Australian Biography

Betty Churcher - full interview transcript

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Could you describe to me when you were mounting one of these exhibitions, the sort of stages that you had to go to ... through in putting it together? I imagine it wasn't done overnight.

No, it wasn't. The idea came from the curator in ... concerned. This is the ones [sic], by the way, that we generated. We did accept some package exhibitions in between, because you know, an ex- ... an institution can only generate so many exhibitions. So the curator would come to me with an idea, and if I thought it was worth going - we could get the loans, the key loans that would make it work - then we would start.

One of the first things was to get sponsorship, because you have to. Every exhibition needed sponsorship, and you always have to have money up front, because you're spending money on an exhibition, sometimes for three years, before you have any chance of recouping it. And that's why I set up an exhibition development fund, so that after the first exhibition, I would have money in kitty to be spending on the next venture, and so it would go on.

And then I could afford to put on exhibitions that I thought may not be a great popular success but was worth doing, you know, for the, for a variety of reasons.

But each paid for the next one, so it wasn't being taken out of collecting?

Never out of collecting, nor would I ever use it for acquisitions. It was just for exhibitions. It was in a separate pot, and that was the other reason, too. I didn't want the government to look at this ex ... - because it has to carry over from year to year, there's a danger that government will see, "Oh, that's unexpected - unexpended funds", but it wasn't. You know, I could prove that it was funds being held against something that was going to happen in the future.

So it was committed, but unexpended. Um, no, I wouldn't use the money made for anything, but nor would I take from our annual vote, which was for staff salaries or for maintenance of the building, or for the collection, the permanent collection, any money to mount a major exhibition.

So what sort of people came to the party as sponsors?

Firms, you know, like Esso. I made the terrible mistake of letting Esso claim what they call naming rights, which means their name is built into the title of the exhibition. So the Rubens exhibition was called 'Esso Presents ... Rubens and the Italian Renaissance'. Good lesson learnt, because libraries then catalogue the catalogue under E for Esso and not R for Rubens.

And so I would never give naming rights, or if I gave naming rights, I would say, "not on the catalogue". But, um, it's mainly corporations, major firms, ah, some out of pure spirit of philanthropy wanting to put back into the community something that they'd taken out, but more often than not, it was in order to have a profile at a prestigious place, with a prestigious product, you know, a good exhibition, and have their name associated with it.

How did you find yourself as a money raiser? What kind of a beggar were you?

Not a really good one, I don't think. I hated doing it. I've never been good at that. I used to do it, um, and, you know, because I had such good products, you know, it really worked. And I never had a problem getting exhibitions, but I had a good member of staff. I had a woman called Jan Meek who was very, very good at it. She had a real instinct of how to present a thing, and who to - who would be a good match.

You know, she'd work out the right sort of person who'd be likely to be interested in an exhibition. So all of those things come into play.

And so then when you've got the sponsor, what ... what's the next step?

Ah, well while you're getting the sponsor, and that takes some time, you're trying to secure the loans. And the loans really depend on the portability of the work of art, and your ability to convince that organisation that it's worth relinquishing that work of art for something up to six months in order to have it as part of this exhibition.

So it's got to be a good idea, it's got to be a fairly prestigious exhibition, whether other major exhibitions lend, you know - galleries and institutions lending, so there's a feeling of some, um, pride, of part ownership in the exhibition. And, um, mainly it is the idea, though, the quality of the idea.

Mounting these exhibitions meant that you were, therefore, in touch with other galleries and museums and collections overseas. Do you think that there were any secondary benefits for the National Gallery, and for art in Australia, in the process of making those contacts? Was there any alteration in the way that you were perceived as a result of the contacts you had to make to mount these exhibitions?

I think the contacts that I had, which are contacts that have lasted - they're now continuing friends of mine, directors of some of the major galleries around the world - crucially important. Your ability to deal with them in a convincing way, and to earn their respect, and if possible, their liking, and ah, that is really half the value. I remember when I was doing the exhibition 'Paris in the late 19th century', I just felt I didn't have the key work.

