Fine Arts

‘A fantastic arts journalist. Exceptionally kind. A marvel’: Ros Drinkwater – an appreciation

A Vegas dancer and TV star, an award-winning photographer and documentary maker, a colourful and engaging expert on art and antiques with the Business Post – Ros Drinkwater’s was a life lived to the full

The late Ros Drinkwater: ‘The best at what she did’ and ‘one of a kind’. Picture: Feargal Ward

“A journalist, photographer, documentary film scriptwriter, documentary film presenter, and in another life in a distant galaxy, actress,” is how Ros Drinkwater’s Twitter profile reads. But she was so much more.

Ros was also at one time – in a galaxy even further away – a Vegas showgirl, but for the past 20 years she has been the Business Post’s Fine Arts critic, delivering her erudite and humorous copy each week with inimitable style and panache. Her abrupt passing last week has left colleagues and friends heartbroken.

For the few who knew she was ill, her brutal battle with stage IV lung cancer was mercifully short, at the same time leaving her loving partner John and her wide circle of friends grappling with the cruel loss of a good humoured friend, a multi-talented and passionate spirit and a much admired intellectual.

Born to an Anglo-Irish family in Glasgow on February 14, 1941, Ros left Scotland for London when she was only 16, having been talent-spotted by the director of a touring theatre group. She had taken a part-time job at her local theatre café when, shortly after arriving, the touring group director spied the agile Ros leading the warm up for the dancers and, on another occasion, noted her Girl Friday ability to step in and take over from the lighting manager in his absence.

Shortly thereafter, the feathers, sequins and glamour of Las Vegas lured the young dancer stateside for a time, before she decided to return to London to pursue a career in acting.

She was cast in a series of British television shows, including landing the part of Margaret Garson in Dr Finlay’s Casebook; a detective constable in Special Branch, Kim in Girl in a Black Bikini and, most famously, as Louise ‘Steve’ Temple, wife of crime novelist and amateur private detective Paul Temple in the eponymous television series. Co-produced by the BBC and West German television station ZDF, the show broadcast 52 episodes over four seasons from 1969 to 1971.

Shortly after the series ended, Ros tried her hand at photography, a career she admitted falling into by chance, picking up a camera as a favour to her partner who had, on one particular day, accidentally – and fortuitously – double booked himself on assignments.

Life behind the lens was to prove more than a visual avocation for Ros, who quickly realised an uncanny ability to take a strikingly good shot, a skill further honed while working on London’s Fleet Street.

It was also on Fleet Street that she won her first photography award, entering an image she’d brilliantly suggested of a shot of her then editor putting an edition of the paper to bed one evening. From there, there was no stopping Ros who threw herself into photojournalism and once casually mentioned that one of her first commissions had been of Pop iconoclast Andy Warhol.

Her partner, John Finnegan, had family ties in Co Monaghan, which brought the couple to Ireland some 25 years ago, whereupon Ros approached a number of Dublin-based publications offering her journalism skills. She had little idea then that she would become Irish media’s go-to expert on all things art and antiques.

“I can still clearly remember the first time I met Ros Drinkwater,” Gillian Nelis, former Business Post property editor, said.

“It was in the Business Post’s former offices on Merchants Quay in Dublin, and Aileen O’Toole, then the paper's deputy editor, called me into her office to meet an elegant, well-spoken woman who was interested in writing for the paper's property section, which I was then editing.

“For several years after that, I had the pleasure of working with Ros and through her, learning more than I ever thought I could about subjects as diverse as pruning roses and the value of Irish silver,” Nelis said.

“She dropped into our house for tea one day, and over chats about the terrible state of our garden, she casually dropped into conversation that she’d been a showgirl in Las Vegas in the 1950s, and gone on a date with Elvis Presley. He didn't say much, she told us: “He was very boring.” Myself and my husband picked our jaws up off the floor, then poured more tea.

“In all the years we worked together, I don't remember Ros ever missing a deadline, or failing to deliver the pieces she promised. She was a true professional, and we were lucky to have her representing us as she went on her travels around Ireland and the world. We will all miss her wit, wisdom and incredible knowledge.”

Ros recently admitted that she was initially reluctant to agree to write about art and antiques when first approached. “When I mentioned it to John, he said: ‘Name three Irish artists’, and to my chagrin, I couldn’t,” she said. “Some months later, browsing through an art gallery shop in New York, I almost yelped when I spotted a Sean Scully print. I figured I did perhaps know a little bit and was willing to learn a lot more, and so I reconsidered.”

And so began 20 or so years of the most profoundly colourful, fascinating, engaging and thought-provoking fine arts coverage in Irish newspaper print. Ros had a keen eye for antiques and a passion for art, both of which she studied diligently. She had an enviable and exquisite way with words, whether imparting en vogue gardening trends gleaned from her annual pilgrimage to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show or transporting the reader with her through her richly descriptive travel features.

She also possessed an astonishing work ethic equalled only by her phenomenal range. She somehow found the time to keep her hand in film-making, including writing and presenting documentaries. The most recent, which won the award for Best Short Documentary at the Hong Kong International Film Festival last October, was Beyond the Beyonds, a documentary film on the life and work of John Kingerlee, produced by Paul O’Flynn and directed by Laurence Powell. It was an award that gave her immense pride.

Behind her many talents was a kind and inspiring woman, who always sought the silver lining in any situation. She was quick to smile, had an ineffable charm, a delicious and spontaneous laugh and an enormous capacity to love and was, in turn, enormously loved by all who knew her.

Her friend, auctioneer Morgan O’Driscoll, said: “Ros was greatly admired for her love and passion for the arts, but above all for her eloquence, truthfulness, kindness, friendship and being such a true lady.

“She took her ability, passion and talent and shared it with everyone. It was a great privilege to know Ros and she will be greatly missed. May she rest in peace,” he said.

James O’Halloran, managing director of Adam’s said: “We always got on well. She was delightful to talk to and all the team at Adam’s loved her. She was the best at what she did in terms of writing. She’d take a look at the press releases we sent her in advance of an auction, but she didn’t much use them; she did her own thing and the features were all the more colourful for it.”

“She was a marvel, as far as I was concerned,” Noelle Campbell Sharp, gallerist, philanthropist and a long-time friend of Ros with whom she often visited in Dublin and at the Cill Rialaig project in Co Kerry, said.

“She was not only a fantastic arts journalist, but she was exceptionally kind to an awful lot of people and that is something rare and something one would always miss. It didn't matter what religion you were, what colour, or who you were, she was always generous, warm, compassionate and affectionate,” she said.

She was one of a kind and we are devastated at her passing. Godspeed Ros, may you rest now in peace.