Born: 16 September, 1929, in London. Died: 4 May, 2015, in London, aged 85.
nn Barr was a noted journalist on Harper & Queen and The Observer and gained national fame when she co-authored, with Peter York, The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook. The book captured an era of Hurray Henrys and Sweet Carolines who flooded London’s Chelsea with their antics – all harmless and delightful individuals.
With much subtlety Barr refrained from lampooning the tribe but chronicled their annual events with a wry gaiety: the London Season, Queen Charlotte’s Ball or the annual trip to the Skye Ball. Barr told of the coming-out parties, endless jolly japes and young men who were not safe in the back of a taxi.
The book became an instant best-seller and has been updated frequently – with Princess Diana being nominated “Supersloane”. Barr wrote of her: “Diana did the old things with new flair.”
Barr always claimed she was not a member of the Chelsea set. In 2008 she said the Sloanie in the family was her sister Deirdre. “She and her pukka muckers were the original Sloane Rangers, and the inspiration for the articles and books.”
In fact, Isabel Ann Barr came from a well-known Scottish family. Her mother was Canadian but her father was Scottish and her grandfather had brewed the original fizzy drink Irn-Bru and then set up the hugely successful company AG Barr, based in Cumbernauld.
Another major connection with Scotland was Molly Baines, her Scottish nanny, to whom Barr was devoted.
Barr was educated in Montreal during the war and then in England. She did various jobs in journalism but embarked on a career as a features writer – particularly memorable was an incisive piece in Queen magazine titled Dirty Weekend at the Ritz. It was a clear sign of Barr’s keen eye on how to angle a story.
When Queen merged with Harper’s Bazaar in 1970 Barr became features editor and proved to be an inspired polisher of articles. She also had a genius for layout and chose photographs that ideally complemented the words.
As features editor she furthered the early careers of the satirist Craig Brown, Elizabeth David and Lloyd Grossman. She had the nose to spot a future talent and accepted a handwritten article – How to Survive Teenage Parties – from Nicholas Coleridge then a pupil at Eton. He went on to run magazine publisher Condé Nast.
Her real journalistic discovery, however, was Peter York. She met him socially in 1972 and labelled him “clever, clever, brilliant Peter” and he called her his honorary aunt.
It was while at Harpers that she decided to commission a series of articles about the well-heeled Young Turks of Chelsea.
To strike the balance between affection and humour she often commissioned York to write tongue-in-cheek articles about the dress code –head squares and sensible shoes for the girls and corduroy trousers and old school ties for the chaps.
In time this developed, in 1982, into The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook. It was a huge success and has been reprinted five times and even turned into a theatre revue.
In 1984 Barr and York published another best seller, The Official Sloane Ranger Diary. Barr later collaborated with Paul Levy on The Official Foodie Handbook – thus giving the English language yet another new word.
Barr left Harpers & Queen in 1984 and became women’s editor of The Observer. Her sense of focusing on serious events in society showed no let up and she printed articles on such contentious subjects as crack cocaine, Aids and child abuse.
In 1989 she left The Observer, and was involved in Dream Weaver, the biography of the communist activist Elisabeth Furse.
Throughout her career Barr was a dedicated and encouraging editor. She was patient and helpful with authors – often suggesting new ideas for a piece which she then edited with panache.
But, rightly, it will be the Sloane Ranger book for which she will be remembered. It has become something of a social snapshot of the period and gleefully answered all the pressing problems a young Ranger could experience when marrying her Darling Henry.
Home decoration, clothes, table setting and education for the children were all covered in minute detail: “Mummy and Daddy will have done a proper job on that years ago,” she wrote. “But it never hurts to be sure.”
She was a delightful eccentric. Barr never married and lived in a tiny top-floor flat in London’s Notting Hill with a pet parrot called Turkey. The flat was often in some chaos – made worse by the athletic presence of Turkey.