Sir Roy Colin Strong, CH, FRSL (born 23 August 1935) is an English art historian, museum curator, writer, broadcaster and landscape designer. He has served as director of both the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Strong was knighted in 1982.
Roy Colin Strong was born the third son of George Edward C. Strong and Mabel A. Strong (née Smart), in Winchmore Hill, then in Middlesex, and attended nearby Edmonton County School in Edmonton, London.
Strong graduated with a first class honours degree in history from Queen Mary College, University of London. He then earned his Ph.D from the Warburg Institute 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." In 2007 Strong listed his qualifications as DLitt PhD FSA.
National Portrait Gallery
He became assistant keeper of the National Portrait Gallery in London in 1959. In 1967, aged 32, he was appointed its director, a post he held until 1973. 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.
Reflecting on his time as director of the National Portrait Gallery, Strong pinpointed the Beaton exhibition as a turning point in the gallery’s history. "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.
Victoria & Albert Museum
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 1977, following government cuts, he oversaw the closure of the much lamented Circulation Department of the V&A, which organised tours of the collection around Britain. 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." 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.
Among other work for television, 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.
Strong is a notable scholar of Renaissance art, especially English Elizabethan portraiture, on which he has written many books and articles (see bibliography section). His diaries from 1967-1987 were published in 1999, as was The Spirit of Britain: A Narrative History of the Arts, a widely acclaimed 700-page popular history of the arts in Britain through two millennia. In 2005, he published Coronation: A History of Kingship and the British Monarchy. He had a monthly column in The Financial Times for much of the 1970s and 1980s, and has written articles for many other magazines and newspapers. In 2000 he wrote Gardens Through the Ages and is a patron of the Plantation Garden, Norwich.
Strong married Julia Trevelyan Oman in 1971. 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. She died in 2003 of pancreatic cancer.
Strong lives in the village of Much Birch in Herefordshire, 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 Gardens. In 1995 he and his wife commissioned the artist Jonathan Myles-Lea to paint a portrait of the house and gardens, which was completed the same year. Since 2010 the gardens have been open to the public by appointment, for groups of more than twenty. 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.
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."
A practising Anglican, Strong is an altar server at Hereford Cathedral, as well as High Bailiff and Searcher of the Sanctuary of Westminster Abbey. 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?)," 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," and he wanted to "take 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.
Portraits of Roy Strong
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. An early bronze bust by Angela Conner is on view at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire. In 2005, Strong sat for Jon Edgar for a work in terracotta which was exhibited at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 2013 as part of the Sculpture Series Heads - Contributors to British Sculpture.
- Chairman of the Art Department, Arts Council.
- Deputy Chairman, Southbank Centre.
- High Bailiff and Searcher of the Sanctuary of Westminster Abbey, from 2000.
- President, the Garden History Society, 2000-06.
- President, the Friends of Croome Park, from 2008.
- Vice-President Plant Heritage
Patron Broadway Arts Festival 2015