Friends of the Royal Academy (2)

While I am about it, I might as well record what I know about the foundation of the Friends of the Royal Academy in the hope that others can correct me.   The key figures in the foundation were:-  Hugh Casson, the sprightly then President, who had become President the year before;  Griselda Hamilton-Baillie, the then Press Secretary;  the mother of Gerald Libby, our Professor of Anatomy;  and at least two others I think I know.   But I would be interested in anyone who knows more about the circumstances of its foundation and to hear from them.


5 thoughts on “Friends of the Royal Academy (2)

  1. Nicola Farthing says:

    Yes i hoped dear old Hugh Casson would get a mention in that it was his idea when he became PRA to create ‘Friends’ of the Royal Academy!

    I worked at the Royal Fine Art Commission at the time of which he was a member (along with Philip Dowson and Philip Powell, Academicians all) and i always remember him sitting in my room, drinking tea and scoffing gingernut biscuits which i always kept ready for him in case he dropped in, talking and musing on this idea he’d had of creating Friends for the Royal Academy.

  2. Griselda Kerr says:

    Pat Libby took over the running of the Friends as membership began to grow during its first year – we had 12,000 members in the first twelve months, far far exceeding anyone’s expectations (I remember Brinsley Ford laughing as I told him my ambitious target). It was thanks to the generosity of the Friends of the Tate who mailed my flimsy A5 leaflet detailing all the privileges we could offer, to all their members free of charge (their Friends was run by Cherry Barnett, whose attitude seemed to be that a rising tide lifted all the boats so helping us could only be a good thing), to NADFAS, NACF, to Country Life, the Field etc, all of whom I knew well as press officer and who were happy to help the struggling RA around whom stories about selling the Tondo continued to swirl. I remember being furious with the National Trust for not mailing all their members free of charge – imagine thinking that might even be a possibility today. We paid nothing for any mailing. It was SO SIMPLE. It was being allowed to bring a Friend with you that hit the soft spot – I don’t recall anyone else offering that at the time. Then Nick Tite came on board and started the hugely successful Friends Magazine and in due course Susie Dawson took over from Pat Libby. The first Friends room was the tiny book lined office opposite the door to the Keeper’s staircase. The launch of the Friends was very quick to do – it was just me and my Secretary Vicky Holmes doing it and we had fun as Sir Hugh supported wholeheartedly with lose reins. After that I turned my attention to corporate sponsorship which until then had not been a prerequisite for every exhibition but in the RA’s constrained financial state had urgently to become so. It was only in 1989 that I worked out details for the Corporate Friends and Hugh Casson procurred the Prime Minister as its Patron. What changes from the days when the Head Porter, Mr. Franklin, took a silver tray of tea, up the Butler’s Staircase, to the Secretary at before he left at 5.30. Now what an incredible institution the RA has become from such immensely uncertain times.

    • Dear Griselda, Thank you so much for this lovely and informative account of the founding of the Friends. As you say, it was so much simpler than it would be today. And I’m interested that it was the Bring a Friend policy which hit the spot. Charles

  3. Susie Dawson says:

    Maureen Harris is someone else who should definitely be mentioned. Griselda will remember more but I believe Maureen played a significant part in giving the nascent organisation a ‘profile’. Key to it’s success was the wonderful series of ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions, organised by Norman Rosenthal and MaryAnne Stevens, from Post Impressionism in the late 1970s, through the Genius of Venice (which lifted membership to c 28,000 by 1983), and the Monet shows, which achieved a membership in the high 60,000s by the 1990s. Friends were mostly created from existing visitors. The National Trust showed the way, ‘pioneering’ Direct Debiting, which made keeping Friends so much easier. Above all there was the realisation, with the example, too, of the large American membership schemes, that such organisations could make a real difference financially. And so it proved, with the Friends a multi-million pound contributor within a decade of its creation.

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