Sir Gordon Russell, who contributes this appreciation of George Williams, has known him as a colleague and friend over a period of 20 years. Sir Gordon was director of the ColD when Mr Williams was appointed as one of its first industrial of firers in 1948. When the British Transport Commission (as it then was) set up the Design Panel for the railways in 1956, Sir Gordon was called in as a member and sat on the selection panel which recommended the appointment of Mr Williams as design of firer (later to become director of industrial design at the British Railways Board). Throughout this period, Sir Gordon has been able to follow and support Mr Williams' unique contribution to British design.
Few people today can realise how difficult was the task of the original handful of men
recruited by the Council of Industrial Design to contact industries. Each had too many trades to cover. If they came from outside industry, they were regarded as amateurs. If they had experience in one industry, they were looked upon as being biassed and of little value to the other industries. The number of manufacturers who welcomed them was small: many were apathetic, or sceptical, or frankly hostile. Design was indeed off the map. It needed men of strong convictions, courage, considerable knowledge and tough physique to go out alone and cope with this situation day by day. But it needed more than that- most important of all, it needed men with human sympathy and tolerance for the widely different views and even foibles of their fellow men. It needed men who could capture and hold the attention of boards who had no interest in design and leave them at least aware of common sense and sincerity, if not convinced of the validity of the argument.
Such men are rare, but George Williams, whose recent early death is mourned by all his friends, was one of them. He joined the ColD in 1948 and proved a conspicuously successful industrial officer.. He was never rude - but, without losing his temper, he could speak his mind concisely and tersely with no attempt to wrap up unpalatable truths. He had experience of engineering and so could communicate with engineers. He had experience of industrial design problems and so could appreciate that the training of both engineers and designers left serious gaps, of which they were generally quite unaware. He was never backward in acknowledging the help given by many architects and engineers. To him the design,
manufacture and marketing of any product was, before all else, a team job, needing thorough preliminary research.
He was responsible for the theme and for collecting all the exhibits in the transport section of the Festival of Britain. But he ranged more widely than this into all kinds of light engineering. When, in 1956, the then British Transport Commission set up its Design Panel, his character and experience were tailored to the immense and delicate task not only of planning and carrying out the practical work involved Ranging over the whole field of operation of the railways, from locomotives, ships, and rolling stock to furnishing problems, house style and even staff uniforms) so as to give the organisation an up-to-date image as part of the Modernisation Plan; he also won its acceptance by engineers and other specialists through active collaboration with them. He handled the job with the most adroit skill. In the years to come, all who travel by rail will be indebted to him, even though they may not have heard his name.
Those of us who saw his work at close range respected his uncanny sense of timing, his ability, by patient and sustained effort, to dig out the essential elements in each case and to hang on to them. We respected, too, the way in which he could detach himself from the heat of battle and look at himself objectively. His sterling qualities endeared him to an astonishing variety of men. Though it is crystal clear that an adequate successor in his job at the British Railways Board will be hard to come by, it is to our affection for the man himself as a person that our memories will inevitably return.
Naum Slutzky was one of the world's natural independents. No one who worked with him or studied under him could miss the very special flavour of his approach to designing, which was a part of his individual philosophy of life. No doubt the Bauhaus in its Weimar days contributed; certainly he was a tool-in-hand designer, inventive, constructive, venturesome, unconfined - except by the tools of the business. He had an uninhibited way with him; if he could design one thing, why not another ? His favourite medium was metal, and it is exciting now to think of him pioneering 20 years ago in jewellery designed on a machine for machine production. Some was shown and looked well in the International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery 1890-1961 at the Goldsmiths' Hall in 1961.
He was brought up to be a goldsmith in the high tradition, but he never let this come between him and machines - he was, to his father's horror, a born practical engineer. It may be a surprise to some to learn that at one time he designed special diamond tools for cutting tv lenses and during the war was technical manager of the experimental department of a firm of British precision engineers.
It is easy to conceive of the impact of such a man, equipped for good measure with a dynamic personality and vigorous human sympathies, upon generations of students of industrial design, at Birmingham and et the Royal College and Central School in London. He was a full size person whose passing will be greatly regretted.