IT was Bradford’s most famous literary son, JB Priestley, who said of Gateshead that it appeared to have been designed “by an enemy of the human race”.
Priestley had visited the town while writing his English Journey in the 1930s, and it was another figure of that era who sprang to mind when, six decades later, the local elders commissioned a signature work of art to stand at its entrance.
It looked, noticed a local newspaper, like a sculpture of Icarus, commissioned by Hitler in honour of the Luftwaffe. The late art critic Brian Sewell called it a “totem” of “bad engineering”.
But yesterday, exactly 20 years after Sir Antony Gormley’s 65ft Angel of the North was hauled into place, alongside the A1 and on the site of the Lower Tyne Colliery pithead baths, it was hailed as a symbol of the new North.
Gormley nearly withdrew from the project after the similarity to Albert Speer’s Nazi monument was pointed out, but he said later he was talked around by Gateshead Council.
Its present-day leader, Martin Gannon, said at a 20th anniversary celebration for the £800,000 monument: “No local council had ever commissioned such a major work of art before.
“The Angel of the North divided opinion at the time and continues to do so, though I think most people have grown to love it. And that’s what these celebrations are all about. It has become part of the fabric of our region and part of people’s lives.”
Designed to last for at least a century, the Angel is made of weather-resistant steel with added copper to give it its distinctive burnished glow. Council officials plan to take it a birthday cake today.