I wanted one major, major work and I wanted this very important Vincent van Gogh, and I kept, ah, badgering the Director of the Musée d'Orsay. And I kept ringing him with all of the different reasons and in the end when he heard it was me, I could hear his secretary saying, "It's the Director of the National Gallery" and he came up, picked up the phone and he said, "Alright, alright, alright". I'd worn him down and he agreed to let this Picasso come and it was very important, you know, that it was ...

You must have the major pictures to tell the story, although the story was a very complex one.

And so when you've gathered together the pictures that you need and you've done this negotiation and this wearing down, and you've - and you've got them, what do you do then?

When you've got your, your exhibition compiled?

Yes.

Well then the exhibition design, you've got to work out how you're going to display this, how you're going to promote it, how the catalogue is going to be designed, how the - who's going to write for the catalogue. Very often you get outside writers to write some of it. Your own curators will be writing some of it.

Ah, and then the organisation of the whole way it opens, and if it's going to be, you think, a very popular exhibition, you're going to have crowd control, you've got to work that out, you've got to prime your security guards how they're going to deal with this. Because all of these people, you know, that have come a long way to see an exhibition must be treated with care and ...

I was so impressed in London, you know, the way the staff there were, you know. They'd obviously been well trained, these security staff, to make people feel very comfortable and happy to be in their gallery.

And with all these things working together, could I just ask you a little bit more about the publicity side? Because, um, you worked very hard, didn't you, to raise the profile of the gallery. What were you thinking about when you were working at increasing the profile and achieving this level of publicity you had to for these pro ... for these exhibitions to succeed?

Well I think it was probably the first exhibition we put on, which is one I didn't work on, which was 'Civilisation' from the British Museum. I remember I then had on the Board of the National Gallery, Penelope Seidler who lived in Mel- ... in Sydney. And she came up, she said, "Betty, nobody in Sydney knows about this, has not heard about this".

And I suddenly twigged, you know, I hadn't thought about it, that being in the centre of Australia as it were, in the centre of New South Wales, you have to promote it. It won't get there naturally by word of mouth or by - in the way that in a crowded city exhibitions do. So we started then to do it very, very seriously.

But I was always careful not to promote everything on an even key. Every - I wasn't going to have everything put forward as 'the best that's ever come', 'the biggest that's ever come'. You know, all of these superlatives. I wanted to make sure that the product that we were selling was the product that people were going to get.

So that if it was sort of a small and very sort of even academic exhibition, it was promoted in that way. Or if it was something that was going to appeal to everyone and every - you know, from all over Australia - then it was promoted in a different way again. I didn't want to do that thing of crying wolf, you know, saying everything was the best they'd ever seen, and clearly it wouldn't be.

You were very key in the strategy for promoting the gallery, and you personally, and your life, and your work, um, was used as a way of raising the profile of the gallery. How did you feel about that? You were doing endless interviews and so on.

Yes I was. Um, I was a bit diffident about it at first. I got used to it. I realised that that's really what a director has to do. A director is the public face of the gallery and, and really as well as balancing the books and making sure that everyone in the institution is working to full capacity and everything's running smoothly, you also have to promote what the gallery is doing.

And you can't do that from an office with a closed door. You know, I had to be out there and about everywhere, all over Australia. Not just in capital cities, either. I was doing things in regional Australia, small towns, opening exhibitions, launching books. And I don't do it naturally and easily, you know. It all costs.

You look as if you're doing it naturally and easily.

Yes, but that's, ah, I said at the beginning I was a bit of a hermit, I really am. And, ah, probably at my happiest when I'm on my own. And so being in a crowded situation, and certainly being the focus of attention is not my idea of bliss.

How do you manage, then, to look so at ease?

Acting. I'm afraid it, it really is. It costs, though, you know. Sort of - I, I still do it but I don't - I wonder why on earth I do it now. But you do it for a reason, either to oblige a friend, or to - because of the artist or whatever, there's always a reason that I do it. Whereas before it was always for the gallery, but now, um ...

