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Ken Lee: Artist, West End writer and designer who was taught by Lucian Freud and rubbed shoulders with painter David Hockney, composer Michael Nyman and fashion designer Paul Smith



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An esteemed artist with a vast range of expertise and passions, who spent his final years in Bishop's Stortford, has died at the age of 85.

Ken Lee moved to the town with wife Marie from Lincoln eight years ago so they could spend their autumn years living closer to their three children and nine grandchildren.

In the 1950s, Ken's art career took off. He studied painting at Slade School of Fine Art – University College London's prestigious art school – where he was taught by famous painter Lucian Freud.

Ken Lee (43619487)
Ken Lee (43619487)

While at the Slade, Ken rolled in the same social circles as pop art painter David Hockney, one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. Two of Hockney's closest friends, Michael and Ann Upton, lived in the same house as Ken.

Ken went on to win the sought-after Prix de Rome, a scholarship for art students, and was awarded a bursary that enabled him to study at the British School in the Italian capital for two years. He married the love of his life, fellow artist Marie, in Rome.

Soon after graduating, he exhibited his work at the Serpentine Gallery and began teaching at Leeds and then Nottingham College of Art, where he worked alongside composer Michael Nyman.

While Ken and Marie were living in Lincoln in the late 1960s and early 1970s, they were part of a social circle that included fashion designer Paul Smith.

In the 1970s, Ken branched out into writing and designing for theatre and created 1975 West End musical Happy As A Sandbag. His use of wartime songs is said to have been a source of inspiration to Dennis Potter for his TV drama Pennies from Heaven. Happy As A Sandbag was made into a BBC TV film in 1977 and continues to be performed by am-dram companies across Britain.

At one point in the 1970s Ken had two West End shows running concurrently. He also wrote Leave Him to Heaven, which was also broadcast on TV. This starred Brian Protheroe, an actor who became a good family friend and is best known now as the narrator of Channel 4's First Dates.

Ken's career took another direction. He started producing set designs for high-profile opera productions, notably The Magic Flute, for Scottish Opera, which went on to be performed at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden.

The father of three shared his love of art with his son Josh and daughters Miranda and Annabel. He and Marie loved taking them on cultural trips to London so they could delve into the theatres, museums and galleries.

"It had a huge effect on me and my sisters," Josh said. "We've all ended up doing things with the arts."

Josh, who lives in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, creates animatronics for films such as Star Wars and Jurassic Park. Annabel, who lives in Cambridge, is an illustrator and theatre designer. Miranda, who has lived in Stortford for 30 years, was a fashion designer before she had her six children, who all grew up in the town.

Ken died on December 8. His children and friends will always remember him for his wry sense of humour, integrity, love of sport – particularly Test cricket – and his brilliant mind.

"He had an amazing range of friends," said Josh. "He was incredibly good company, witty and well read."



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