Pizzicato on the double bass, Spike Milligan and Goldsmiths

Advanced Music Class Goldsmiths College 1929-31. This animated and lively group photo features two mischievous double bass players at either end – the instrument that Spike Milligan took with him on the tram to his evening orchestral music class in the middle 1930s. Image: Goldsmiths, University of London.

Spike Milligan (1918-2002) is credited with revolutionising British comedy through his chaotic, surrealist, and subversive imagination.

He created the seminal radio comedy The Goon Show (1951-60), and wrote more than 50 books including six on his Second World War experiences.

To say he was larger and crazier than life itself would be an understatement.

And he was also a student of Goldsmiths College.

Spike Milligan was well-known for his zany and irreverent though affectionate memoirs of his time in the Royal Artillery in World War Two.

He attended a one term music orchestration course in the middle 1930s at the college’s evening department of Adult Education.

It seems this experience represented an important part of what he saw as his development as a musician and composer.

It is emphasised by Ned Sherrin who wrote his entry (2006) for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

While working as an assistant storeman at Keith Prowse in Bond Street, Terence Milligan bluffed his way into a part-time evening course in orchestral practice at Goldsmiths’ College, Lewisham, and subsequently joined a local band, Tommy Brettel’s New Ritz Revels, playing drums, guitar, and trumpet, and occasionally providing vocals.

And it is also variously mentioned by his three biographers Pauline Scudamore, Dominic Beehan and Humphrey Carpenter.

John Cleese recognised his influence on Monty Python’s Flying Circus when he said: ‘Milligan is the great god of us all.’

This television comedy sketch of a tramp picking up his baguette in a café only to find that it produces a clarinet solo by Gershwin is a superb example of how Milligan’s surrealist imagination was also centred in sound and music.

Terence (Spike) Alan Milligan was actually brought up in India because his father Leo Alphonso Milligan was in the British Indian Army. Spike was born near Bombay in 1918.

For a while the Milligan family lived in Brigade House in Rangoon, Burma and remembered being visited by the famous author George Orwell when he was a police officer in his original identity of Eric Arthur Blair.

But in 1932 after the world-wide recession, cutbacks in military expenditure meant that Spike’s father was pensioned off at the age of 42.

The family, including his mother Florence and younger brother Desmond, left the splendour of colonial life with servants to face the hardships of unemployment and despair in a two room attic flat in Catford at 23 Riseldine Road, SE23.

Spike was fifteen years old, disaffected, and further disillusioned when he was turned down by the RAF.

He had a series of dead-end jobs including laundryman, and packer for a tobacco firm.

That is where he began to steal cigarettes to raise funds to buy his first trumpet.

It was the eloquent speech of mitigation by his father Leo at his trial that persuaded the magistrate to give him an absolute discharge on the grounds that his son’s genius as the world’s greatest future trumpet player deserved urgent consideration.

Spike liked to reminisce about his father’s blarney particularly when as a child he had woken him up in the middle of the night to confess that he had not shot any tigers.

When asked for an explanation Leo replied: ‘What would you prefer the boring truth or an exciting lie?’

Spike’s poem ‘Catford 1933’ captured the family’s fall from grace:

My father places his unemployment cards

                                      in his wallet –  there’s plenty of room for them.

In greaseproof paper my mother wraps my

                                      banana sandwiches.

It’s 5.40. Ten minutes to catch that

                                      last workman’s tram.

The tram from Catford to Lewisham Way and Goldsmiths’ College would be the way Spike struggled with his double bass to attend the evening course in orchestral practice.

Number 74 Tram from Catford to Lewisham and Blackfriars. Image: Lewisham Council Archives.

Humphrey Carpenter speculated that it is likely Spike had to deal with the conductors spinning the time-honoured joke that has irritated classical bass players since the instrument was invented:

How do you get it under your chin?

Answer: By keeping your big mouth shut.

Biographer Pauline Scudamore wrote: ‘He was not really of the standard required, but he bluffed his way into the class and it says much for both Goldsmiths’ insight and the immediacy of Milligan’s responses that he survived the course.’

When arriving for the first lesson he discovered that all the other string instrumentalists were rubbing resin into their bows; something Spike and his double bass lacked completely.

Biography by Pauline Scudamore first published in 1985 and 3rd edition in 2003.

He pretended that he had left his non-existent bow at home. The music teacher said he could play pizzicato little knowing that at the time that was the only way Spike could play it.

Scudamore says Goldsmiths taught him the rudiments of harmony and counterpoint, the discipline of formal music and sight-reading.

Milligan said:

Well, Goldsmiths was the nearest I ever had to a musical education. I suppose I wanted to show off a bit. To show that I didn’t only strum, and that I could play with a bow if I wanted to, and that I took music seriously.

The college was a thriving centre for music in all its dimensions.  It had its own music society known as the Clef Club.

