Words Kirk Truman
Photography Astrid Schulz
“The last two decades have seen gradual changes. The atmosphere of Fitzrovia has perhaps become more residential.”
It is oh so difficult to decipher this gentleman – genuine ingenious or the perfect balance of pure wit, charm and creativity? About the tall bookshelves lined with an archive of penguin classics and signed photographs from a widespread career sits an array of paintings and novels. Though there is something striking that connects the two; they are solely the work of one man. Painter and author, Reg Gadney tells me of his life in Fitzrovia and intriguing fascination with creativity.
Born in 1941 at Malsis Hall, Cross Hills, Yorkshire, some 6 miles from Haworth, Reg is the son of B.C. Gadney, a preparatory school headmaster, former Captain of the England Rugby Football XV, remembered most fondly for a time in 1936 when England beat the All Blacks at Twickenham for the first time in history.
Reg was educated at the Dragon School, Oxford and Stowe. Commissioned into the Coldstream Guards, he later served in Libya and France. In Norway he qualified as a NATO instructor in Winter Warfare and Arctic Survival. Subsequently, he was employed in the British Embassy in Oslo as Assistant to the Naval, Military and Air Attaché.
He then went on to read English, Fine Art and Architecture at St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge. In 1966 Gadney was awarded a Josephine de Karman Trust Scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he was a Research Fellow. He was appointed Deputy Controller of the National Film Theatre in 1969, the next year becoming a part-time Tutor at the Royal College of Art. He went on to become a Senior Tutor, Fellow and the youngest Pro-Rector in the history of the College. He has lectured at Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, Harvard, Yale and MIT in the USA, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and at the Academy of Arts and Sciences in Moscow.
Both in the Army and at Cambridge, Reg pursued his life-long passion for Boxing and beat the Cambridge University Boxing Blue. “Alas, we were both admitted to Addenbrooke’s Hospital. I decided to retire.” The link to the boxing world isn’t gone though as he will shortly be painting a portrait of Lennox Lewis.
Over the past 45 years, Reg has written a total of 13 novels, non-fiction and works of history. He also devised and wrote a 10-hour TV drama, Kennedy (1983) starring Martin Sheen that was broadcast on NBC TV. The show was sold to 50 countries; 27 of them broadcasting the series simultaneously. Kennedy went on to be nominated for 3 Golden Globes and 4 BAFTA awards, later winning the BAFTA for Best Drama Series. Reg has also adapted Iris Murdoch’s The Bell (1982) for BBC TV and Minette Walters’ The Sculptress (1996) for BBC TV, which won him a BAFTA and Writers’ Guild and Mystery Writers of America nominations.
More recently, Reg completed his fourteenth novel, Love & Splendour in the Sun-Fire Kingdom, a love story set in Arabia. At present he is rekindling his old passion for Boxing “…which may or may not provide the idea for a fifteenth story either for a novel or a screenplay.” He explains, “I have no immediate plans to come out of retirement, though a year ago my wife did very sweetly give me Undisputed Truth, the autobiography of Mike Tyson.”
In the 1960s, his first portraits were of Alexander Zafiropoulo, the writer and art historian and Lieutenant General, The Honourable Sir William Rous. “I am presently working on portraits of the poet, Greta Bellamacina; the comedian, Joy Carter; the Italian sisters, Alessia and Gaia Pasin; and Ian Fairservice, founder of Motivate Publishing in partnership with His Excellency Obaid Humaid Al Tayer, currently the UAE Minister of State for Finance.”
Reg continues by telling me of one of his influences. “John Constable, who once lived on Charlotte Street, is a particular hero of mine,” he says. “Constable’s The Haywain of 1821 is my favourite. Kenneth Clark reckoned it’s survived ‘the destructive popularity of a hundred thousand calendars… and remains an eternally moving expression of serenity and optimism…’ I agree.”
In May 2014, his most recent one-man exhibition, ‘Portraits’ opened in London. The exhibition included portraits of Sir David Hare, Helena Bonham Carter, Nicole Farhi and Bill Nighy, the painter Motoko Ishibashi and Sir Mark Allen, CMG, former head of MI6’s counter-terrorism unit.
Reg Gadney has lived with his wife, Fay Maschler, Restaurant Critic of the London Evening Standard, for some twenty years in Fitzroy Square. “The last two decades have seen gradual changes. The atmosphere of Fitzrovia has perhaps become more residential. When Fay and I arrived, Fitzroy Square was chiefly known for St Luke’s Hospital, for the Clergy whose Christmas Carol Services are much missed. It also housed The London Foot Hospital & School of Podiatric Medicine which specialised in chiropractic treatments. The excellent and much-loved Fitzrovia Medical Centre carries on the tradition of first-rate medical treatment. The original site of St Luke’s is now the new home of the clinic Make Yourself Amazing (MYA) which offers breast enhancement, liposuction and rhinoplasty.”
“Whether or not one remains in Fitzrovia, well as Doris Day (still going strong at 90) has it in the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Man Who Knew Too Much: ‘Que sera, sera.’”
Reg is unsure how the future of the Fitzrovia neighbourhood is looking. However, the fate of one particular structure does interest him. “Perhaps an exciting new use will be found for the GPO Tower. Kate Hoey, veteran MP for Vauxhall, chirped up about it in Parliament some years ago: ‘Hon. Members have given examples of seemingly trivial information that remains officially secret. An example that has not been mentioned, but which is so trivial that it is worth mentioning, is the absence of the British Telecom tower from Ordnance Survey maps. I hope that I am covered by parliamentary privilege when I reveal that the British Telecom tower does exist and that its address is 60 Cleveland Street, London.’”