Ian Nairn was an awkward, diffident, solitary man and, like Philip Larkin, a very English type of romantic – glum, drab and wistful. Gifted with a preternaturally acute sense of place and a richly evocative vocabulary, unhampered by any professional qualifications, he was the finest architectural critic and topographical writer of his generation. Through his journalism, books and television documentaries Nairn promoted new ways of looking at our surroundings. He made connoisseurs of us all.
Nairn grew up in the dull Surrey town of Frimley. (His entry for the place in The Buildings of England says: ‘Few old houses, and most of them killed with kindness.’) A degree in mathematics at Birmingham University – ‘the wrong choice’, he said – was followed by national service