Felix Schroer – an Obituary By David Flusfeder

Felix was my brother. He was the best brother anyone could wish for. His friend David Flusfeder has written a beautiful obituary.  A shorter version is published in the Guardian. I love the end of this version – and it makes me smile, which is what Felix would have wanted for sure.

Felix Schroer

Felix came of age in that time, the late 1970s, early 1980s, when fashion and music and culture and politics and morality seemed to be all of a piece. ‘Like trousers, like brain,’ Joe Strummer of the Clash said. A mix of punk dandyism, the London club scene, radical philosophy and workers’-rights trade unionism informed and formed him, in his careers as a fashion model and a cameraman, his trade union work and charity work for Clapperboard—as well as an unfortunate taste for Chelsea Football Club.

His parents, Bert and Irmgard, were German scientists who went to the USA when Bert, a mathematical physicist, was offered a post  at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, where Felix was born in November 1960. Bert continued his researches at universities in the USA, West Germany and Brazil; but the marriage had ended, and in 1964, marrying again, Irmgard took her two children, Felix and his older sister Sylvia, to England. They lived in Hull, in Oxford, and finally found home in London, first in Chiswick in 1966, and then moving into Wetherby Mansions in Earls Court Square in 1969.

London, the idea of it, its possibilities, immediately became incorporated into his idea of himself. In a process familiar to anyone who has moved countries and changed schools when young, Felix had to decide at an early age who he was, what he was, where he belonged. Even if his secondary school was near Ipswich, his university in Brighton, and much of his professional life in Liverpool, Felix identified as a Londoner above all.

His secondary education was at Woolverstone Hall, a boarding school in Suffolk run by the Inner London Education Authority (an easy way to rile Felix would be to say of him that he’d been to public school). Sons of the military were educated there and London boys who came from what were then euphemistically known as ‘difficult circumstances’ or ‘broken homes’.

In a very unEnglish way, he excelled at all aspects of school life. He combined academic success with taking the lead role in drama productions as well as being a second row forward in the rugby first XV. He won the breakfast eating competition. And he was cool. It probably helped that his mother owned a fashion stall at Kensington Market. Felix would later be part of a scene that centred its daytime activities on Ken Market, as well as the Great Gear Market in the Kings Road, and the shops at Worlds End: Johnson and Johnson, Seditionaries, Boy, Robot. He became a punk in its first 1976 wave, returning to Woolverstone after a holiday wearing a beer towel flapping down over the back of his trousers and toilet flush chains on his jacket.

His adoption of punk style was part of his growing awareness of how he appeared to others. Felix was blond, blue-eyed, six feet four, strikingly, teutonically, beautiful. Schoolfriends such as Brett Price remember his shyness and lack of confidence when he first arrived at Woolverstone aged eleven. His sister Sylvia remembers how he was careless of his appearance in his childhood, losing teeth and not bothering about the consequences. But now, particularly in London, he was being stared at, admired, approached, purely because of his looks. An Earls Court neighbour, the artist Duggie Fields, arranged for him to take part in a fashion show. A magazine report described the ‘frightened-looking adonis’ on his first catwalk. From Kensington Market and the Kings Road during the day, a nighttime scene was building, the punk venues of the Nashville and the Roxy, and later on the nightclubs, such as Blitz and Hell.

He arrived at the University of Sussex in 1980, wearing a Vive le Rock! T-shirt and carrying his Transport and General Workers’ Union card, which he was proud to have earned from building site labouring work in the period between school and university. From then on though, modelling would be a more reliable, and more lucrative, income stream. Sometimes he would miss a seminar because he was on a magazine shoot in Santorini, or Iceland. But he was also, in a quite assiduous way, committed to his studies. Often he would take a book and go on a walk, climbing a tree to read a nineteenth century novel or a twentieth-century philosophy text in Stanmer Park, next to the University of Sussex campus.

And the food. We need to talk about food. Felix ate—there was that victorious breakfast eating competition at Woolverstone—he ate in large quantities. He ate with generous gusto and he prepared food in that same spirit. From his teenage years, Felix was a talented and investigative cook. He would fix upon a national cuisine—Mexico, Thailand—and work his way through recipes, discovering his own ideal proportions of spice and flavour, and in the process feeding all the people around him.

His love of travel was not just taking a delight in movement and adventure, in sea and beach that he would love so much later in his mother’s home, after she sold the flat in Earl’s Court and moved to Crete, but in eating new foods in their own environments.