These were the years when the Goldsmiths’s Choral Union and Goldsmiths’ Symphony Orchestra trained by Frederick Haggis were formed, and a String Orchestra conducted by Miss Kitty Kennedy became prominent in local music festivals.

Reginald Jevons was famous for taking group piano lessons with dummy keyboards when there were not enough pianos to go round.

In 1935 there were 300 musicians attending the Adult Evening Department – one third of the overall total of students.

An aerial view of Goldsmiths College at the time Spike Milligan attended his evening course. The college ‘back field’ had an athletics running track and the swimming pool inherited from the Goldsmiths Company’s Technical and Recreative Institute established in 1891. Image: Goldsmiths, University of London.

The biography of Spike Milligan by Humphrey Carpenter first published in 2003.

Jevons wrote optimistically in the Anvil, the Evening Students’ Association magazine:

Of the future surely there can be no mistake. We have to thank those whose foresight led us along this path of stimulating the love of good music, and in our own Department we rejoice to see the ideals being set before us, which gave opportunity for self-expression, and a sense of well-being which accompanies the rational expression of the faculties.

Such pompous classicism did not appeal to Spike Milligan.

He told another of his biographers, Dominic Beehan, he didn’t like Goldsmiths’ because it was ‘all classical music’ and at the time he only wanted to play jazz.

There is no doubt that having creative control and confidence over musical notation, arrangement and orchestration had an impact.

It all underpins the brilliance of such anarchic and in its own way, progressive and experimental musical pieces such as the Ying Tong Song first released by Decca in 1956.

Milligan says he wrote the Ying Tong Song in ten minutes during a journey on the London Underground.

The ‘I’m Walking Backwards for Christmas’ song was also written in 1956 and has remained another iconic sound track for what Dominic Beehan described as the Goons’ auditory surrealism.

Spike was not the only Milligan to attend Goldsmiths.

In 1948 his younger brother Desmond was eligible for a post World War Two education grant to study the three year Art Diploma course.

The entrance to Goldsmiths College as it would have been in the late 1920s and early 30s. Image: Goldsmiths, University of London.

In the early 1950s Desmond, and his father Leo and mother Florence emigrated to Australia while Spike teamed up with Michael Bentine, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellars to form the famous Goons and as has often been said, the rest was history.

Another Goldsmiths’ connection exists through one of his sons, James Turlough, whose mother, the artist Margaret Maughan also went to Goldsmiths’ College.

Spike Milligan’s headstone with the Irish Gaelic inscription ‘I told you I was ill’. Image: Domer48’fenian’ 

When Spike Milligan died in 2002 the intense media coverage indicated that a national figure of great cultural significance had passed away.

However, a dispute over his passport application in 1962 led to his adopting Irish citizenship.

And the line he wanted on his gravestone ‘I told you I was ill’ is inscribed in Irish Gaelic as Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite.

Ned Sherrin said Spike Milligan ‘opened new doors of irreverence and absurdity in his mission to entertain.’

He described him as ‘a troubled, gifted man with a unique mind, an affinity for children, and a puzzled pity for humanity and the animal world.’

These are all qualities that could be said to perfectly qualify him for the honour of being one of the Goldsmiths’ alumni.



The Goldsmiths’ terms of one of Scotland’s most celebrated 20th century artists

Joan Eardley’s 1943 prize-winning self portrait at Glasgow School of Art – seen as the precursor to her powerful and enduring social portraiture of children in the Townhead area of Glasgow. Included for criticism and review.

The Times newspaper called Joan Eardley (1921-1963) one of Britain’s ‘pre-eminent artists of the 20th century.’

The Guardian says she is:

…the forgotten artist who captured Scotland’s life and soul, children from Glasgow’s slums, bleak seascapes, village fishermen at work … the vibrant visions of Joan Eardley are finding a new following.

In recent years Scotland has staged major exhibitions of her work in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

She is now the focus for the hugely popular exhibition ‘Joan Eardley: A Sense of Place’ at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh until 21st May.

Public demand is so great the National Galleries have extended opening times until 8 p.m. for the final weekend.

Exhibition ‘Joan Eardley: A Sense of Place’, Featuring Image: Children and Chalked Wall 2, 1963 Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal © Estate of Joan Eardley. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2016

At the time of writing a new stage play, Joan Eardley: A Private View, is on national tour celebrating and exploring her life and contribution to the world of art.

Click through for links for booking touring performances. Worth ordering ahead as venues are selling out quickly.

The production by the Heroica Theatre Company has been written by Anna Carlisle, and is being directed and performed by some of the most respected figures in Scottish drama.

Joan’s critical reputation is largely based on her characterful and figuratively human portraiture of street children in Glasgow and for her evocative landscapes of the fishing village of Catterline and surroundings on the North-East coast of Scotland.

Sense of Place curator Patrick Elliott describes her Glasgow children paintings as ‘candid’, and her Catterline landscapes as full of ‘leaden skies and wild sea.’

