26 remembers David May

John Simmons and Wendy Jones share their memories of one of 26’s earliest members.

David May died recently, which caused me great sadness. I’d first come across David when he became my client at the BBC where he was director of strategic communications. I ran a number of writing workshops for David’s team and gave a talk for the BBC’s marketing group that became a chapter in my book Dark Angels.

At the same time 26 was just forming (this was 2004) and David was one of three speakers at the first public event run by 26. Of course David joined 26 – as a journalist and author, words were his craft. When we ran a project with London Underground’s Platform for Art in 2005, based on the Circle Line, David signed up and was delighted to be paired with St James’ Park station. As well as posters designed for the tube, the project led to a fascinating book called From Here to Here – some of the longer-standing 26 members will have it on their shelves. David’s chapter, featuring particularly the London Underground HQ at the station, was based on good research. Typically David homed in on people, in particular Frank Pick who worked in that building as head of design, Charles Holden who was its architect and Jacob Epstein whose Night and Day sculptures caused such controversy.

David had an instinct for controversy. It’s what made meetings with him exciting and often surprising. When David retired from the BBC to return to his beloved Plymouth we stayed in touch and, often with fellow 26 Board member Wendy Jones, we would have lunches where David had a constant flow of stories. He’d done such a lot and met so many interesting people. I recommend you read about him here in his Guardian obituary – a writer’s life, writ large.

Wendy adds: I worked with David at the BBC, around the time he joined 26. He was the most delightful, though often delightfully exasperating, colleague to have. As I recall, his title was Head of Strategic Communications (yes, shades of WIA there, I know) and like all journalists who move into corporate PR, didn’t always seem comfortable with the shift from poacher to gamekeeper. But he certainly knew how to cut through some of the management guff, and was both sharp and fun to work with. I shall miss him.

– John Simmons and Wendy Jones

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