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Obituary: Alastair Fletcher, interior design pioneer whose clients included cruise companies and Saudi royals

Died: November 29, 2021.

ALASTAIR Fletcher, who has died in an East Kilbride care home at the age of 88, was one of his native Glasgow’s unsung heroes. He was a pioneering interior designer, working on many high-end projects, while later in life he became a martial-arts sensei, and a noted barefoot runner.

Breaking away from Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s former architectural practice Keppie & Henderson in the early 1960s to form Scotland’s first dedicated interior design firm, Fletcher and his long-term collaborator, John McNeece, pioneered this highly specialised discipline, creating interior solutions for a wide array of international projects from work spaces and public buildings to hotels, cruise ships and palaces.

Starting with contracts to design Lanarkshire county council’s buildings in Hamilton, the business expanded as the duo designed pubs, clubs, hotels and, mainly for the Stakis group, casinos, around the UK.

With the more flamboyant McNeece fronting much of the sales effort, Fletcher was the creative powerhouse. He was among the first to grasp the concept of ergonomics, designing factory floor and office environments for such clients as Motherwell Bridge, Levi Strauss, IBM, Barr & Stroud and Rolls-Royce.

Over the years, Fletcher McNeece became involved in the design of some of the world’s largest cruise liners, including Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess, Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Harmony, Royal Caribbean’s Sovereign of the Seas and, closer to home, the Waverley paddle steamer refit. Other highlights included interior designs for the private London residence and desert palace in Riyadh for the Saudi royal family, and radical design solutions for Glasgow and Gatwick airports. Simply put, Fletcher and McNeece established the profession and blazed the creative trail.

In January 1981, Fletcher McNeece became the first-ever Scottish winners of Interior Design’s National Design Award.

The pair also formed a partnership with Herman Miller, a high-end modular office systems specialist based in Chicago, which manufactured and sold the Charles Eames range of chairs and associated furniture – a style icon and brand perfectly suited to Fletcher’s design ethic and quality standard.

Born in Whitevale Street, Dennistoun, Alastair Fletcher attended Whitehill School but surprised his schoolmasters and parents by choosing to go to Glasgow School of Art, though he had clear academic strengths, especially in mathematics.

Quietly headstrong, he followed his own path and was rewarded with the art school’s highest prize – a post-graduate scholarship to travel around Scandinavia and Western Europe, observing and soaking up design inspiration and completing a dissertation in return.

Delayed by his national service, he finally made the trip in 1958 on a Lambretta Li 125 with his new wife, Myra, clinging to the pillion.

He was, after his bohemian art-school experiences, a reluctant conscript but the Royal Engineers seemed to like him, awarding him the medal for Best Sapper and recommending him for a commission – which, of course, he rejected.

Sent to Christmas Island in the Pacific in 1957, his regiment formed the working party for Britain’s hydrogen bomb tests, code-named Operation Grapple, where he and a small team worked with scientists to install the measuring instruments on Malden Island, returning hours later to retrieve them, after the world’s largest nuclear explosion.

His family understands that he was, by some distance, the last survivor of this fated group. On Christmas Island he almost earned a medal for bravery, rescuing two struggling swimmers from the deadly coral surf.

National Service allowed him the time to devour classics and modern works – Dostoyevsky, Stendhal, Solzhenitsyn, James Joyce and Hermann Hesse – but these turned out to be among the last novels he ever read as he turned to his life’s passion: eastern Zen philosophy, in which his gurus included the likes of DT Suzuki, Musashi, Krishnamurti, Christmas Humphreys and Alan Watts.

This gentle, quiet man will be remembered as a modest but deep, well-read individual who impressed many by the full and disciplined life he led. He did not care for plaudits or reward but instead sought beauty in all things, while striving always to be “in the moment” and the best version of himself.

His lifelong journey into Zen philosophy was a hard path but inspirational and nourishing to him. He became an expert practitioner of yoga, meditation and, later, tai chi, but karate was his main pre-occupation.

In the 1970s, he formed the Shotokan Karate Club in Bellahouston Sports Centre with, among others, Mike McKay and John Arneil, fellow black belts more interested in the purer form of technique and philosophy demanded of the ancient Japanese form. The not-for-profit club grew in strength over the years with Fletcher as sensei and main teacher to many Glasgow black belts. He was instrumental in bringing the Japanese masters – senseis Enoeda, Kanazawa and Tomita – to Glasgow for training courses and gradings, including for his own 2nd Dan test. The Japanese visitors often stayed at his house, talking long into the night.

His own homes were quite special, too. His first flat in Caird Drive, Partickhill, was a stunning expression of 1960s modernity, well ahead of its time. Visitors probably did not realise that much of the furniture, pottery and remarkable wooden ceilings were made by Fletcher himself.

His sons’ friends referred to his Hamilton Avenue house in Pollokshields as the Burrell Collection, not least because of the contemporary art on its walls from Jimmy Robertson, Davie Donaldson, Sandy Goudie and Norrie Kirkham.

He was also an experienced runner, completing his last half-marathon in his late 60s and running every day when he was well into his 70s. He often ran barefoot on beaches and was happiest in the hills of Scotland with his camera, or wild camping with his children.

Alastair, who was pre-deceased by his youngest son Steven, is survived by Myra, his children Paul, Mark and Karen, and nine grandchildren.

 

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