What is less well known is that Joan was enrolled at Goldsmiths Art School during the autumn term 1938 and spring term 1939 – before moving to Glasgow School of Art where in 1943 she won the Sir James Guthrie Prize for portraiture for her remarkable self-portrait featured at the top of this article.

She came to south east London as a result of profound family tragedy.

In 1929, when she was only seven, her father, a veteran of the Great War and severely afflicted by the effects of a gas attack, took his own life when experiencing failure as a dairy farmer.

Her mother moved Joan and her younger sister back to the family home in Blackheath, London, to live with their grandmother and aunt.

They were able to afford to send Joan to a local private school and then a local art school.

She enrolled at Goldsmiths in the autumn of 1938 with the backdrop of the turbulent drama of Munich and the fear of war.

Her two terms at New Cross tend to be overshadowed in the biographical narratives by her undoubted achievements in Scotland.

Joan Eardley: A Private View is on a national tour beginning in Scotland during May and moving to Scarborough, Huddersfield, Halifax, London, Reading and Coventry in June.

Hitler’s ruthless takeover of Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1939 defied all the promises of ‘peace in our time’ and the impending storm of global war meant her time at Goldsmiths was cut short.

Joan’s style is largely attributed to being under the influence of Hugh Adam Crawford in Glasgow and the Scottish Colourists.

But when she was at Goldsmiths, the Art School was under the direction of the progressive and highly respected Clive Gardiner who had been appointed headmaster in 1929, the very year Joan moved to London.

As an artist, particularly in terms of the public realm, Clive Gardiner’s style is powerfully driven by bright and vibrant colour.

‘White City in Harringay Park’ is a striking poster design referencing cubism, modernism and rich in modern Art Deco colour from 1927 and is in a unique collection curated by the Transport Museum in London.

White City, Harringay Park, by Clive Gardiner, 1927 Published by Underground Electric Railways Company Ltd. Copyright: Transport for London. Included for criticism and review.

Clive Gardiner was also in great demand as a portraitist.

Does his self-portrait, held in the Goldsmiths Art Collection, have any coincidence with Joan Eardley’s famous award-winning self-portrait?

Clive Gardiner A Self-Portrait. The Goldsmiths Art Collection.

Graham Sutherland repeatedly credited Clive Gardiner for modernising Goldsmiths Art School, and being a huge source of inspiration for the students there during the 1920s and 30s.

He once said: ‘Everything worthwhile I learnt, I learnt from him.’

Clive was inspired by his love of Cezanne, Derain and Picasso, and his enthusiasm for the avant-garde breaking new ground in Europe.

He advised his students to respect commercial art and design as being the equal to fine art.

The London Transport museum collection of his poster art is distinguished by a style and engagement with colour similar to the Scottish colourist movement.

And at the same time Joan Eardley began her studies at Goldsmiths, Clive Gardiner was working on murals for the 1938 Glasgow Empire Exhibition.

The play Joan Eardley: A Private View is being performed at the London Omnibus, Clapham Common, on Monday 5th June and The Caledonian Club, London on Wednesday 7th June.

The book accompanying the exhibition Joan Eardley: A Sense of Place written by Patrick Elliott and Anne Galastro combines excellent criticism with biography.

Exhibition book ‘Joan Eardley A Sense of Place. Click on image for more information.

Other impressive critical books on Joan that are recommended for further reading and are beautifully illustrated include Joan Eardley by Fiona Pearson (2016) and Joan Eardley by Christopher Andreae (2013).

Joan Eardley was elected a full member of Royal Scottish Academy in 1963, the year of her untimely death from cancer.

It may well be the case that Joan’s time at Goldsmiths Art School in 1938-9 carried a greater influence on her development as an artist than has perhaps been realised.

Whether it did or not, the considerable recognition of her significance as an artist and the creative dramaturgy of the touring play about her life offers a delightful prospect for synergy in the new Goldsmiths Gallery being developed as a result of generous support from alumni.

Extract from BBC documentary programme on Joan Eardley’s beautiful depictions of the seaside village of Catterline.

The secret history of Goldsmiths’ Crimean War heroes

Officers of the 88th Regiment. Crimean War by Roger Fenton. Image: US Library of Congress, Public Domain.

Six young men educated in the corridors and rooms of the Richard Hoggart main building died a variety of horrible deaths between 1854 and 1855.

They were killed in the biggest clash of the superpowers of the Victorian Age.

This is the secret history of Goldsmiths’ Crimean War heroes.

They were students of the Royal Naval School, which occupied the neo-Wren style building designed by John Shaw Jr. between 1844 and 1889.

Sports Day on playing fields of Royal Naval School, New Cross. Image: Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 4th August 1883

The story of the Royal Naval School is as chaotic and ‘finger-tips on the cliff-edge’ as that of the College.

At that time what we now know as the Great Hall was a large quadrangle open to the sky where the likes of cadet pupils, Edward Carrington, Edwin Richards, R.O. Lewis, Richard Morris, Sidney Smith Boxer, and James Murray did their parade ground drill.

