You are here:   Civilisation >  Books > A Very Modern Preservationist
 
There followed three decades when his books, essays and documentaries were neglected. In the last year, however, there has been a great Nairn revival.

First, an edition of essays: Ian Nairn: Words in Place, edited by Gillian Darley and David McKie. Then, a BBC documentary: The Man Who Fought the Planners: The Story of Ian Nairn. Told through archive footage of Nairn's own programmes, it is riveting. Once you have heard Nairn speak, you cannot read his essays without hearing his terse, interrogative voice, quavering with rage or on the edge of tears as he contemplates some new visual assault.

Notting Hill Editions have continued the restoration of Nairn with a new edition of Nairn's Towns. It should be kept in the glove box of every car and consulted should the driver ever find himself in Newcastle, Sheffield, Cardiff or Plymouth with an hour to spare. At a time when politics and the media are attacked for their myopic focus on London, Nairn's tribute to the overlooked buildings of Britain's second, third, and indeed, fourth, fifth and 17th cities, is a robust riposte to the notion that the capital is the only place of any merit.

Penguin, joining the charge, have republished Nairn's London with its original 1966 cover showing the author, portly, smiling, tie skew-whiff, leaning out the driver's window of a red Routemaster bus.

The new edition of Nairn's Towns is prefaced with an excellent introduction by Owen Hatherley. Nairn was "too modernist for the preservationists, too much a preservationist for the modernists, he was too ambiguous, urban and bitter to become a Betjeman, too sophisticated and reflective for a Simon Jenkins". His BBC programmes "all involve Nairn rambling round various locations and very obviously making it up as he goes along".

In the essays, Nairn's prose is clubbable, confiding, outraged and purple. At Canterbury Cathedral "your head is drawn up and back as though you were in a half-nelson"; the Birmingham Council House is "as full of unexpected things as a plum cake"; the architect J.A. Hansom "was to drop enormous overblown Gothic Roman Churches round England like ripe peaches". Nairn wrote that the decline in the fortunes of Charles Rennie Mackintosh could be put down to "increasing cantankerousness, decreasing commissions, increasing whisky, and decreasing hope".

The Gothicising architect Augustus Pugin "was, literally, insane with Gothic enthusiasm . . . When he had too little money the result was tawdry, and when he had too much money the crockets went to his head."

View Full Article
 
Share/Save
 
 
 
 

Post your comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.