What do you mean, it costs?

Oh, it costs me nervous - my nervous system, because I'm not, er, naturally a gregarious person. I'm not naturally a person that can, um, just stand up and talk easily and comfortably and get down and have a glass of wine and it doesn't happen that way.

What, what do you have to do?

Think about what I'm going to say, prepare what I'm going to say, be nervous about it before I say it. Because I'm concerned if I've accepted it because it's an artist that I respect, and I'm opening their exhibition, I want to make sure I don't short change them. I want it to be - say something to the point, something that will be relevant to the exhibition, something that will give credit to the people that organised the exhibition.

There's a lot of things. You could rabbit on about lots of things, but not necessarily to the point, and I like to be the point, I think.

You've told us a little bit about the Rubens exhibition, the surrealists exhibition, a couple of your Asian exhibitions. What were some of the other notable ones? [INTERRUPTION]

What were some of the more notable exhibitions that you put on?

Well, as well as the Rubens and the Italian Renaissance and the two Asian exhibitions, ah, Turner clearly was a, a highlight. We did put on some exhibitions that came to us as a package, like 'The Queen's Pictures'. I happened to just hear that the Royal Collection was travelling, and asked through the, um, it was then the Governor-General's private secretary who organised that for me. And, um ... [INTERRUPTION]

Betty, what were the various stages that you had to go through in mounting an exhibition?

Well it was a very exciting time, a high adrenaline time. The curator would come to me with an idea. Let me take an example. I think it's probably easier to tell you a specific example. When Turner was being, ah, developed, I remember Michael Lloyd coming into my office and I'm working on something else. He comes bursting in, 'cause he's had this marvellous idea. He said, "Hey, what about an exhibition of Turner?"

And I for some reason immediately thought of Constable, 'cause Turner and Constable are twinned in my mind. And I'm still doing something here. I said, "Oh Michael, it'd be too difficult. Look, the V & A charge enormous amount of money for those large sketches. I know they've got a huge fee, and you'd never get 'The Hay Wain' or any of the major works, and without the major works".

And he sort of looked at me and he just walked quietly out of the room. And I thought, "Wait a minute, he didn't say Constable, he said Turner". And I remember running up and I said, "Michael, I think it's a fantastic idea!" And that was the beginning of it, and so whoa, we were off. So then, we had to - he then starts working it out - what it is ... , you know, I said, "What aspect of Turner are we going to go for? Is it going to be the grand, historical Turner?"

'You know, 'Hannibal crossing the Alps?" "No, no, no", he said, "No, it's going to be Turner, the ah, precursor of the modern age, the 19th century Turner". Ah, so that means all of the, er, late, you know, like the 'Rain, Steam and Speed' and the 'Ship Off Calais', and all those wonderful pictures. And he got together the most magical exhibition.

And it was a groundbreaking exhibition because he was able to get the two 'Burnings of the Houses of Parliament', which happened in the 1830s. He was on the spot. And what a lucky thing that it was Turner, the one British artist who could really turn that into a dramatic and marvellous experience. He wanted one - he sold one - and he wanted the other one to stay as part of his collection, because he has, had planned to make this huge bequest to the nation of his whole work.

Anyway, somebody complained about not being able to get a Turner, and Turner said, crustily, "Well you've only got to my studio and you can have anything you wish. All my paintings are there'. So this person did come, and Turner had forgotten to turn that 'Burning of the Houses of Parliament' to the wall, and he wanted that.

And Turner tried to say, "No, no, no, that one I have reserved for the nation". He said, "You did tell me, Mr Turner, that I could have anything". Anyway, he got it. So that's how the two crucial pictures in British art, you know, crucial because of their splendour in their painting, but also because they were recording such a dramatic event. The old mediaeval Houses of Parliament burning down.

