Obituary: Charles Maude

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Charles John Alan Maude, designer: born London 27 May 1951; died Adderbury, Oxfordshire 3 August 1993.

HE WAS, strictly speaking, the Hon Charles Maude: son of Sir Angus, later Lord Maude, and brother of Francis, both former government ministers. But I only ever knew him to use the title when he was chasing donations for the London Lighthouse (it made begging letters less ignorable); and, scion of a prominent High Tory family that he was, he never dressed the part. He liked the cropped hair, jeans and T-shirt look, and rode a mountain bike through the precipitous back-streets of Hampstead where he used to live, which kept him fit. He had a tough, combative energy. He was a great enthusiast, especially for life-enhancement courses: no one could have had his life enhanced so frequently as Charles. And it's a paradox of our time that he should have died last week, from Aids, at the age of 42.

Essentially Charles Maude was a designer and a periodically successful one, with serious achievements to his name. But he was too aggressively good at too many things (and, you might add, too aggressive) to see through a single career path to the level his talents deserved. He was an intellectual nomad; and perhaps the seeds of that lay in his childhood, which was disrupted at an early age when his father abandoned a political career midstream to become the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, and the family emigrated to Australia. Three and a half years later they came back, and Charles went to Abingdon School where he was, by all accounts, an outstanding pupil and Head Boy. At Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, he read Philosophy then switched to English and began a doctoral thesis on didactic poetry in 18th- century England, but gave it up when he decided that there wasn't enough 18th-century didactic poetry to write about.

By that time, though, he had started to design sets and costumes for student theatre. So, after Cambridge, he found himself a job with English National Opera, and two years later he set up as a freelance designer. Most of his work, in fact, was graphic design, not for the stage at all; but it was usually arts-orientated, and he developed a speciality of programme books for festivals - particularly Edinburgh and Spitalfields. It was worth going to Spitalfields for the programme books alone, resplendent as they always were with Maude's own photographs of the great Hawksmoor church where the festival takes place.

But he did made a mark in theatre, working with the choreographer Michael Corder. His designs for the 1985 Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet Wand of Youth attracted critical acclaim, including an Olivier Award nomination for best new dance production of the year; and they were followed in 1986 by the almost equal success of Ancient Airs and Dances for Northern Ballet Theatre. In 1987 he designed the British stage premiere of Kurt Weill's Broadway opera Street Scene: a shoestring, one-night stand at the Palace Theatre which was nonetheless influential in establishing the viability of the piece and prompted the subsequent co-production between Scottish Opera and ENO.

By then, though, Maude's energies had changed direction once again. Street Scene was a charity presentation for London Lighthouse, the pioneering Aids resource centre in west London; and Maude had thrown himself into the affairs, philosophy and (not least) courses of the Lighthouse from its earliest days - with a coercive, proselytising zeal which was perhaps his chief gift. To raise funds for the Lighthouse he organised a formidably impressive art auction, recruiting Christie's and the Princess of Wales, and extracting donations from just about every British artist of distinction - Hockney, Freud, Hodgkin, Bacon, Procktor: it was a lesson in persuasiveness. Then he turned to musicians and organised a series of celebrity concerts in the Lighthouse. And at the same time he was also working as a Lighthouse counsellor, running Aids awareness workshops for police officers and healthcare workers, and participating in support groups. He was so skilled at it that no one could believe he was self-taught. But then, he wasn't unexperienced in coursework. And as a man with HIV, then Aids, he brought to what he did a personal authority.

It was typical of Charles Maude's organisational gifts (and of the positive approach to death taught by the Lighthouse) that he planned his funeral with exhausting detail, leaving the instructions on computer disc. Scheduled for tomorrow with a service at Christ Church, Spitalfields, a marathon procession across London, and a firework party, he designed it like a piece of theatre. It will probably be nothing less.