Roy Strong

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Sir Roy Colin Strong
Born (1935-08-23) 23 August 1935 (age 79)
Winchmore Hill, Middlesex, England
Occupation Art historian
Spouse(s) Julia Trevelyan Oman (1930-2003)

Sir Roy Colin Strong FRSL (born 23 August 1935) is an English art historian, museum curator, writer, broadcaster and landscape designer. He has been director of both the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He was knighted in 1983.


Early years[edit]

Roy Colin Strong was born the third son of George Edward C. Strong and Mabel A. Smart / Strong,[1] in Winchmore Hill, then in Middlesex, and attended nearby Edmonton County School in Edmonton.

He earned a first class honours degree in history at Queen Mary College, University of London. He then earned his Ph.D from the Warburg Institute, University of London and became a research fellow at the Institute of Historical Research. His passionate interest in the portraiture of Queen Elizabeth I was sidelined "while he wrote a thesis on Elizabethan Court Pageantry supervised by the Renaissance scholar, Dame Frances Yates who (he says) restructured and re-formed ...[his]... thinking."[2] In 2007 Strong listed his qualifications as DLitt PhD FSA.[3]


National Portrait Gallery[edit]

He became assistant keeper of the National Portrait Gallery in 1959, and was its director 1967-73: Sir Roy came to prominence at age 32 when he became the youngest director of the National Portrait Gallery. He set about transforming its conservative image with a series of extrovert shows, including "600 Cecil Beaton portraits 1928-1968." Dedicated to the culture of the 1960s and 1970s, Sir Roy went on to amuse audiences at the V&A in 1974 with his collection of fedora hats, kipper ties and maxi coats. By regularly introducing new exhibitions he doubled attendance.[4]

Reflecting on his time as director of the National Portrait Gallery, Sir Roy Strong pinpoints the exhibition "Beaton Portraits 1928-1968" as a turning point in the gallery’s history. That Strong chose fashion photographer Cecil Beaton as a catalyst for change says much about the glamour and appeal of the photographer’s work. But even so, it seems unlikely that anyone could have predicted the sheer scale of the exhibition’s success. "The public flocked to the exhibition and its run was extended twice. The queues to get in made national news. The Gallery had arrived", Strong wrote in the catalogue to Beaton Portraits, the more recent exhibition of Beaton that ran at the gallery until 31 May 2004.[5]

Victoria & Albert Museum[edit]

In 1973, aged 38, he became the youngest director of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), London. In his tenure, until 1987, he presided over its The Destruction of the Country House (1974, with Marcus Binney and John Harris), Change and Decay: the future of our churches (1977), and The Garden: a Celebration of a Thousand Years of British Gardening (1979), all of which have been credited with boosting their conservationist agendas. In 1980, "he was awarded the prestigious Shakespeare Prize by the FVS Foundation of Hamburg in recognition of his contribution to the arts in the UK."[6] He was awarded The Royal Photographic Society's President's Medal and Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS) in recognition of a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography in 2003.[7]


In 2008 Strong hosted a six-part TV reality series The Diets That Time Forgot. He acted as the Director of the fictitious Institute of Physical Culture, where nine volunteers spent 24 days testing three weight loss diets and fitness regimes that were popular in the late Victorian (William Banting) and Edwardian periods (Horace Fletcher) and the 'roaring' Twenties (Dr Lulu Hunt Peters). The weekly series was first aired on 18 March on Channel 4.


In 1999, he published The Spirit of Britain: A Narrative History of the Arts, a widely acclaimed 700-page study of British arts through two millennia. In 2005, he published Coronation: A History of Kingship and the British Monarchy.

Personal life[edit]


Strong married Julia Trevelyan Oman in 1971.[8] The arts world was astonished when Strong abandoned the bachelor life and 'eloped' with Julia Trevelyan Oman, marrying her at Wilmcote church, near Stratford-upon-Avon, on 10 September 1971 with a special licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Julia Trevelyan Oman was 41 and her husband 35. They enjoyed a belated honeymoon in Tuscany.[9] She died in 2003 of pancreatic cancer.


Sir Roy lives in the village of Much Birch, which lies 8 miles (13 km) south of Hereford on the A49 trunk road. Here, with his wife, he designed one of Britain's largest post-war formal gardens, the Laskett. In 1995 he and his wife commissioned the artist Jonathan Myles-Lea to paint a 'portrait' of the house and gardens and the painting the Laskett was completed the same year. Sir Roy now works full-time as a writer and broadcaster. He has lived in Herefordshire since 1973-74 and he and his wife conceived the Laskett garden in autumn 1974.

From 22 April 2010 the Laskett Gardens have been open to the public by appointment, for groups of over twenty.[10]

An offer by Strong to bequeath Laskett Gardens to the National Trust was rejected in 2014 after it was deemed that they fail to "reach the high rung of national and historic importance". Strong later announced plans to have the gardens "destroyed" on his death.[11]

After leaving the V&A, Strong published a set of diaries that became infamous for its often critical assessments of figures in the art and political worlds. It has been rumoured that he has retained a set for posthumous publication. Jan Moir commented in 2002: "His bitchy, hilarious diaries caused a storm when they were published in 1997 and although he has no plans at present to publish another set, he is keeping a private diary again."[12]


A practising Anglican, Strong is an altar server at Hereford Cathedral, as well as being high steward of Westminster Abbey. He was previously its high bailiff and Searcher.[13] In this capacity he attended the funeral service of the Queen Mother in 2002. On 30 May 2007, in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral, he delivered the annual Gresham College Special Lecture, entitled The Beauty of Holiness and its Perils (or what is to happen to 10,000 parish churches?),[3] which was deeply critical of the status quo. He said: "little case can be made in the twenty-first century for an expensive building to exist for a service once a week or month lasting an hour,"[3] and he recommends someone taking "an axe and hatchet the utterly awful kipper coloured choir stalls and pews, drag them out of the church and burn them," and "letting in the local community" in order to preserve many rural churches in Britain.[3]