They both escaped, and they both happened to end up in the United States. One at the Philadelphia Museum and the other in Boston. And so he was able to reunite them. They'd never been seen together except in a very small exhibition in New York - in America, not in New York, but in America that quite a few people saw, but not many.

So, we - and he did some wonderful things like bringing together ancient and modern Italy, which had not been seen together, probably since it left the artist's studio. But the - while he's doing all of that, getting the concept, starting to write the loan requests, um, I then have to follow up. I go across ... [INTERRUPTION]

When you had this concept for the Turner happening, and you knew you had this exciting material to put into it, what was the next step?

Well, Michael has all - got the curatorial idea together. We then write off the letters to the various organisations that own the Turners. You know, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Philadelphia Museum in America. Then it's my task to go across and talk to the curator - the directors of the galleries first and then the curators of the divisions where the paintings are, to convince them that this is a worthy exhibition.

And, ah, this is how I've become so friendly with people like Neil McGregor, of course, and, ah, 'cause he is the most generous man you could possibly imagine. If he, if he can possibly make it happen, he will. And the same with Nick Serota, the Director of the Tate Gallery. I found him wonderful. They're - they all love Australia and they love helping a good idea.

And they could see that this was a splendid idea. And, ah, so I talked to - I said to Neil, "What I really wanted was this very famous picture called 'The Fighting Temeraire'", because it's absolutely epitomised what Michael was doing. He was trying to show how the old age was being towed away by Turner and presenting a new opportunity for a new life, the new industrial age. And in the picture, the old Temeraire is the old, great, ah, sailing hulk, and she's being towed up the River Thames by this little cheeky little tug, steam tug.

So it's steam power carting off the old, you know, hearts of oak. Beautiful painting. The sun is setting, it's full of romanticism. But it's one of the great icons, and Neil really went into bat for me with the directors of the National Gallery. And the vote was absolutely tied between those who voted yes it should go and those who voted that no it shouldn't go.

And I said to Neil, "Look, I will do anything to get this picture. We can build a crate within a crate, you know, with - so it's sprung, so it has no - get rid of any vibration. No problem at all. I'll even then put it into a waterproof thing so if the plane goes down we can retrieve it from the bottom of the ocean". I was so passionate, because it was going to be the icon of the exhibition.

But it turned out, Neil said, "Well, you've created - you've made history, because the - your request has forced the directors of the National Gallery to draw up a list of those things which will never move". And one of them, I was quite right, was Constable's 'Cornfield'. That will never move. And the other, unhappily, was Turner's 'Fighting Temeraire'.

That will never move. And there were quite a few - you know, they just picked the great icons of the National Gallery which they felt the loss would seriously diminish the cultural life of Great Britain, and that was one. So we didn't get it, but that's - so that was the stage where you're trying to persuade, trying to find ways in which you can get these things.

With the 'Burnings of the Houses of Parliament', I had done a very good favour to the director of the museum there, this Anne d'Harnoncourt, so she was very much predisposed to be helpful to me. This was to do with lending the Brancusi 'Birds' to her exhibition. And then I'd got a no from Boston. So I appealed to her. I said, "Look, Anne, we really want to get these two pictures together. That's the whole point".

"Oh", she said, "Leave it to me. I'll ring, I know him very well". So you see, that's how things get done. It's through connections, through knowing, through collaboration, you know, that I had gone out of the way. I'd gone that extra mile to see that she could get the Brancusi 'Birds'. So she's going to go the extra mile for me. Then of course, you've got to get sponsorship.

Because without sponsorship, you can't put the money into the promotion of the exhibition. I used to try and use the exhibition fund to fund the exhibition. That's the crating and freighting of the exhibitions, the curator travel and all of that, my travel to go and solicit the loans. The promotion, which was often, you know, two and a half, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, I would try and get a sponsorship.

So I'd always be looking for something like two and a half to three hundred thousand dollars, and then I'd use that to promote the exhibition, and thereby promote the sponsor, whoever it was. And if they could see it was a [sic] going to be a real [sic] popular thing, that was going to get the interest of people, of course, see it wasn't too difficult. I, I found it quite easy with Turner.

