Tim Sayer & Annemarie Norton: art lovers

3 Feb

Everyone has a story. One Highbury couple has such a passion for art that in their home even the loo is a gallery. Meet Tim Sayer, a recently retired BBC radio news journalist, and his wife Annemarie Norton – a former ballet dancer – who makes costumes for opera, ballet, theatre and musicals. Interview by Nicola Baird

Tim Sayer and Annemarie Norton.

Tim Sayer: and Annemarie Norton at home. Tim: “I can’t think of anything worse than leaving Islington.”

Tim Sayer is an expert conversationalist. Perhaps it’s because his home is so full of books and all the walls, and many doors, are used to show off his fabulous art collection that every objet d’art can inspire an animated tale of friendship or fun.

“I’m a Londoner from north of the river,” says Tim about Teddington where he grew up – sadly with a father who was constantly unwell. By the time he was 17 he was ready for adventures such as rowing a skiff with friends from Kingston to Oxford up the Thames. “It was five days of fun, including pub breaks. We slept in the boat,” remembers Tim.

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Over the years he has moved all round London including Kensington, Albany Street (close to Regent’s Park) and Primrose Hill.

In 1981 he was renting a flat in Finsbury Park when: “I heard about this place in Highbury and moved in January 1982. I’ve stayed because I love it here – there’s such a mix of people and they are so friendly.”

Like islington facesTim Sayer is a huge fan of the interviews and art on Spitalfieldslife.com - such a fan he's even hosted a party for the Gentle Author. Here's Tim with one of the Gentle Author's first books XX

Like Islington Faces Tim Sayer is a huge fan of the interviews and art on Spitalfieldslife.com – such a fan he’s even hosted a party for the Gentle Author. Here’s Tim with one of the Gentle Author’s first books, The Gentle Author’s London Album.

Places Tim Sayer & Annemarie Norton like in Islington

Tim: Upper Street Hardware (204 Upper Street) — their window motto is: “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it”. And they’re right.”

Annemarie: “The staff are friendly and the food is fantastic at Gem on Upper Street – cheap and cheerful. We had our wedding reception there, and we’ve had lots of parties and dinners. The lamb shish is always brilliant and they do a great chicken salad.”

Newsagent at Highbury & Isilngton station.

Newsagent at Highbury & Islington station.

Tim: I go to the newsagent on the forecourt of H & I station. Harrendra Bhatt and his wife, Prafulla, have been there for 26 years. Networkrail turfed them out of their stall by the post office in 2008.  They appealed to the Secretary of State for Transport, Lord (Andrew) Adonis, but it was no use.

Annemarie: We don’t have papers delivered but we do have a milkman. It’s so unusual – he brings us milk and fizzy water. Strangely the day after this interview, the milk and water were stolen from the doorstep.

Tim: The Estorick is a jewel – I love the permanent collection of Georgio Morandi and some of their temporary exhibitions.

Annemarie: Highbury Self Storage on Melody Lane, off Highbury Grove is run by David Partridge and two able assistants, Barry and Tony. It’s very eccentric – we were using three units at one point!

Otti relaxing.

Otti, the cat, relaxing.

Two becomes one
At one stage Tim was tempted to move thanks to his burgeoning art collection. His flat wasn’t big enough for all the paintings as well as the furniture and possessions left from his and Annemarie’s family homes after both their mothers died. But then his downstairs neighbour agreed to sell the couple his flat in 2012.

“We completed on 18 December at 11.30am. I kicked the plasterboard down from my side,” says Tim showing me the bottom of the stairs where this happened. “Simon, my neighbour, said ‘it’s all yours now’ and gave me a glass of whisky and then the bottle! He still sometimes comes to stay.”

Dressmaking dummy in Annemarie Norton's studio - cleverly positioned by Aubrey Hepburn.

Dressmaking dummy in Annemarie Norton’s studio – cleverly positioned by Aubrey Hepburn.

It’s not that long ago but Tim and Annemarie’s house has few clues of the time it was split into flats. Every room is perfectly organised – the books are arranged alphabetically and the abstract art is mostly in the dining room.

Annemarie is another Londoner. She was born in Hampstead to Polish refugees and claims to have been “a very shy child. “When I was nine I saw a photograph of Margot Fonteyn* and I said to my mother I want to do that.” Soon she was immersed in ballet – she went to the Royal Ballet School and then the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam where she danced for 10 years.

Her main work now is making costumes with Sue Smith, including the recent Monty Python and Kate Bush tours. During The Bakkhai at the Almeida in Islington, with Ben Whishaw and Bertie Carvel, Annemaire says: “Our dress was covered in blood – I don’t know what they use for blood but we had to send it to the dry cleaner often.”

To relax she dances in a class led by dance legend Romayne Grigorova at Covent Garden. “Dance has always been a way to concentrate on oneself. So if I had any problems I’d always want to do a dance class – you have to be 100 per cent present physically and mentally. It takes you out of yourself and is extremely good therapy,” explains Annemarie.

Tim may not be a dancer, but he’s active too – using a bike to get around and joking that, “you’d be amazed by how many things I’ve carried home on a bike!”

Tim Sayer: “I was working for the BBC and had long shifts but that meant time off so I collected books and art. I was 17 when I bought my first portfolio of prints (from 17th and 18th century) for 10 shillings in a junk shop in Richmond. I’m still framing them up.”

Tim Sayer: “I was 17 when I bought a portfolio of 183 prints (I counted them) for 10 shillings (50p) in a junk shop in Richmond. I’m still framing them. That started me and long shifts at the BBC meant time off to collect books and, increasingly, art.”

Tim Sayer’s art collecting tips

  • “It’s very different from when I bought prints in a junk shop – big business is much more involved. People photograph everything so that they can can look it up and check almost immediately.”
  • Match up the artists you like with a friendly gallery. Don’t be put off by snobby West End galleries. Don’t let them intimidate you. Don’t buy for investment.
  • Make sure you’re not being fleeced by doing your homework.
  • Don’t over spend.
  • Go for what you like with your heart and soul. I make up my mind quickly. If you like it and want it always go for it.
  • Tell the dealer you want to pay monthly (not all at once). A good gallery will always agree.
  • You could try for a discount too, but that’s pushing it a bit.

For the love of art
For many years Tim was a BBC radio news journalist and it’s clear he still loves swapping news and stories. His art collection is very special, full of treasures, big names and work by artists he’s become friends with through his long connection with London galleries. Now he has arranged to leave his collection, and all the books, to the Hepworth Wakefield Gallery in Yorkshire, which opened in May 2011. This may be sometime away, so until then Tim and Annemarie are having fun inviting friends and art lovers (such as Kettle’s Yard members) to their house to enjoy the unique experience of art on the stairs, in the loo, around the snug and even on the ceiling. Best of all, this gallery is full of prints, watercolours, oils, sculpture and even spears chosen entirely because Tim loved them “heart and soul”.

  • From 30 April – 30 September 2016, 100 of Tim’s art works will be on view for the first time at the Hepworth Wakefield offering a taster of the Tim Sayer Bequest. See more here.

Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991) was an English classical ballerina. Her final performance was when she was aged 66.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.




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