The teaching rooms off the ground floor corridors are where they were taught mathematics, technical drawing, navigation and the classics.

And the corridors and ante-rooms on the first floors of the current main building are where they slept in hammocks sometimes looking out of the large windows at a clear night sky filled with the Milky Way.

Crimean War Tablet at New Cross Royal Naval School Chapel. Image: Illustrated London News 27th March 1858.

They had a magnificent carved marble memorial dedicated to their memory on the wall of what is now the George Wood theatre.

This had originally been built as the Royal Naval School’s chapel:

Sacred to the memory of the undermentioned officers, formerly pupils of the Royal Naval School, who fell while nobly serving their country in the Russian War … in remembrance of their gallant and meritorious services.

Each of the young men died in ways that symbolised the nature of the Crimean War and how it is remembered.

Great Britain became an ally of the French and what is now modern day Turkey to counter the military expansionism of Tsar Nicholas the First.

He wanted to replace the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans, and acquire the Crimean peninsula so as to guarantee access for the Russian fleet’s easy passage between the Black and Mediterranean seas.

This was the war which inaugurated the role of the foreign correspondent through the critical despatches of Times reporter William Howard Russell.

Times Crimean War correspondent William Howard Russell. Image: Roger Fenton, US Library of Congress, Public Domain.

It was the first British involved conflict with officially commissioned war photography.

It was very much the first modern media war as the laying of telegraph cables meant news could reach Britain in a matter of hours rather than days.

And the New Cross soldiers and sailors were in the thick of it.

Lieutenant Edward Carrington was killed on 6th June 1854 in a little known Royal Naval equivalent of the Charge of the Light Brigade.

This was on water opposite deadly gun batteries at Gamla Karleby – what is now the modern Finnish Baltic town of Kokkola, in the gulf of Bothnia.

He was killed as were  most of the men in his boat.

The Vice Admiral and Commander in Chief of the Baltic force, Charles Napier, publicly castigated Captain Glasse of HMS Vulture for:

…sending boats to attack a place so far distant from his ship without any apparent object, which has led to the melancholy catastrophe on this occasion.

This was the war that exposed the inadequacies of military medical supplies, care and treatment.

Florence Nightingale. Public Domain.

While Florence Nightingale was struggling in vain to save lives at the hospital in Scutari, tens of thousands of men died from cholera, dysentry and other diseases.

They included the former New Cross cadet Richard Morris who was Mate of HMS Wasp and died of cholera before Sebastopol on 24th November 1854.

The fate of Sidney Smith Boxer Esquire was particularly poignant.

He was assistant secretary to his uncle Rear Admiral Boxer who was being heavily criticised for the failures in the distribution of ordnance and supplies.

Sidney died from cholera at Balaclava on 1st June 1855.

His uncle, exhausted from the strains of his role and grief over the death of his young nephew, succumbed to cholera and died a week later.

Captain Edwin Richards of the 41st Regiment died from multiple bayonet and gunshot wounds at the head of his company in the Battle of Inkerman 5th November 1854. His grieving father in Ireland was told:

…he was surrounded by Russians. Refusing to yield himself a prisoner, he shot four of his opponents, and killed two with his sword – thus dying the noblest and glorious death a man could die, without pain; shot through the body and stabbed by several bayonet wounds, he suffered no pain as death must have been instantaneous.

The Master of HM Transport Resolute, R.O Lewis Esquire, was another Royal Naval School New Cross graduate.

Balaclava Harbour 1854. Image: Roger Fenton. US Library of Congress, Public Domain.

He drowned when a hurricane swept through Balaclava harbour on 14th November 1854 sinking and smashing transport ships.

Richard Nicklin, a civilian photographer, sent to take pictures of the conflict to build public support for the war, was also lost at sea, along with his assistants, photographs, and equipment.

Roger Fenton and his unit were sent to replace him and survived the journey, the weather, diseases, and all the dangers of the conflict.

The final New Cross Naval School victim was Lieutenant James Murray of the Royal Engineers.

He was mortally wounded while leading an assault on the Redan fortification on 18th June 1855.

Mary Seacole by William Simpson (1823-1899) Image: Public domain.

He could have been attended by the Jamaican born pioneer paramedic Mary Seacole who was seen going out into the battlefield to provide comfort and assistance to those struck down by artillery or musket fire.

The memorial tablet to these men was taken down when the chapel was deconsecrated following the Naval School’s move to Mottingham in 1889.

The building was converted into a lecture hall in 1891 and then a theatre in 1968.

The monument, designed by sculptor Edward James Physick, is now in the vestibule of Greenwich’s Royal Naval School Chapel, with no indication that it refers to the New Cross educated veterans.

More detail about this aspect of Goldsmiths’ history will be provided in the forthcoming book being researched and written by Professor Tim Crook. 







Goldsmiths, Art and Winston Churchill


Parliament Square statue of Sir Winston Churchill by Goldsmiths College’s Head of Sculpture Ivor Roberts-Jones. Photo by Eluveitie – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

It was the worst day of their lives.