He spent the summer of 1982 in New York, having the kinds of adventures that young men go to cities to find, and financing it by working as a model, represented by the agency Elite. He was, as his former modelling colleague Deidre Maguire says, who over thirty years later is still married to Felix’s schoolfriend Lance Jowers, the ‘it male model’ of the time. He went on fashion shoots for Vogue and Cosmopolitan. He was working with Jean Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld, Jerry Hall, Marie Helvin. He’d been photographed by David Bailey. He was urged by his booker to stay in the city and build his career. He was promised: another few weeks and his rate would be two thousand dollars a day.

Felix decided to go back to Sussex for the final year of his degree. Maybe he felt that he had something to prove, that the meaning of who he was went beyond how he appeared on a magazine page, in a camera frame, in the eyes of others.

He knew that there would be a time when that striking beauty would fade, but even as he continued to model, he was growing bored being the object of others’ choices and instructions—photographers, art directors, designers, editors—and he’d worked with plenty of photographers, he knew he could do that too. From clubland, from football (he’d been a Chelsea fan since the 1960s, and particularly enjoyed his team’s ascendency when living in Liverpool), he seemed to know everybody. In the years after graduation, he picked up knowledge and skills doing jobs, assisting photographers and cinematographers. He worked on music videos, which everyone he knew from the club scene seemed to be involved with, either as performers or makers. With the cinematographer John Mathieson, he went to Morocco and to the Himalayas to film documentaries and was part of the camera crew on the film Gladiator.

He went on to study cinematography at the National Film and Television School, after which he found work, and a home, with Lime Pictures, making Hollyoaks. He made a life in Liverpool, doing a job he was good at, in a company that respected and admired him, with people around him that he loved and who loved him. Felix worked at Lime Pictures for twenty years, the senior Director of Photography, a mentor for the younger crew, relied upon by the directors, and by the Hollyoaks cast to light and film them sympathetically, to answer questions anyone had. He never forgot what it was like to be a beginner, to have to recognise the limits of his knowledge and experience and to push through them, to get better, to learn. He was instrumental in unionising the workplace and was a trade union representative for BECTU, using that philosophical training and the logical set of his mind to work through issues, and to give everyone a voice. He was on the board of the film educational charity Clapperboard UK. Its director, Maureen Sinclair says, ‘He had a great ability to engage with our young students, many from deprived areas, passing on his professional skills, sharing stories, taking them under his wing and treating them with respect. He helped so many by giving them training and employment opportunities.’ She goes on to mention how his priority above all was for his beloved daughter Lola. Felix had married Jacky Nottingham in 1999. Their daughter Lola was born on the 10th of August 2001.

I’m desperately sad to be writing this. We’are all sad. We’re sad for Lola and we’re sad for Felix and we’re sad for ourselves. But let’s remember his appetites and his gusto, and his love of travel and sunshine and music, Studio 1 reggae and ska and the punk music that helped form him, and his taste for adventure, and his love of food and providing, and his love of friends and family, which extended from London to York to Berlin to Rio de Janeiro. He spoke to his father Bert and his half-sister Sandra several times a week and was due to visit them this month in Berlin. He spent his New Years with Sylvia, who says, ‘He was such a rock for us all. Felix always tried to keep Lola connected with our German relatives. Tante Karine, Oncle Armine and cousin Elke. He made a film about his grandmother Oma Lina when we celebrated her 90th birthday.’

And, of course, above all, Lola, now a student at Exeter University, of whom everyone who knew him says, just simply, how much her father adored her and adored being with her.

There was a comfort being in his presence. Felix had a physical and emotional solidity about him and, as John Mathieson says, a kind of moral justness. His friend Keith Cooper, who shared a Clerkenwell flat with him in the 1980s before Felix moved into a house in Clapham for ten years with his sister Sylvia, remembers how inclusive Felix always was. ‘He was such a warm guy… He would include people—there would be this guy, that guy, this person—my cousin’s friend is in town from Berlin…’ When Irmgard grew ill, before she died in 2013, Felix brought her to Liverpool so he could look after her.

Living on Lark Lane in Liverpool at the house of his great friend Eric ‘Alf’ Higgins (Alf says they were ‘surrogate brothers’), Felix continued always to look sharp, to dress carefully and well. And, thinking back to those modelling days… His work was mostly editorial, glossy magazine fashion spreads when he was the ‘it’ male model, but he continued to do some catwalk work too. He had lost that early fear of it, and, as with his mentoring for Clapperboard, he was sympathetic to anyone who didn’t know how to do something he already had mastered, he was always good at breaking down professional mystiques. But he had a disdain for those models who went sullenly about their work, trying so hard to radiate a harsh aura of cool. Felix always smiled when he worked the catwalk, believing that if he showed he was having a good time, then, in that shared moment, everyone else would too.

Felix Albert Schroer, born 8 November 1960, Champaign, Illinois; died 20 March 2020, Liverpool

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