But then you've got an enormous amount - everybody in the organisation, I would say, from your volunteers to your lighting electricians, to your exhibition officers, to other curatorial staff, to your publishing department because of the, ah, you know, catalogue that's got to be a really serious contribution to Turner scholarship, and it was.

Ah, so everybody's got a hand in this operation. And when it finally goes up, there's a wonderful collaborative pride in the exhibition, 'cause they've all had a go at it. Even the guys that drive the, um, cherry-pickers, and the - and you see the um, volunteers all rolling up the posters and the things they're going to give out on opening night.

Then of course you've got to get the person - the right person to open it. And don't ask me who opened Turner because I really can't remember. I was absolutely frantic by this time, because by this time I knew that Michael was dying. He had terminal cancer, and that completely destroyed me. So I just staggered through those, um, last days of Turner, getting Turner up.

Fortunately, he lived to see it opened. He never lived to find out what a huge popular success it had been. He died a couple of weeks into the exhibition, which was a terrible tragedy for Australia, because he was the most talented young man. He was just at that point of his profession where he was just about to blossom, and it was a great loss to the gallery and a great loss to Australia.

You had also hoped that he'd be your successor at the gallery.

Well, he was a natural. He was an obvious - he had terrific respect. Wherever I went, to whatever gallery it was, in America or in Europe, I'd say, "Michael Lloyd". "Oh, Michael Lloyd. Right, this'll be a serious exhibition." So he already had that. I had to build that network up. He had it, so he would have walked in, starting off with that respect of his peers in other places. And that is crucial, because without that, you don't get the sorts of pictures that you want.

And I noticed a huge difference between, say, Turner, which everybody had had a hand in, right down to the catering staff, you know, thinking of how they - what they were going to produce for the opening, to an exhibition that came in as a package, like 'The Queen's Pictures', which was a fantastic exhibition. This was, um, the Queen's private collection. The most marvellous ... one of the great Rembrandts - double portraits of Rembrandt's 'The Fish Builder' [sic], ah, 'The Shipbuilder and his Wife'.

Um, that was in it. But that came just as a package. The catalogue had been done elsewhere. So very - the only people who were engaged in that really were the exhibition officers, the lighting technicians, and the curator was, you know, just easing it into the building. And, and of course the promotion department. It had to be promoted. But it was quite a different feeling in the building.

And that's why I put - personally put such store on exhibitions that we had generated, because it was furthering Australian scholarship, it was promoting the idea in other people, out there, that we were a serious country, you know, doing serious projects. And it was such a good morale booster for the - every person in the building.

Betty, you'd gone into that place with hostility from the staff, and huge problems to overcome. By the time you left, and you were due to go at retirement age of sixty-five ....

That's right.

That had really turned around, and you had the support of the staff, you had enthusiasm, and you had a public that was terribly pleased with its National Gallery. How do you think you achieved that?

Well some I didn't turn around. They left. You know, the really disaffected moved on, and I could name them but I won't. Um, but I could count them on the fingers of that hand. But the other ones, there was a genuine fondness in the end, because we worked together. Anyone that works together, in a true collegiate way, if you really are - and not being, um, hierarchical about it, so you do give the people, when I'm talking to the electrician, he's the one that's got the knowledge, so, you know, he's got - he's at the top of the pile when I'm talking to the electrician.

And when you're talking to the catering man, his - he knows what he's doing. So you give everyone their expertise and you become a genuine member of a team. And they understand, they understand that I am the friend of all these people over there who own the - who - custodians of these pictures. So they wouldn't get the pictures without my advocacy overseas. So we've all got a vital role to play.

But there's no one role that's really more important than the other, honestly, you know. It requires each one to play their role. And I think you just become a team player and it's like a football team. Everybody likes everybody else, by and large.

Nevertheless, you attracted quite a lot of criticism from art critics and from the art public at large. Do you think any of that criticism was valid? For example, you were criticised for not collecting enough contemporary Australian work.

