had trained with Carrick. His cinematic achievements in the Thirties include such films as Lorna Doone (1934) and Midshipman Easy (1935); his theatrical productions memorable work for Macbeth at the Old Vic in 1935 and in 1939 Johnson over Jordan for J.B. Priestley.
In 1937 Carrick opened the first school devoted entirely to the study of art as applied to films, in Soho Square, London. At the same time - helped by experience gained from time in the Twenties spent with Count Kessler in Weimar advising the Cranach Press on how best to print his father's work for Hamlet - he ran a second life as an artist, illustrating books for Edward James among others, and producing paintings, drawings and prints. He worked specifically to help his contemporaries with the foundation of the Grubb Group, mounting exhibitions to help keep the struggling artists in food; they included Austin Osman Spare, Claude Flight and Oliver Messel.
Then the Second World War came and Carrick was seconded to the GPO Film Unit along with Basil Wright, Alberto Cavalcanti, Humphrey Jennings and Benjamin Britten. This became the Crown Film Unit and occupied him throughout the war. The achievements during this time were all the more remarkable for being made under the guise of propaganda. The films produced included Spring Offensive (1940), Target for Tonight (1941), Coastal Command (1942), Fires were Started (1943) and Western Approaches (1944).
With his colleague Gerry Bradley he published a book of his own and the Crown Film Unit's wartime photographs, Meet the Common People (1942), a commentary on the effect of war on everyday life. He also produced the book Designing for Moving Pictures (1941), which became a bible for the student of film design and which is still sought today as a reference on the methods and practices of the time.
The Crown Film Unit was disbanded after the war and Carrick moved to the Rank Corporation, eventually becoming executive Art Director at Pinewood Studios working on such films as The Spider and the Fly (1949), The Blue Lagoon (1949), The Kidnappers (1953), The One that Got Away (1957) and The Battle of the Sexes (1960). He made his last film (The Nanny - a Hammer Horror) with Bette Davis in 1965.
In 1948 he published another work on art direction, Art and Design in British Films, which brought together the work of all the important British art directors of the time. The collection he assembled now forms part of the archive at the British Film Institute.
In the Sixties his attention turned back to his father, now living in the South of France (he died in 1966). He understood the confusion that abounded in the interpretation of his father's work and knew also that he was the only man likely to make sense of the muddle and misunderstanding surrounding his life. EGC was perverse and capricious and set out deliberately to mislead his critics and detractors. He had laid a sort of minefield around his persona, intended to keep the "enemy" and "non-believers" at bay.
Having the "map" and the help of his devoted second wife, Mary, Edward Craig started work on EGC's biography in an attempt to tell the truth about this enigma. The result, Gordon Craig: the story of his life (1968), was full of knowledge and sanity as well as being an affectionate and intimate account of the family history. It was a sell-out, much translated and much reprinted.
Lectures, research and country life in Buckinghamshire, his great love of food and family and his garden, occupied Craig's last 20 years. He continued a constant correspondence with students of the theatre and of his and his father's work. He was responsible for the establishment of various collections of Gordon Craig throughout the world and took enormous pleasure from the knowledge that with the formation of the Craig Archive by Michael Meredith at Eton College there was at last an important study collection in England.
There were occasional visits to Italy, his spiritual home, the love of which he had gained from his close relationship with his grandfather Gaetano Meo, a minor Pre-Raphaelite painter. Meo had walked from Basilicata, playing his harp as he went, stopping in London on his way to the Klondike and staying for want of the fare across the Atlantic. Edward Craig's last but sadly unrealised project was the biography of this man about whom he talked incessantly.
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