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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project