Sad news: The man who built the Barbican has died

The arts will be saddened to learn of the death of Henry Wrong, director of the Barbican Centre from 1970 when it was not even a hole in the ground, to 1990 when it was a fully functioning arts centre. Henry was 87.

Described by Brian Redhead on Radio 4’s Today programme as ‘the Tower of London with carpets’, the Barbican was an aesthetic nightmare that no-one loved, but Henry did his damnedest to change that with a fount of good humour, good management and general bonhomie.

He hated the architects who designed the Barbican, along with some meddlesome members of the Corporation of the City of London, but he bore malice to few others and was exceedingly well liked by artists.

A Canadian, he started out as assistant to Rudolf Bing at the Metropolitan Opera before becoming head of programming at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. The best thing about Henry was his supreme self-possession. He told the truth as wittily as he could and condescended to no-one (see below).

Bless his memory.

 

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  • A wonderful, larger than life character who oversaw the opening of the Barbican. He had fought through thick and thin to keep the momentum going when the project seemed threatened in the years leading up to the opening. His contribution to the success of the Barbican in its formative years cannot be overstated.

  • He used to come and see Bernard Miles at the Mermaid Theatre when the Barbican Centre was being built, a larger than life character who had to fight many battles to get the Centre built.

  • A death is always a moment for reflection. However, based on reading this blog for a few years, I thought the general position here is that the Barbican should never have been built. So perhaps he did the world less of a service than is tactful to say just right now.

  • Top man Henry. Always called a spade a spade. Will be sadly missed by Wendy, Keith,Steve and all the relief clerks at St Margaret’s railway station.

    • Dear Keith,

      I passed though St Margarets this morning and had many memories of doing the same journey to London together with my father.

      Thank you for your kind words – he will be missed by many.

      All the best,
      Mark Wrong

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