That was the sense of emotional and professional disaster for Goldsmiths Art School alumni Graham and Kathleen Sutherland in 1954.

The Prime Minister Winston Churchill had sent round his official limousine with a letter furiously rejecting the portrait of him that Graham had been commissioned by Parliament to paint.

Winston had thundered:

…there will be an acute difference of opinion about this portrait…it will bring an element of controversy into a function that was intended to be a matter of agreement between the Members of the House of Commons where I have lived my life … the painting, however masterly in execution, is not suitable…

This was Parliament’s gift to celebrate the eightieth birthday of Britain’s war-time leader between 1940 and 1945.

Its unveiling a few days later in Westminster Hall would be another catastrophic humiliation for the Sutherlands; this time played out live on BBC television and reported in newsreel cinemas.

The irascible statesman, having been persuaded to avoid publicly rejecting the gift, used sarcasm to twist the knife into the portraitist he believed had made him look like a decrepit old man:

…the portrait [turning to look at it] is a remarkable example of modern art. [Haughty laughter as well as applause] It certainly combines force and candour. These are qualities which no active member of either House can do without or should fear to meet.



Further Pathe footage of Winston Churchill’s Westminster Hall 80th birthday ceremony 1954. Click through to view.

The tragedy of this event has been the subject of a book and a high profile television documentary series written and presented by the historian Simon Schama and, more recently, an entire episode of the Netflix television drama series on Queen Elizabeth II, The Crown.

Graham and Kathleen met each other when they were art students at Goldsmiths College between 1921 and 1926.


The Blomfield block built with funds provided by the Goldsmiths Company between 1905 and 1907 for the Art               School where Graham Sutherland and his future wife Kathleen Barry were students in the early 1920s.

Their encounter at Goldsmiths is one of many romantic and charming love stories in the history of the College.

At first they would simply gaze at each other in wonderment during life drawing classes unable to say a word.

In July 1921 the ‘chat-up’ ritual involved passing onto her a written invitation to the Diaghilev ballet.

It was not until the rendez-vous at Charing Cross station that they actually exchanged words for the first time.

Kathleen recalled:

I remember I was very surprised at the timbre of his voice, being so high and light, like the Duke of Windsor’s. It was all very agreeable, and he had to borrow half a crown to get his train home.


The third floor studios of the Blomfield Art School block where Graham and Kathleen studied etching and other crafts between 1921-6.

Graham Sutherland initially established his reputation as an engraver, sometimes earning £700 in sales in one year, but the international market collapsed with the 1929 Wall Street crash.

Goldsmiths’ Art School had begun in 1891 before it became part of the University of London in 1904-5.

The intention was that it should pursue the higher education of art, concentrating on painting, modelling and design and avoiding crafts ‘conducted along trade lines.’

One distinction of the school, according to a previous College historian A.E. Firth, is that for many years: ‘very few of its students took any examinations at all, or received any nationally recognised qualifications at the end of their courses.’

This was the case with Graham and Kathleen.

Pedestal Table in the Studio 1922 André Masson 1896-1987 Bequeathed by Elly Kahnweiler 1991 to form part of the gift of Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler, accessioned 1994

‘Pedestal Table in the Studio’ 1922 by André Masson 1896-1987 Bequeathed by Elly Kahnweiler 1991 to form part of the gift of Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler, accessioned 1994. Surrealism was not on the curriculum of Goldsmiths’ Art school between 1921-26.

During their time in New Cross, Graham recalled that if they sought inspiration from modernism or any pioneering ideas in contemporary art movements, they had to find that in the galleries and exhibitions of Central London and Paris:

While the teaching at the school was sound and was certainly practical, it was totally out of touch with the great European movements, then in full flower and moving to a climax. If Old Masters’ names were heard I do not remember much serious attempt being made to implant any real understanding of the significance of their work. Still less were we really taught to apply their example to our own work. I do not remember hearing a word about the Impressionists and on the subject of the Modern Movement there was profound silence.

It was in the 1930s that he developed as a painter mixing a continental modernist influence with the English romantic tradition.

His etching ‘Pastoral’ from 1930 was significantly referred to in the dialogue of the episode ‘The Assassins’ from the Netflix series ‘The Crown’.

The scriptwriter dramatised a sense of sympathy between Sutherland’s grieving over the death of his 2 month old son, John, in 1928, and Churchill’s profound sadness over the death of his 2 year old daughter Marigold in 1921.

It is suggested ‘Pastoral’ shares an undercurrent of personal despair with Churchill’s repeated attempts to paint the pond at his home in Chartwell.

Sutherland further developed his reputation as a home front War artist between 1939 and 1945.

He produced a haunting series of images of the impact of the blitz on domestic life that he titled ‘Devastation.’