Yes, I was. I didn't see - I don't think that was valid. I didn't see the National Gallery's role for collecting untried artists. I saw that when I was in Western Australia, my job was to collect the very best of what was happening at that time, in the 1980s. Now it didn't matter - I used to say to the curators - whether they're still painting in the 1990s, what we're representing is the best of Western Australian art in the 1980s, and then we'll do it in the 1990s, and in the 2000s.

And so there I was collecting right out of studios, straight from young artists. I don't think that's the task of a national gallery. It's a, it's an encyclopaedic collection and one of its real problems is how does it keep judiciously adding to this without grinding to a halt? You see, the Metropolitan Museum in New York is also encyclopaedic. It's almost ground to a halt.

I remember asking to see something and the curator just said, "Oh, please don't ask to see that". Because they just didn't know where it was. It was just sort of - it's - it can be chaotic. I had a meeting with the curators just before I left and I said, "Look, I want to play a game". I had a lunch. They didn't know what was happening. We all set the table up very nicely, had all of the curators in, and I said, "We're going to play a game. It's now the year 2050. What's the National Gallery?"

Dead silence. They didn't know what I was talking about. I said, "Well", I said, "Have we split into various um, categories like they have in London? You know, they've got decorative arts at the Victoria and Albert, they've got, um, ancient art at the British Museum. They've got paintings at the National, and modern art at the Tate. Have we done that? Or we do we have a ring of warehouses circling Canberra full of pictures and paintings and sculptures that we're never going to be able to exhibit?"

You know, I just wanted them to think ahead. What do you do with a national collection that must keep growing? It certainly must keep growing, but I don't think you buy untried artists out of young people's studios. I think the National Gallery, personally - now I shouldn't be saying this because they've bought one of Pete's - but I probably wouldn't have.

Because I really, really think you - an artist like, ah, Charles Blackman, an artist like John Olsen, like Jan Senbergs, Geoffrey Parr, you know, all of these artists, you have a track record and you know that they're serious artists, that they're going to have made a serious contribution to Australian art, and will continue to make.

They - they should be in the national collection. But not a youngster, I don't think.

Only those that have been through the filter of time, as it were?

Yes, and proved that they are indeed serious and contemporary artists. You know, like if they'd bought mine. I was a bright young person, but that would be just a, a weight around their neck now, because I never went on, I never produced anything else, and so it's not valid. Ah, what is valid about an artist's work is their total output, not just a few things that they do at one point in time.

Now you don't think that that criticism, which was probably in some ways the primary criticism that was made of you ...

Oh, also that I was 'dumbing down', to use that silly term.

... by popularising it.

By popularising. And, and that some of the ones that left never changed their mind about that. They thought that, you know, they wanted to put on these very finely tuned esoteric little exhibitions that, believe me, wouldn't have attracted - they would have attracted scholars, they'd have attracted other artists, they'd have attracted a few aficionados but they would not have done what the exhibition program that I put in place, which was to generate enough money to be adventurous.

And to put on an exhibition like 'Vision of Kings', you know, the art of India. They - you know, those little exhibitions would have not caused a ripple on the surface of the lake. So, um, I'm, I'm convinced I did the right thing. But what I wanted, when I got that extension built on the gallery at the back, so that we could put our - I didn't want - like the exhibitions disrupting the major gallery, and there was no exhibition - temporary exhibition space in the building.

So I got that extension approved and we built it. And my idea was when there wasn't a major touring exhibition, that was when that space could be used for these very academic, er, highly tuned specific exhibitions, drawn from the permanent collection.

And was it?

No, it doesn't seem to have panned out that way, but then that's another person in the place with a different idea. But that was my idea. So a lot of the things they wanted to do, you know, from their print collection, from their drawing collection, from the photography collection, it's a fab- ... you know, there are fabulous things.

