Blue Plaque for Osbert Lancaster

Osbert Lancaster, the great comic artist who lampooned architectural styles and coined such phrases as 'Stockbrokers' Tudor' and 'Banker's Georgian', has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque on the Notting Hill house in which he was born.

Cartoonist and conservationist, architectural historian and artist, travel writer and theatre designer, Osbert Lancaster (1908-1986) was a man of many talents. He is best known for the ten thousand-odd cartoons he produced for the Daily Express between 1938 and 1981 in which he entertained the nation on every topic from the Suez crisis to the mini-skirt. His cast of characters, led by Maudie Littlehampton, became household names, even inspiring an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 1973.

His earliest claim to fame though was as an architectural satirist who in the words of one critic was "one of the only people who have ever managed to make architecture truly funny". His book Pillar to Post (1938) traced the history of western building and suggested terms for more recent styles including By-Pass Variegated and Wimbledon Transitional.

Stockbrokers’ Tudor: “All over the country the latest and most scientific methods of mass-production are being utilized to turn out a stream of old oak beams, leaded window-panes and small discs of bottled glass.” (Courtesy of the Lancaster family)

But there was anger and frustration too at the destruction by planners and developers of historic buildings and townscapes; he was a founding member of the Georgian Group and a close friend of John Betjeman. Progress at Pelvis Bay (1936) was a spoof guide to a seaside resort, describing its despoliation in the glib language of a promotional brochure. Later in Draynflete Revealed (1949), he charted the ruination of market town.

Lancaster also became one of the leading designers of opera, theatre and ballet with commissions from Covent Garden and Glyndebourne. In 1951 he worked with John Piper on designs for the Festival of Britain. Illustrations, jacket designs, travel writing, and amusing Christmas cards to his friends all flowed from his pen.

Osbert Lancaster at work (Courtesy of the Lancaster family)

The English Heritage Blue Plaque is at 79 Elgin Crescent in Notting Hill, Lancaster's birthplace in 1908 and his home for the first six years of his life. Both his parents' families were well-off and the end of terrace stuccoed house, dating from the 1850s, was a respectable address in one of London's grandest Victorian developments. Lancaster remembered the streets of his childhood as peopled with crossing sweepers and lamp lighters, Italian organ grinders and even a performing bear. He later drew it in 1944, war damaged and derelict - it has since been rescued and the Blue Plaque is a reminder of the considerable achievements of this witty artist, writer and designer.

James Knox, author of Cartoons and Coronets: The Genius of Osbert Lancaster, said: "Osbert was one of the foremost artistic personalities of his generation, who looked back on his Edwardian childhood in Notting Hill as an idyll. His legacy as a cartoonist is a unique commentary on war, politics, fashion and society in mid-twentieth century Britain, while his campaigning to save the architectural character of British towns and cities is now seen as far-sighted and right. Like many artists and subversives, he was also a dandy and a familiar figure in his beloved Fleet Street, Covent Garden and St James's. Today he would have been hailed as a national treasure, which makes the unveiling of his blue plaque such an appropriate and significant occasion."

The English Heritage London Blue Plaques scheme is generously supported by David Pearl, the Blue Plaques Club, and members of the public.

A self-portrait of the artist at work (Courtesy of the Lancaster family)
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