Devastation, 1941: An East End Street 1941 Graham Sutherland OM 1903-1980 Presented by the War Artists Advisory Committee 1946

Devastation, 1941: An East End Street 1941 Graham Sutherland OM 1903-1980 Presented by the War Artists Advisory Committee 1946

Edward Lucie-Smith said that it was ‘Sutherland’s arresting image of the writer Somerset Maugham, painted in 1949, followed by the equally arresting full length [portrait] of Lord Beaverbrook, started in May, 1951, that made him the most sought after portrait painter of his time.’

Edward Sackville-West wrote the introduction of the Penguin Modern Painters’ volume on Graham Sutherland in 1944.


This placed him in the frame of leading contemporary artists and Sackville-West had no hesitation in comparing him with Henry Moore:

It is not only that, in excellence of technique and invention, they are two of the most significant artists of our time; they possess as well, the unmoved, receptive eyes which alone can reflect the tragic idyll of contemporary England.

Graham Sutherland was offered the Churchill commission because of the recommendation of the left-wing Labour MP Jennie Lee.

Somerset Maugham 1949 Graham Sutherland OM 1903-1980 Presented by Lady John Hope 1951

Somerset Maugham 1949 Graham Sutherland OM 1903-1980 Presented by Lady John Hope 1951

And this may have been the source for what became the schism in what initially developed as a warm friendship between Winston and Clementine and Graham and Kathleen.

‘Wow’, wrote Lady Churchill to her daughter in law, ‘He is really a most attractive man.’

Winston relished being painted by a fellow artist and enjoyed joshing him over his socialist allegiance.

Sutherland recalled the Prime Minister throwing rather expensive food into the goldfish pond:

I would say ‘But the ones at the back aren’t getting anything at all, you’re just throwing it in the front,’ And he said: ‘Well, that’s life, you see. We can’t all be communists, we can’t all be equal.

There was always underlying tension beneath the surface of polite acquaintance.

Winston was so taken with Kathleen’s beauty that he expressed his intention and wish to paint her portrait.

He did not know that Graham was telling Kathleen that he thought Churchill’s paintings ‘very nearly first-rate, but had a touch of vulgarity about them.’

Sutherland failed to appreciate how important it was that Churchill needed to be a more consultative participant in the creation of his own portrait.

He felt excluded and discomforted by Sutherland’s determination to paint what he saw rather than how Churchill wished to be represented.

He would demand ‘How are you going to paint me? As a cherub, or a bulldog?’

In the end Sutherland saw more of the bulldog and lion at bay – a role that Churchill’s longstanding doctor Lord Moran tried to warn him was simply one of his performances.

One irony is that Winston’s defiant lion and bulldog pose was often captured by photographic and electronic media, and its inclusion in a 1965 film obituary by Pathe bears a striking resemblance to Sutherland’s controversial portrait.

Churchill as 'defiant bulldog' in 1965 Pathe obituary.

Churchill as ‘defiant bulldog’ in ‘This Was A Man’ Tribute To Sir Winston Churchill (1965) Pathe. Click through to see the film.

When Churchill finally got to see the painting, it was too late. What he saw was:

Sitting on a lavatory … It makes me look half-witted, which I ain’t … Here sits an old man on his stool, pressing and pressing … I look like a down-and-out drunk who has been picked out of the gutter in the Strand.

The guffaws of laughter cued by Churchill’s quip about modern art at Westminster Hall struck Graham Sutherland very hard.


BBC live footage shows Graham Sutherland holding his hand to his face in shock and mortification.

At the same time, a freeze-frame of Churchill’s countenance from the Pathe newsreel report indicates mischief and cunning.


Churchill’s revenge on Sutherland in public. Pathe newsreel film. Click through to view.

Admiration and dislike for the portrait divided along party lines.

Lord Hailsham was scathing:

I’d throw Mr Sutherland into the Thames. The portrait is a complete disgrace. It is bad-mannered.

Sutherland had to walk past official guests complaining that their beloved statesman had a dirty face and openly expressing their feelings that a terrible tribute had been paid to one of the country’s greatest men.

In another age Sutherland as the courtier artist who had outraged the King, would have found himself on the scaffold.

In the middle of the twentieth century such trial and retribution was more socio-psychological.

A storm was to rage in the pages of the national press and the Churchill family would decide that the painting, rather than its creator, should be consigned to a bonfire of retribution.

What was supposed to have been a gift to the nation that would hang at Westminster after Churchill’s death was crated up and destroyed on Clementine’s instructions within the year.

Winston and his loyal family were not in a position to appreciate that Graham Sutherland had created a beautiful expression of Churchillian indomitability, a symbol of an old country’s defiance of all the ravages of total war, and a presentation of the sturdy and independent humility of a democratic Parliamentarian in plain dress.

Like his series of paintings from the Blitz, this was the climax of the devastation of survival, and indeed, victory.

One of Sutherland’s biographers, Roger Berthoud concluded: ‘Graham had seriously underestimated his sitter’s sensitivity. As a portrait, his work was masterly; as a gift, it was a dismal failure.’

