Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Harold Sandys Williamson - distinguished English painter, illustrator and interesting dad

Paul Williamson, acting
Paul Williamson, one of the professional actors who regularly attends our local Pass On A Poem events, recently recited E.A. Mackintosh’s sardonic war poem, “Recruiting”. As illustrative material he brought along a book containing  some highly evocative First World War paintings by Harold Sandys Williamson, who fought as a rifleman in the conflict. When Paul told us the painter was his late father, I thought I’d misheard: okay, Paul’s not exactly in the first flush of youth, but having a father who actually fought in World War One can’t be that common these days.

I googled H.S. Williamson when I got home to discover that he’d gone on to enjoy a very distinguished career as an artist and commercial illustrator, serving as the chairman of The London Group of artists from 1937 to 1943. Paul told me that he and his brother grew up surrounded by his father’s artwork, but that neither of them had ever shown the slightest talent for painting. Mind you, Paul’s lifetime of regular employment in a profession as parlous as acting (I even had someone I knew at the BBC contact me last year trying to track Paul down to offer him a job) suggests that his artistic creativity simply took a different form.

You can find a selection of Harold Sandys Williamson’s war paintings and letters at the Imperial War Museum website, here.

I’ll leave you with a selection of the artist’s most impressive commercial work:


  1. No disrespect to Williamson whose work is, simply, excellent but on a complete tangent it's interesting you refer to Paul Williamson's "lifetime of regular employment in a profession" which you cite as "acting". Late to the party I know but when did "acting" become a "profession"? Indeed when did any old job not requiring manual labour become a "profession"? As I'm sure you're aware, although "professional" these days is, in reality, a synonym for "person paid to do a job", such a "professional" is not necessarily a member of a "profession".
    As I understand it, not only is a "profession" a job that requires special skills and training but demands (or should demand) the highest standards of integrity, honesty and self-discipline in the professional person's working and private life. That's why the original professions were more or less only medicine and the law.
    Moreover, in recognition of the importance of high standards in a real profession, proper professions (in the UK anyway) were - and to an extent remain - essentially self-governing and able to enforce professional standards through their own internal disciplinary proceedings.
    Acting demands special skills and training alright but "honesty, integrity and self-discipline" in private life? You'll be telling me next that "journalism" (as practised, say, at the Guardian or BBC by members of the NUJ) is a "profession". Actually, the NUJ does act to control its members "standards" in a simulacrum of the functioning of a professional organisation. Unfortunately, this has less to do with work-related or personal integrity and more to do with the NUJ enforcing a political line.

    1. At the very moment of writing it down, I knew - just knew - someone would object. Of course, you're right - but the general use of the phrases "the acting profession" (based, one presumes, on the designation "professional actor") and "the professional classes" (which seems imply more than laywers and doctors) would suggest that the term "profession" might be hard-pressed to preserve its original meaning.

      Are you, by any chance, a member of one of the recognised professions, Umbongo (or should that be Prof Umbongo or Dr Umbongo or Umbongo QC???

    2. Sorry for being predictable.

      For my sins, many years ago I qualified as a chartered accountant. I've never practised but an education in accountancy provided - and still provides - a good grounding in the sheer mechanics of business. As to being a "professsion", I guess chartered accountancy more or less qualifies although, in terms of my original comment, it seems to me that the professional organisations are now essentially outworkers to the state.

      Certainly, despite a few moans from time to time, there's very little resistance by my institute to anything demanded of it by the various domestic government departments or insisted on by the EU as well as the international bureaucracy of accounting itself. Just look at the many nonsenses perpetrated by international accounting standards including, for instance, the "mark to market" crapola which arguably did for the banks (or, rather, those depending on the banks' accounts to present the traditional "true and fair view").

      Alongside that is the reality that my institute is now run by the bureaucrats rather than the members: an old story but not a good one and probably common to all our previously "democratic" professional organisations. I suspect that solicitors would tend to say the same of the Law Society and doctors of the BMA.

      Anyway, whether or not accountancy is a profession, acting definitely isn't - yet. However, as you imply, the meaning of the word "profession" is changing. In another, what, 10-20 years the word will have completely lost its original meaning (thus admitting acting into the hallowed circle of "professions")

    3. I'm a conservative, Umbongo - I like predictability.

      Is "mark to market" what also sank Enron? I seem to remember the phrase from that terrifying book, "The Smartest Guys in the Room".

      I suspect the traditional meaning of "profession" is doomed in the long term because of the use of "professional" to mean anyone who belongs to the educated middle classes and lives in a nice house in a relatively pleasant area. The problem, I think, is that the term "middle class" has been rendered meaningless by politicians who use it to describe anyone who isn't on benefits.

      I was interested to discover that social work counts as a profession (mind you, that's according to Wikipedia).