Brian Sewell (1931-2015)

Way back in the mists of time I used to blog a lot about what annoyed me in the Evening Standard. And one of the things that used to annoy me most in the paper in the 90s and early 2000s was Brian Sewell.

For me, he epitomised that negative streak of conservative thought that seems to claim that everything was brilliant about thirty years ago, but modern life is universally rubbish. Even if Sewell liked the art in a new exhibition in London, he could be sure to be found criticising the way it was lit or presented or sponsored or something. And his constant moanings about the “panjandrums” running the arts world ground my gears.

But over the years I mellowed very much towards him, and pivotal in that was one extraordinary documentary series, “The Naked Pilgrim”. It follows Sewell on the route to carry out a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. It is one of the finest examples of a documentary where you learn more about the historian than the history he is exploring.

When it was repeated in 2005 I wrote that:

I’ve long been of the view that both Brian Sewell and Tom Baker should be followed by camera crews 24/7 in their final years, in order to preserve their curious late 20th century/early 21st century take on the British eccentric for future generations.

I had an idea which I never quite worked out how to pitch correctly to anyone I worked for, or directly to Sewell, or to an art gallery. Instead of getting those sycophantic audio tour guides you can hire in galleries, you’d get a Brian Sewell guide. When you stood in front of a piece of art, Sewell’s narrative would tell you exactly why it was dreadful and part of the downfall of modern civilisation. Or marvellous, obviously.

Technology has moved on, of course. At the time I thought it would all need to be based on a hideously complex GPS understanding of where the user was in a gallery and what was hung where. Now I just think you would get them to point and “Shazam” the painting with their camera, and then Sewell would tell them what he thought.

Anyway, here’s five minutes with the lovable old curmudgeon. I’ll miss him.