Roger Phillips obituary | Mushrooms
The talents of artist, photographer and author Roger Phillips have led him in many directions, not all predictable, and it is entirely consistent with his itinerant and inquisitive mind that many will remember him as a mycologist. scholar and media, a David Attenborough of the mushroom, and as a guru of the foraging movement.
Roger, who died aged 88, declared his interest in mushrooms with his book Mushrooms and Other Fungi of Great Britain and Europe (1981), revised 25 years later, and also published an American version, Mushrooms and Other Fungi of North America (1991). It appeared in a series of botanical identification guides designed by Roger, with support from book designer David Larkin, for Pan Macmillan, starting with Wild Flowers of Britain (1977) and including Trees of Britain (1978), Wild Food (1983) and Herbs and Medicinal Plants (1987). Roses (1988), and other books on bulbs, shrubs, annuals, perennials, and vegetables, were collaborations with botanist and planter Martyn Rix, as was a later series of short guides on topics such as potted plants and culinary herbs.
The distinguishing feature of Roger’s more than 40 books was their clean, uncluttered appearance, his meticulous color images on a white background, like the specimens pressed into paper in the collections of Victorian naturalists. In a nation with green hands, books were a brilliant publishing idea, and there may be few gardeners who don’t own at least some of them.
Roger became a friend of my family in the late 1960s, when he worked as a food photographer, capturing, for magazines and spare parts, scintillating images of natural products and deliciously presented dishes. Previously he had worked in advertising, as artistic director of the Ogilvy & Mather agency on campaigns for Schweppes (“Schhh… You know who”) and the Egg Marketing Board (“Go to Work on an Egg “).
Commissioned by his friend illustrator Alan Aldridge, he photographed the rock band Cream for the album Goodbye (1969), forming a friendship with bassist Jack Bruce which led Roger to create the images for the Bruce Songs for a Tailor (1969) and Out of the Tempest (1974).
Roger was born in Uxbridge, west London, the son of Philip Phillips, treasurer of the Hillingdon Council, and Elsie (née Williams), who was a magistrate. He attended St Christopher’s, a progressive vegetarian boarding school in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, where a friend played him American Bix Beiderbecke records, instilling in him a long-standing love of jazz. He became a regular at the London Jazz Club at 100 Oxford Street, hung out with the band Humphrey Lyttelton, and once wore bluesman Big Bill Broonzy’s guitar case.
He did his national service with the RAF in Canada, but resigned his commission on pacifist principles and returned to London, where he worked in a hospital and took a course at the Chelsea School of Art. “Roger was lively and sociable,” remembers his contemporary Alan Gilchrist, “contributing regularly to theatrical events and was the artistic editor-in-chief of the Concetto school magazine.” Brian Innes was a friend and conspirator of cultural interventions, whose band Roger had booked for a prom even before they became the Temperance Seven.
Colorful – not to say wacky – and enthusiastic, Roger was a natural at presenting nature television programs. The BBC’s six-part series The Quest for the Rose (1994) has taken him to track one of his favorite flowers across geography and time, while The 3000 Mile Garden, at the Originally a 1992 book based on letters between Roger and American kitchen writer and gardener Leslie Land, provided a six-part series in 1995, in which Roger accidentally showed how to slowly cook a ham in compost, in the garden of Eccleston Square, London (where he lived), which he managed and developed for over 40 years. He defended every garden place in London and was appointed MBE in 2007.
Gardens occupied much of Roger’s attention in the 1990s and 2000s. His knowledge of the gardens of the world, both famous and obscure, was exhibited in A Photographic Garden History (1995), written with his partner Nicky Foy, and in the two volumes of The Botanical Garden (2002), another collaboration with Rix. He was consulted by the Prince of Wales on the subject of Balmoral mushrooms. But he was equally happy in less grandiose settings, regularly leading mushroom-picking walks and other foraging expeditions. Based on Wild Food, a revised edition of which was published in 2014, in 2020 he produced The Worldwide Forager, a vade-mecum for the self-sufficient.
Over the past decade, Roger has returned to painting and two subjects that had fascinated him from childhood. The final story of the Nez Perce Indians recorded the 1,600-mile journey of the Native American nation to escape an army determined to seize their ancestral lands and confine the Nez Perce to a reservation. The 235-foot canvas was exhibited in Eccleston Square in 2015. Dark Age Arthur was a series of paintings based on the Twelve Great Battles of King Arthur, as recorded by historian Nennius. A performance piece based on it was staged at the Cockpit Theater in London in 2017. Over the past two years he has also worked on new editions of books on vegetables, wildflowers and trees.
Roger is survived by Nicky and their daughters, Phoebe and Lyla; by Sam, her son from his marriage to Pammy Wray, which ended in divorce; and by his grandchildren, Eloise, Ebony, Emile, Ruby and Oscar.