Obituary: Milner Gray

Milner Connorton Gray, graphic designer: born London 8 October 1899; CBE 1968; married 1934 Gnade Osborne-Pratt; died 29 September 1997.

The pioneer graphicist Milner Gray was born into the Arts and Crafts movement and was one of the few who were able to bridge the gap between that movement and today's computerised design businesses. Throughout his life he remained loyal to the movement's ethics and deep respect for craftsmanship and materials.

In a calling commonly thought, in its early days, at best to be a refuge of the less intelligent, Gray was unique. With a clear understanding of the future importance of design to Britain, he had a vision of establishing design as a profession and was largely responsible for forming, in 1930, the Society of Industrial Artists (later the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers, or SIAD). Gray was Honorary Secretary 1932-40 and went on to be President 1943-49 and again 1966-67. He served continuously on various SIAD committees until 1984.

Gray was born in Blackheath at the turn of the century. Educated at Colfe's Grammar School, he studied graphic design (in those days called commercial art) at Goldsmiths' College, London. He left during the First World War to join the 19th London Regiment, then transferred to the newly formed camouflage school of the Royal Engineers. After the war he formed Bassett- Gray, the first British design consultancy.

At this time, he was sharing digs in Blackheath with the artist Graham Sutherland, who was to remain his great friend for life. Sutherland's last portrait was of Gray in 1989, commissioned by SIAD to honour Gray's contribution to the profession and presented to him to mark his 80th birthday. During the 1930s Gray returned to Goldsmiths' to teach and was a lecturer at the Royal College of Art and also Central School of Art, as well as Principal of the Sir John Cass School of Arts and Crafts 1937-40.

The Second World War saw Frank Pick of London Transport invite Gray to join the Ministry of Information exhibition division team which quickly achieved a reputation for innovative and popular presentation of government messages such as "Dig for Victory". While working for the Ministry he realised the crucial role that design could play in the regeneration of British industry after the war and decided to form the Design Research Unit to advise both the state and private sectors.

With a flood of work from leading names in industry, the practice established and maintained a reputation for high standards and modest fees. Projects varied, from the Festival of Britain signage to identification for Unilever, ICI and the then newly formed British Rail, pubs for Watneys, packaging for Courage and the interiors for the passenger ship Oriana.

During this time Gray was appointed Royal Designer for Industry by the Royal Society of Arts. He was a member of the Council of Industrial Design, and founder member of its Stamps Advisory group and until recently, sat on the Royal Mint design committee. In 1955 he was the first recipient of the Design Medal for outstanding achievement from the Society of Industrial Artists (later the Chartered Society of Designers).

Although he was a successful packaging and interior designer, he was essentially a graphicist and was a brilliant draftsman. Of all his work he professed to be most fond of his heraldry and I recall during lunch at his home, he left the table to rummage through his piles of memorabilia (including a photograph of himself, as a boy, proudly wearing his kilt, and a later one in his RCA Doctorate robes) to show us his original coat of arms for the 1953 Coronation reproduced entirely in pencil, which he preferred to ink. Gray enjoyed his eccentricities and explained to me one day that he drank gin and ginger ale in order that it would look like whisky and not offend his distillery client.

Gray was quirky and impish with a great sense of fun. An assiduous member of the Arts Club, Gray's infectious humour would crowd the bar when he could be prevailed upon to recount one of his frequently risque jokes or limericks and his dinner table repartee never dimmed as time passed. Indeed his memory for names and events surprised us all as well as his endearing modesty about his life's achievements. He was inseparable from his wife Gnade and will be widely remembered as a very real, compassionate man.

- Dick Negus

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions