Ian Nairn

As well as clearing my study, an unending and thankless task, I have been catching up on some reading, including, today, Gillian Darley’s excellent account of Ian Nairn, Words in Place, which I bought when it came out and have now finally read.   I thought that I knew about Nairn as a long-term enthusiast for his two guidebooks to London and Paris.   But there is more to him than I had realised, most especially, the curious and egregious, but wholly admirable, cockiness, which led him, with absolutely no qualifications, except half a mathematics degree and a period in the RAF, to join the Architectural Review and produce Outrage in 1955 which condemned all aspects of suburban sprawl – what he called subtopia – with more authority and effectiveness than the combined force of all the Shell Guides.   And I didn’t know about his long, three-month road trip round the States in 1959 in a 1952 Plymouth soft top, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, which led to the publication of The American Landscape:  A Critical View in 1965.   Nor did I know the extent to which his enthusiasm for pubs and their contents led to an early decline, sacking by the Sunday Times, and a Pimlico death.

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6 thoughts on “Ian Nairn

  1. Dick Humphreys says:

    Remarkable maverick with great style – who rather presciently said South London (he meant Southwark and Lambeth) was ‘real’ London.He was talking in the late 1960s.
    Mind you, nowhere is ‘real London’ now.
    Maybe Brentford or Catford?

  2. Thank you. Like you I’ve been a long-time lover of his London and Paris, but I didn’t know about America. I’m grateful to you, as always.

    But I think he’s mistaken to view any area as “the real London”. Certainly all inner London areas view themselves as “real”. There are families next door to us in The Avenues who have been there since the estate was built in 1876 who certainly see themselves as “real”.

    • Yes, he liked gritty northern cities for the same reason that he liked South London – they were tougher and more authentic, less prettified. His death certificate claimed he had been born in Newcastle, which wasn’t true. Charles

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