OBITUARY:James Gardner

James Gardner - known and admired all over the design world as "G" - was an extraordinary man whose eye remained as alert as a hawk's even into his eighties.

That eye had X-ray qualities - an ability to look at a piece of machinery such as a valve or an aileron and be able to see instantly how it worked and why. He had learnt the skill as a young man when he earned a living doing cutaway drawings of car engines or radio components in motor or aircraft magazines and catalogues. All through his life this visual understanding, coupled with a reliable physique, carried him through a career in design with objects as small as bracelets or as large as the QE2 (designing the ship's superstructure in 1966 was his favourite job, he told me).

He left school to become an apprentice to Cartier in Bond Street in 1924. Mr Cartier took to his enthusiasm and skill and gave him a tiny table with a silk-shaded Edwardian lamp on which G managed to work, jammed against the chairman's desk.

From there he graduated into advertising, doing sectional drawings for aircrafts and then on to actual design work (one of his first jobs was the design of an Imperial Airways lavatory). The Second World War crept up on him and he was drafted into the Camouflage Training School at Farnham and within a few months he became the Director. His favourite attitude to concealment problems was double bluff - he succeeded once in deceiving Monty in a problem in the Western Desert.

His first big post-war job was to design "Britain Can Make It", an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1946. This brought out his wonderful quality for solving a crisis. The exhibition proved that Britain could make it perhaps but not always finish it and Gardner's abilities for instant design were constantly in demand.

His next large assignment, from 1948 to 1949, was to join the design group set up to produce the Festival of Britain and the major exhibitions in Belfast and Glasgow. His main contribution in London was almost total charge of Battersea Park Fun Fair. Our group met virtually every day until the festival opened on time in 1950 and was a huge success. G returned to normal life - designing exhibitions and shop interiors. We saw less of each other from then on, except occasionally in an airport lounge. He worked frequently abroad, always taking his favourite crew, whose gear inevitably included a teapot. His work included exhibitions at the Evoluon Museum in Eindhoven (1966), the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles (1993), and as recently as this year he was working on the design for the Nelson Gallery at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

He lived quietly with his family and avoided posh restaurants and flash cars and was always, it seemed, glad to see you for a gossip. He looked like a countryman - squashed green hat above blue eyes and a pipe projecting from a thin alert face topped tweeds and stout shoes. I don't think I ever saw him in a suit. G was a truly modest man. You never saw his picture in the papers and more importantly you never caught him looking for it. He never got fussed in a crisis, he knew the names of his contractor's men and was rewarded by their loyalty. He was a true professional.

Hugh Casson

James Gardner, industrial designer and consultant: born 29 December 1907; jewellery designer, Cartier Ltd 1924-31; Chief Deception Officer, Army Camouflage 1941-46; designer, "Britain Can Make It" Exhibition 1946; RDI 1947; chief designer, Festival Gardens, Battersea 1950; designer, British Pavilion, Brussels 1958; CBE 1959; designer, British Pavilion, Expo 67, Montreal 1967; Senior Fellow, Royal College of Art 1987; author of Elephants in the Attic 1983, The Artful Designer 1993; married 1935 Mary Williams (two sons); died London 25 March 1995.

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 People

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape