Iain Kerr obituary

My friend Iain Kerr, who has died aged 72, heralded the Christmas season for shoppers everywhere by designing and installing Yuletide decorations in shopping malls and city centres throughout the UK and abroad.

From a 30-metre-high metal Christmas tree in Liverpool, to giant reindeers in Canada and in the hotels of Euro Disney, his decorations appeared as if by magic, erected overnight by his company Trapeze Creative Ltd.

Born on Benbecula, in the Outer Hebrides, Iain was the middle son of David Kerr, a civilian electrician employed by the RAF, and Brenda (nee Fogg), a secretary. In Iain’s early years the family moved to Aird Uig on the Island of Harris.

When Iain was eight, his father’s job took them to Famagusta, Northern Cyprus. After three years, they moved to Whitby, North Yorkshire. A teacher called Bob Foster at Whitby West secondary school inspired Iain to study art at Scarborough Technical College, then Northumbria Polytechnic (now Northumbria University), graduating in 1972.

For the rest of his life, he always carried a small sketchpad in his pocket. An ill-fated attempt to become a teacher lasted only one term. After having done his training at Newcastle University, Iain was too mild to face a class of 30 in Pennywell, a tough area of Sunderland. In 1974 he became a graphic designer at Newcastle city council and settled in the Tyne Valley, before venturing into self-employment by setting up Iain Kerr Associates in 1980.

Six years later Iain founded Centre Design, and it quickly became one of the biggest retail display companies in Europe. Deploring the homogeneity of Christmas decorations that made shopping centres worldwide all look the same, he decided to design his own decorations, basing the manufacturing process in the north-east and using reusable, sustainable materials.

Iain Kerr drawing on the Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides.
Iain Kerr drawing on the Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides.

Selling Centre Design in 2001, Iain set up Trapeze Creative Ltd in 2012. He combined tradition with innovation, using the latest technology to control lights, colour and sound, and hired teams of firemen who understood electrical systems and could work at height, overnight. They had to erect, then dismantle, installations at speed, at the same time of year, all over the country, and he respected their expertise and the need for stringent health and safety measures.

Iain was always great company, yet modest and self-effacing. He shunned offers of television documentaries and publicity. Tall and handsome, he was extremely stylish, eschewing trainers and puffer jackets despite being a passionate football fan with a Newcastle United season ticket.

He was proud of his Caledonian heritage, enjoying pilgrimages to his birthplace. His ideal day was sketching in the Hebrides, a macaroon bar in his pocket, with his family around him, football commentary in the background, and the promise of mince and dumplings for dinner.

Iain married his long-term partner, Donna Barkess, a designer and lecturer, in 2021. She survives him, as do their two daughters, Gabi and Flippy, a son, Daniel, from a previous relationship, and by his brothers, David and Mark.


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