David Milbank Challis 1941-2019

The sad news that David died on 7 June 2019 was reported by friend and colleague Adrian Young.

David joined HMSO in December 1966, recruited by John Westwood as a graphic designer and worked in the Atlantic House studio for twelve years until dispersal in 1978.

Philip Marriage adds: David was a one-off. I worked alongside him when he first joined HMSO in 1966, then we were both placed in the same team under John Saville and finally David was part of my team when I was promoted so I guess I got to know him as well as anyone. I found him to be a highly individual character, creative, intense, generous, great fun to be around and next to impossible to manage.

Most of those who remember him at HMSO (and there’s fewer of us these days) will recall his wicked wit – often outrageous – and the many tableaus he designed for special occasions like Christmas 1967 when the studio’s Clerical Assistant Bobbie Westaway’s desk was completely enclosed within a pantomime cottage and messengers delivered files through the ‘windows’. A stream of people from around Atlantic House, including COI, drifted by for a peek. Similarly when Reg Vine retired his office was decorated throughout with hanging grape-vines and when George Sewell (a compulsive smoker) retired after 21 years, puffs of tissue paper smoke dangled from the ceiling at the lift exit increasing in size down the corridor and into the studio where a giant model cigarette hung over George’s desk, autographed by his colleagues and friends. When Ian and Jo Dobson married and planned their honeymoon in Greece, David and others made a commemorative model of a Greek temple and called it ‘Dobsos’. Memorable days – would they happen now?

David worked in his individualistic way and could be frustratingly stubborn. His frequent encounters with the formidable Ivy Lee in Pubns was an example of the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object – Ivy’s Sergeant Major’s commanding voice and presence versus David’s seeming indifference provided regular spectator sport for those within earshot. It was however as a last mark of respect on David’s part that forty years later he attended his old adversary’s funeral and – as far as he could tell – was the only HMSO representative to say goodbye on behalf of us all.

David left HMSO after most of the studio was dispersed to Norwich in 1978 moving to The Museum of London where he helped set up the new Docklands Museum which now includes, amongst examples of riverside businesses, a display of his family’s Bakery, moved from Greenhithe following redevelopment. He later went freelance, worked for Cambridge University, wrote, lectured, and pursued his many interests including railway history with the Great Eastern Railway Society and map-making as a founder member of the Charles Close Society (the study of OS maps).

We kept in touch over the years and when our mutual friends Adrian & Audrey Young were over from Australia in 2016 he generously arranged a personal tour for us all around the Docklands Museum. By then Parkinson’s was restricting his activities then tragically he was also diagnosed with oesophagus cancer. After my own cancer op last year he wrote ‘Well, well, we’re all in the same boat. You concentrate on getting fit and well and we’ll arrange a gathering somewhere soon, albeit I might have to watch you eat and drink!’

Sadly that was not to be.