David Cardiff

Pioneer of media studies and broadcasting historian with a late career as a painter

Thursday 19 September 2013 04:19

David Maurice Cloudesley Cardiff, media historian: born Oxford 1 June 1944; Principal Lecturer, School of Communications, Design and Media, Polytechnic of Central London (University of Westminster from 1992) 1980-96; married 1971 Lynn Barber (two daughters); died London 10 August 2003.

David Cardiff was one of a pioneering group of teachers at Regent Street Polytechnic who in 1969 launched the first Media Studies course in Britain. This grew in popularity as the parent institution became successively the Polytechnic of Central London and the University of Westminster, training such successful media figures as Michael Jackson, now chairman of Universal Television Group and formerly chief executive of Channel 4.

Cardiff made his name as the author of influential articles on the history of radio and, with his colleague Paddy Scannell, of The Social History of British Broadcasting 1922-1939: serving the nation (1991). Teaching a course on the history of the BBC, they found that nothing had been written based on a proper exploration of the corporation's archives. A new kind of cultural history, their book is the unchallenged standard work on its subject. A particular strength is Cardiff's analysis of the entertainment industry between the wars.

He had a gift of gaining his pupils' confidence. Once during the mid-Seventies, when gender confusion was less familiar than now, a male pupil appeared in a long grey granny-dress, and proceeded to knit throughout the tutorial. Cardiff addressed him as if there were nothing extraordinary in this - and indeed did not see why there should be. If he felt students were being sold short in order to save teachers' time or satisfy administrators' schedules, he was formidable in committees, which he loathed but conducted ably. His clear, satirical mind pierced unerringly through managerial and academic jargon. In 1996 he retired, after nearly 30 years, to begin another career, as an artist.

David Cardiff, born in 1944, was the second son of the writer Maurice Cardiff, British Council representative in Italy, Cyprus, and Mexico, and of Leonora Freeman, a former actress with the RSC. At Eton, Cardiff's boldly subversive reputation for confronting visiting political speakers with disconcerting questions was reminiscent of the fictional Mick Travis in Lindsay Anderson's film If. His happiest times, however, were spent in the Drawing Schools, supervised by Wilfred Blunt.

At Oxford he retained his alarming directness. One victim was the famed "beat" poet Gregory Corso, who was wearing dark glasses in the subterranean Christ Church buttery: Cardiff engaged him in a conversation about whether it was shyness or affectation which made people wear "shades" where they could not be needed. Memories of his youthful outspokenness caused him remorse in later years, but he never lost the gift for deflating pomposity and pretentiousness. He was a proclaimed disbeliever in either creative originality or altruism - though displaying both himself. The diligent study of Philosophy, Physiology and Psychology reinforced his naturally sceptical views; but he always preferred painting, interspersed with high-octane comic escapades.

In his last term at Oxford he met Lynn Barber, a fellow undergraduate, now celebrated for her daring, innovative journalistic interviews, who became his lifelong companion. They married in 1971. Both strikingly good-looking, they shared an ironical and imaginatively humorous outlook. Their daughters Rosie and Theo were born in 1975 and 1978. He loved children and invented endless ingenious games for them - such as "Animal Liberation" where stuffed toys were held captive by a nutty professor and could only be rescued by elaborate escape strategies.

After the pull of art led Cardiff to take early retirement, at 52, he flourished. An admirer of artistic iconoclasm and determined to explore, he tried many styles, always with talent and vigour. Just before he grew ill, he was beginning to settle to a form of semi-abstraction which, as his friend, the biographer Tim Jeal, said, might more than any thing he had achieved to date have become his own authentic way of expression. An exhibition of his work is planned for the autumn.

When he knew that he had leukaemia, Cardiff resolved to enjoy whatever of life might be left. In the months before his final treatment he went to the whole season of Ingmar Bergman films at the NFT, not least because their Nordic excess of gloom far surpassed his own; and as always, he went for country walks, cooked elaborate meals, painted and consoled himself with his favourite writer, Proust. In hospital, weak and off his food, he enjoyed a surprise Proustian moment when an uncharacteristic craving for orange squash threw him into intense recollections of childhood.

His only expressed fear, that he might be losing his prodigious memory for poetry and cockney music-hall songs, was assuaged when his wife listened to him recite the whole of The Ancient Mariner from his bed.

Hugh Cecil

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