Graham Sutherland said it was vandalism, but Clementine had been determined to protect her husband’s feelings.

Simon Schama explained that Winston had not wanted a painted obituary.

He also said:

With the exception perhaps of the paintings of the Duke of Wellington by Goya and Thomas Lawrence, Sutherland accomplished the most powerful image of a Great Briton ever executed.

This national treasure now only exists as photographs and the sketches the artist made in its preparation.

There have been noble attempts to resurrect the painting.

Aster Crawshaw & Alistair Lexden have detailed the painstaking reproduction of Sutherland’s lost portrait by Albrecht von Leyden – a great admirer of both the original artist and subject.

Crawshaw and Lexden report that this courageous rebirth of Sutherland’s Portrait of Churchill was donated by von Leyden to the Carlton Club:

It was Albrecht’s hope that the portrait would be hung in the Club’s Churchill Room. A photograph, taken apparently soon after its arrival, shows the portrait on the wall of another room. It was then stored in the Club’s attic where it remains.

Many years later Lady Clementine Churchill would not be so hostile to another expression of a Goldsmiths artist’s imagination in the representation of her husband.


Architectural detail of the Arts building, designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, completed in 1907 and situated at the back of Goldsmiths College main building.

Ivor Roberts-Jones (1913-96) was both a student and lecturer at Goldsmiths and eventually became head of sculpture in the college’s Art School (1964-78).

In 1971 he was invited along with eight other sculptors to submit maquettes for a potential statue of Churchill to be erected in Parliament Square.

None were thought suitable. Roberts-Jones and one other artist were asked to submit again.

This time round Ivor made two models.

One was similar to his first submission with Winston Churchill in robes.

The other was awarded the commission.

This was a more sturdy and pugnacious figure similar to the famous war-time photograph of the Prime Minister in long coat standing among the ruins of the House of Commons in May 1941 digging his cane into the rubble.

It replicated the image of Winston with his left hand thrust into his pocket, jaw jutting outwards, grim-faced and with a posture of steely defiance.

Roberts-Jones had made his reputation with sculptures of the prominent figure of Augustus John in his home town of Fordingbridge, and the reflective looking head of Yehudi Menuhin.


Ivor Roberts-Jones statue of Winston Churchill. Photo by David Holt from London, England – London 068 Parliament and Churchill, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Churchill statue, cast in bronze, cost £30,000, and met the full approval of Lady Clementine who enthusiastically unveiled it with the Queen in 1973 at its prominent position in Parliament Square facing Big Ben.

Unlike Sutherland’s infamous painting, this impressive public work of art by a Goldsmiths artist has survived.

However, it might be argued that rioting in Central London on May Day 2000 challenged the dignity of Churchill’s stature when its head was dressed with a green mohican of turf cut from the grass in the square.

The figure was also made to look as though blood was dripping from its mouth and graffiti was sprayed on the plinth.

A student from Cambridge, studying English and European literature, was jailed for 30 days.

He said he wanted to express a challenge to an icon of the British Establishment, but the Magistrate told him the statue symbolised to many people the war effort and the struggle against the Nazis.

Ten years later the statue plinth was subject to further defacement in student protests covered by the media.

These events are a reminder that public art will always be a matter of politics as well as culture.

At Goldsmiths art, politics, culture and society have frequently been an enduring combustion of controversy and protest.

And we are left with the poignant legend of the finest portrait of a British leader ever painted not surviving the conflagration.

By Professor Tim Crook, Goldsmiths historian


Anon, ‘Sculptor for Churchill’, London: Illustrated London News, page 12, 27th March 1971

Berthoud, Roger, Graham Sutherland: A Biography, London: faber & faber, 1982

Chesterman, Ross, Golden Sunrise: The Story of Goldsmiths’ College, 1953-1974, Durham: The Pentland Press, 1996

Crawshaw, Aster & Lexden, Alistair, ‘Homage to a Hero and a Masterpiece: The Destruction and Rebirth of Sutherland’s Portrait of Churchill’, London: The London Magazine, pages 25-42, June & July, 2016

Dymond, Dorothy ed., The Forge: The History of Goldsmiths’ College 1905-1955, London: Methuen & Co., 1955

Firth, A. E., Goldsmiths’ College: A Centenary Account, London: The Athlone Press, 1991

Lucie-Smith, Edward, ‘A Visionary At The Tate’, Illustrated London News, pages 64-5, 1st May 1982.

Sackville-West, Edward, Graham Sutherland, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1944

Schama, Simon, The Face of Britain: The Nation through Its Portraits, London: Viking, 2015

The mystery of Goldsmiths ‘College Beggar’


Entrance to Goldsmiths College – a picture taken between 1910 and 1912. Three small boys are standing left, right and centre. To the left of the entry route into the college you can see the figure of a man sitting on a box and the outline of his broom leaning against the wall.

In the early part of Goldsmiths history a character known as ‘The College Beggar’ occupied a makeshift box to the left of the college’s entrance.