Portraits of Roy Strong[edit]

Seventeen portraits of Strong reside in the National Portrait Gallery Collection including both photograph and sketch by Cecil Beaton and an oil painting by Bryan Organ.[14] An early bronze bust by Angela Conner is on view at Chatsworth House,[15] Derbyshire. In 2005, Strong sat for Jon Edgar for a work in terracotta[16] which was exhibited at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 2013[17] as part of the Sculpture Series Heads - Contributors to British Sculpture.[18]

Honorary positions[edit]


  • Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, Clarendon Press, Roy Strong (1963)
  • The English Icon, Paul Mellon Foundation, London, Roy Strong (1969)
  • Tudor & Jacobean Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, 2 Vols, HMSO, London Roy Strong (1969)
  • Nicholas Hilliard, London: Michael Joseph Ltd, Roy Strong (1975), ISBN 0-7181-1301-2
  • The Renaissance Garden in England, Roy Strong (1979), London
  • Artists of the Tudor Court: The Portrait Miniature Rediscovered 1520-1620, Exhibition Catalogue V & A London Roy Strong (1983)
  • Henry Prince of Wales & England's Lost Renaissance, Thames & Hudson, London Roy Strong (1986)
  • Lost Treasures of Britain: Five Centuries of Creation and Destruction, Roy Strong (1990), London: Viking. ISBN 978-0-670-83383-2
  • The Tudor and Stuart Monarchy: Pageantry, Painting, Iconography Volume 1 Tudor, Roy Strong (1990) The Boydell Press
  • William Larkin:Icons of Splendour Franco Maria Ricci Roy Strong (1995)
  • Country Life, 1897-1997: The English Arcadia, Roy Strong (1996), ISBN 0-7522-1054-8 (paperback 1999 ISBN 0-7522-1707-0).
  • The Tudor and Stuart Monarchy: Pageantry, Painting, Iconography Volume 2 Elizabethan, Roy Strong (1996) The Boydell Press
  • The Roy Strong Diaries 1967–1987, Roy Strong (1997), Weidenfeld & Nicolson, ISBN 0-297-81841-4
  • The Tudor and Stuart Monarchy: Pageantry, Painting, Iconography Volume 3 Jacobean and Caroline, Roy Strong (1997) The Boydell Press
  • The Story of Britain: A People's History, Roy Strong (1998)
  • The Cult of Elizabeth: Elizabethan Portraiture and Pageantry, Roy Strong (1999)
  • The Spirit of Britain: A Narrative History of the Arts, Roy Strong (1999)
  • The Artist & the Garden, Roy Strong (2000) Yale University Press (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies), 288 pages, ISBN 0-300-08520-6, ISBN 978-0-300-08520-4
  • Gardens Through the Ages, Roy Strong (2000)
  • Feast: A History of Grand Eating, Roy Strong (2003)
  • Gloriana: The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, Roy Strong (2003)
  • The Arts in Britain: A History, Roy Strong (2004)
  • The Laskett: The Story of a Garden, Roy Strong (2004)
  • Beaton Portraits, Roy Strong and Terence Pepper (2004)
  • Coronation: A History of Kingship and the British Monarchy, Roy Strong (2005)
  • Passions Past and Present, Roy Strong (2005)
  • The Diary of John Evelyn, John Evelyn and Roy Strong (2006)
  • A Little History of the English Country Church, Roy Strong (2007)


  1. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved October 12, 2014. 
  2. ^ Quad Alumni magazine #14,"Roy Strong: the man who gave history a face-lift", Queen Mary College, June 2005, pp.6-8
  3. ^ a b c d The Beauty of Holiness and its Perils (or what is to happen to 10,000 parish churches?) Gresham College 2007 Special Lecture given by Sir Roy Strong
  4. ^ Your Millennium - Who was the greatest artist of the last 1000 years?, BBC
  5. ^ Florence Hallett (13 February 2004). "The Fame Game - Cecil Beaton at the National Portrait Gallery". Culture24. Retrieved 27 November 2009. 
  6. ^ Sir Roy Strong[dead link]
  7. ^ Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Award Accessed 13 August 2012
  8. ^ Alan Strachan "Obituary: Julia Trevelyan Oman", The Independent, 13 October 2003
  9. ^ "Julia Trevelyan Oman (Obituary)", The Daily Telegraph, 12 October 2003
  10. ^ Sir Roy Strong's - The Laskett Gardens
  11. ^ News report Retrieved 18 October 2014
  12. ^ I gave everything. Is that silly? (Sir Roy Strong interviewed by Jan Moir at the Chelsea Flower Show), Telegraph, 24 May 2002
  13. ^ Whence & Whither in Another Millennium, A lecture by The Very Reverend Dr Wesley Carr, Dean of Westminster on Tuesday 3 April 2001[dead link]
  14. ^ National Portrait Gallery. Search: Roy Strong
  15. ^ Symons, Joanna (28 June 2003). "UK: Historic sites". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  16. ^ Edgar, Jon (2008). Responses - Carvings and Claywork - Sculpture 2003-2008. England: Hesworth Press. ISBN 978-0-9558675-0-7. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ Sculpture Series Heads - Terracotta Portraits of Contributors to British Sculpture (2013) Hall, P., Scott, M. & Pheby, H. ISBN 978 0 9558675 1 4

External links[edit]