Online Edition

The Times (London), June 7, 1997


William Crampton, vexillologist, died on June 4 aged 61. He was born on May 5, 1936.

Asked when he first became interested in flags, William Crampton replied that this was like asking when he first started breathing. He began his research as a schoolboy, when he realised that some of the flags in his atlas were out of date, and his love of the subject led to the foundation of the Flag Institute and to a presence on the Internet.

As founder and director of the Flag Institute, he was Britain's foremost authority, and was consulted by publishers, librarians, newspapers, television and film-makers. His international standing was recently acknowledged by his election as president of the International Federation of Vexillological Associations.

William George Crampton was educated at Wallasey Grammar School and ­ after National Service in 1954-56, which took him to the Suez Canal zone ­ at the London School of Economics, where he read sociology. He had a period teaching at Gravesend Technical College and in Ghana, before in 1963 he became an adult education organiser for the West Lancashire and Cheshire Workers' Educational Association.

From boyhood he had scoured bookshops and libraries for information about flags, and now he began to correspond with other experts, including Whitney Smith, the American expert who was regarded as the father of the international vexillological community. At a meeting held in London by Smith in 1967, Crampton met many other flag-lovers, including Captain Edward Barraclough, the then editor of the standard British reference book, Flags of the World.

This meeting gave a boost to Crampton's activities. He soon became the most active member of the flag section of the Heraldry Society, editing its newsletter, which later became Flagmaster. In 1971, he and Barraclough launched the Flag Institute, which maintains and distributes up-to-date information about national flags and emblems throughout the world. In the same year, at the fourth international Congress of Vexillology, in Turin, the institute was accepted as a member of the International Federation. Two years later, it was to host the fifth congress in London.

In the meantime, Crampton had produced numerous booklets ­ including a survey of British Army flags which resulted in an inquisitorial visit from Special Branch. In due course he became co-editor and then editor of Flags of the World and the popular Observer Book of Flags. With energy best described as unflagging, he achieved a near monopoly as editor of such titles, with Eyewitness Guide to Flags, The Spotter's Guide to Flags, The Complete Guide to Flags, The World of Flags and Flags of the World. He was also an adviser to The Statesman's Yearbook, the Navy, the Commonwealth Institute and the BBC, and helped to prepare flag charts for schools.

In 1985, at the 11th of the biennial international congresses, Crampton was awarded a diploma by the Soviet Flag Society, and in 1991 he was given the International Association's "Vexillon," for excellence in the promotion of vexillology. Two years later he was elected president of the International Federation, an office he held until his death.

Crampton was called upon by film-makers, and advised on historically authentic flags for The Mission (1986), Tai-Pan (1986) and The Madness of King George (1994). He was also invited to create a number of new flags, including that for the Channel Island of Herm.

In 1995, he gained a PhD from Manchester University, after ten years' work on his thesis "Flags as Non-Verbal Symbols in the Management of National Identity" which was largely based on a study of the repeated changes of flags in Germany over the past century or so as a reflection of the turbulent political situation.

Crampton was also a leader in the campaign to have the Union Jack formally proclaimed the national flag as it approaches the bicentenary of its incorporation of the Irish Cross of St Patrick in 1801.

The growth of the Flag Institute, and the volume of business with flag manufacturers, led in 1995 to the formation of a company, Flag Institute Enterprises, of which Crampton was managing director.

William Crampton is survived by a son and daughter, his marriage having been dissolved.

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