Fully equipped with a broom stick he kept the pavement and drive-way of the college clear of rubbish for many years.

He has no name. In the portrait he looks distracted. It is possible his right arm is missing as it does not appear to be present in his apparently empty jacket and coat sleeve.


The ‘College Beggar’ outside the entrance of Goldsmiths College 1910-12.

He wears a big, shabby coat and bowler hat. He has a white, long, unkempt, and drooping moustache.

His boots or shoes are worn. His right eye is bright and focused on the camera, but his left eye is closed.

Perhaps he is a wounded and vagrant veteran from some Victorian colonial war.

Had he been a cadet in the Royal Naval School that inaugurated the building from 1844 and was grievously disabled in battle, losing an arm and an eye?

Ex-servicemen have always made up the ranks of the homeless in history.

Who was this elderly gentleman of the road who decided to make this position on Lewisham Way his home?

His presence and character had been so strong that somebody who worked in the college, and was ready to put together a photographic album of its staff, key interiors and locations, decided that he should be included.

That album was acquired by a former Director of Marketing, Recruitment and Communications, Vicky Annand, and donated to the College’s Special Collections and Archives.

‘The College Beggar’ lived in an age with no welfare apart from the spartan conditions of the Workhouse.

His choice was stark. Either he could submit himself to the mercy of the streets, and any money or food given by generous passersby, or he could surrender to the charity of the Parish.

The poor and destitute of this time had recourse to the Woolwich Road Workhouse and Vanbrugh Hill Infirmary from 1840.

From 1904, paupers could seek admittance to the newly built and opened Grove Park Workhouse run by the Greenwich Guardians.

Blocks for the male and female ‘aged’ were situated at the front of what from a distance might have resembled a country estate, but in reality operated with a rigid regime of restrictions.

This was where poverty was something to be punished rather than relieved.

I like to think ‘The College Beggar’ was a friend of everyone in the college – lecturers, students and support staff.

I imagine that the men and women working in the famous building designed by John Shaw Jr. went out of their way to show him compassion, giving him the dignity of ‘a job’, and making sure he would keep his body and soul together even though he had nowhere to live.

If you have any family diaries and archives that could shed light on the real identity of this man, feel free to email me at t.crook @

I imagine people did say ‘Good morning Norman’ or ‘Good night Raymond’ as their days of teaching and learning began and ended.

Because of the more formal mode of public address of the time they most probably said ‘Good day Mr Goodwood.’

I also think he was sustained and supported with meals from the college refectory kitchens.

But where did he go after sunset and the temperature dropped below zero?

Was it the local ‘dosshouse’ or ‘spike’ in Carrington Road, first opened in 1903?

The ‘College’ beggar may well have been a part of the local geography for some decades even before the college opened for business in 1905.

His outline and figure appear to be present in a postcard of the Goldsmiths Company’s Technical and Recreative Institute that occupied and developed the building between 1891 to 1904.

The 'College Beggar' with his broom does appear to be present in this postcard from 1904 with an image of the College when it was the Goldsmiths Company's Technical and Recreative Institute.

The ‘College Beggar’ sitting on his box does appear to be present in this postcard from 1904 with an image of the College when it was the Goldsmiths Company’s Technical and Recreative Institute.

An etching from circa 1880 mysteriously indicates an outline of the same kind of figure seated, against the wall with what may well be a broom stick by his side.


The Goldsmiths College main building in its previous incarnation of the Royal Naval School New Cross c 1880. A seated figure is evident in the same position as that of the ‘College Beggar’ in photographs taken around 1904 and between 1910-12.

The back of the postcard of the Goldsmiths Institute would appear to have been written by one of the first of Goldsmiths College’s students, or perhaps one of the first members of the teaching staff.


I suspect that the student or teacher is a young man. Note the afterword in the top left hand corner: ‘Send me a razor and brush.’

I also presume he was writing to his mother or wife, Mrs B. J Pearce, in Monmouthshire in Wales.

He has just started his studies, or teaching duties, as his card is dated from the beginning of the first academic year at the College – 8th October 1905.

It is a fascinating insight on the first impression that the building had on the College’s first students and staff travelling across the country to London:

This is a picture of G.C (Goldsmiths College). It is an old one – that is when it was Institute for South London. Those words have now been taken down and it has been renovated. There will be new ones issued shortly I suspect. It is an enormous building. Have you signed my salary sheet yet? What about Lena’s position? I was in the Wesleyan Chapel last night and heard the Creation.  Joe

Is it more likely Joe Pearce was writing to his wife?

The style of address seems more like that of a teacher than a student.

Would a student be asking a friend or family member about the signing of a salary sheet?

I intend to find out more about Joe Pearce for the next posting in the Goldsmiths History series.

If you are a descendant of Joe Pearce and know more about his life at Goldsmiths in the first year of its existence, do contact me.

The changing faces of Goldsmiths from 1840s to 1930s