Costume, fashion, you know, there's everything in that collection. But I thought, well that's a wonderful opportunity. We keep our permanent collection on show. Every once, or at the most, twice a year, we would have a touring exhibition. For the rest of the time is the time to bring out our hidden treasures and show them.

But you couldn't really get that program underway before it was time for you to go.

No, well the external building wasn't finished, you see. That extension. I didn't ever get to use that.

When it was time for you to go, there was a tremendous amount of controversy over your replacement, and given that you'd settled everything down and everything was looking much happier, how did you feel about the fact that your departure created such a furore?

Oh, it really made me very upset. Deeply upset, because it turned out that there was one member of staff who did not want Michael Lloyd to succeed me, and it was his sort of rather machiavellian way of um, trying to see that that didn't happen, and indeed he saw that it didn't happen.

But, er, my agreeing to do that extra year - it turned out to be an extra eighteen months - was to allow the dust to settle, and for good sense to prevail, and for them to see that yes, Michael was the right person. So that Michael could then move in and, um, take his place. Because he'd been selected by the selection panel unanimously.

It was just, you know, madness.

Could you tell us the story of that, simply, of what went wrong about your replacement?

Well what went wrong was that the, um, selection panel met and they selected Michael Lloyd. Michael Lloyd was the name that went forward. The Minister would not appoint because - whether it was the Minister or the Prime Minister - I don't know, but it was because of this scuttlebutt that had been put about, about a scuffle that had taken place at the gallery.

Now I - unfortunately it happened on a Friday night, I wasn't there, so I didn't know. Michael Lloyd was not a good drinker. He never drank, because he was one of those people that a few drinks would just set him aflame, you know, and he - but on this one occasion, he had - 'cause it was a member of staff leaving - had a few drinks.

And I said to him, I said, "Michael, you're going to have to defend yourself, because a whole lot of scurrilous things are being said about you, and you're saying nothing. You must - you've got to ... " He said, "Betty, I cannot remember anything after 6.30". And I said, "Well make it up!" He said, "Oh no, I wouldn't do that".

So you see, he was just such an honest man. I knew that he wouldn't do anything. I knew he could be - flare up, you know, I mentioned to you that he stormed out of my office and slammed the door after him. He was that sort of guy. He had a very - what do you say, short fuse? Um, but he wasn't a nasty man. He wasn't a violent man.

And, ah, so I knew a lot of this was being concocted to sully his reputation and prevent him from moving smoothly and easily into the job, which is what he would have done. Because when he heard that I was accepting it, he rang me up and said, "Betty, don't do this. You're giving the Minister an out". And I just couldn't say to him, "Look Michael, the Minister's not going to appoint", because I knew he wasn't.

And if the Minister had not appointed - had not extended me, if I had not - one of the other candidates would have been appointed, and they would have been then in for five or six years, so Michael would never have got it. Now as it turned out, Michael was fatally ill. We didn't know that. So I might have decided not to go on, if I'd known that.

What made his opponent so determined that he shouldn't succeed you?

I thin he was just terribly mistaken. I think he thought he wouldn't flourish under Michael. He was fairly high up in the hierarchy of the gallery, and I think, mistakenly, he thought Michael wouldn't allow him to operate and flourish in the way that he wanted to. Maybe he thought he should have been the Director. I really don't know.

Um, clearly I don't want to say too much about that.

It was another curator.

Well I don't even want to say that, to be honest.

And so, you were asked to stay on while they continued their hunt, because they'd decided not to appoint. But there were alternative applicants there. Were none of them - did you think none of them were suitable?

Well it wasn't up for me to think that. I wasn't on the selection panel and the retiring, er, person never should have any say, and I had no say and nobody had consulted me. I think some of the people who had been on that list thought I had influenced the result, and I, I certainly did not. Um, but I, I - whether the Minister didn't think anyone, or whether the selection panel got their noses out of joint that the Minister hadn't accepted their opinion and said, "Well, we're not going to put forward another one. This is our choice ..." [INTERRUPTION]

[end of tape]

Proceed to Tape 8