DISPUTE WITH THE GILLIAMS NEXT DOOR
"Glass struggle between a Python and his neighbour; Designer couple claim Gilliam's futuristic rooftop conversion will ruin skyline"
by Ross Lydall
published in The Evening Standard - London on 18 June 2002, p. A23
20 June 2002

On one side of the garden fence is film director and former Monty Python star Terry Gilliam. On the other is John Sorrell, the man responsible for British Airways' controversial multicoloured tail fins and a former chairman of the Design Council.

Dividing them is a simmering neighbours' row about privacy and the finer points of modern architecture.

American-born Mr. Gilliam, 61, whose films include Twelve Monkeys and The Fisher King, has provoked the ire of Mr. Sorrell and other wealthy residents in Highgate village with his plans to build a futuristic roof extension on his house in South Grove.

Next-door neighbour Mr. Sorrell, whose own futuristic steel and glass home, The Lawns, narrowly missed out on last year's Stirling Prize for architecture, has joined a dozen others in writing to Camden council to oppose the scheme.

Mr. Sorrell, whose conversion of his previous north-west London home was snapped up by film star Jude Law and his wife Sadie Frost for £ 1.1 million, said that if plans to build a conservatory-style extra storey on top of the house were approved, Mr. Gilliam would be able to look straight into his property.

He also complained that the skyline of Highgate - which is one of the highest points in the capital - would be spoiled, as would views of nearby Grade II-listed St. Michael's Church, which villagers such as actor Tim Pigott Smith are campaigning to have floodlit.

Mr. Sorrell sees no conflict between his own championing of modern architecture and his objection to Mr. Gilliam's avant garde proposal.

He said yesterday: "We told Mr. Gilliam we were horrified at his application and that it would be a real problem. At the moment it contains proposals for glass walls which would give views into our garden and conservatory.

"The main objections are to do with building an extra storey on top of the existing Victorian building. I think a number of people would be very affected by the development, but also views of St. Michael's spire from Pond Square would be blocked."

Mr. Sorrell's concerns were echoed by the village's influential amenity group, the Highgate Society.

Michael Hammerson, chairman of the society's environment committee, said: "Our main worry about it is that it would obscure, interrupt and have a rather bad impact on views of St. Michael's Church and Pond Square."

Mr. Sorrell, who helped create the National Identity Zone at the Dome before resigning in advance of the opening night, was also responsible for selecting the colourful BA tail fin designs that were famously mocked by Lady Thatcher.

He said the radical design of the house he shares with his wife Frances should not be compared to Mr. Gilliam's proposals.

"Although our building is a modern building, that is an issue of aesthetics.

We are not making aesthetic points about what [Mr. Gilliam's] development is about. It's nothing personal. It's just about the impact on our lives."

However, Mr. Gilliam, who has a passion for architecture and has even lectured at the Royal Institute of British Architects, hit back.

Speaking through his architect - Mark Reeves, of Reeves Bailey Architects - Mr. Gilliam, who has lived in Highgate since 1984, rejected the views of "relative newcomers" such as Mr. Sorrell, and said that many neighbours had written to Camden council in support of his application.

"Mr. Sorrell and his wife live in a house that immediately adjoins ours and it's a very modern building which sits comfortably within the context of the conservation area," Mr. Reeves said. "We in turn have developed a plan which we think sits comfortably in that scheme as well.

"I don't think there's any more of a spat developing than there would normally be in this situation. I think there are people who like both what the Sorrells have done and like what we have managed as well.

"Our proposals are much more modest than the Sorrells'. Mr. Gilliam and his wife have lived in that area for a long time and have done a nice sensitive job on their own house."