I really hate this part of my job, but once again it falls to me to provide an obituary for an old friend and colleague who played an important part in the Osprey story: the researcher and illustrator Bryan Fosten, who died a couple of weeks ago at the splendid age of 92. Although failing health forced him to give up military illustration some time ago, he maintained his expert interest in uniform history, and he continued to make architectural models (as well as abstract paintings). Bryan was active and outgoing to the last – and always one of the friendliest and most humorous men you could ever hope to share a pint with.
Until 25 years ago Bryan’s career was fairly inseparable from that of his older brother Don (Donald S.V. Fosten, 1924–95), and in fact the military-uniform connection goes back a generation further: their father Bill was at one time a master military embroiderer, and their mother a court embroideress. (Incidentally, you can still see Bill Fosten today if you drive around Hyde Park Corner in London. After service on the Western Front in 1915–18 with the Royal Artillery ammunition column of 47th Division, he found himself working as a studio assistant to the great sculptor and fellow war veteran Charles Sargeant Jagger, MC, and wound up posing as the model for the Christ-like bronze figure of the Driver on the west face of Jagger’s magnificent Royal Artillery war memorial.)
Don and Bryan were Londoners by birth, and Bryan was raised in Battersea. At the outbreak of war, Don was a student-heraldic painter at the College of Arms, but Hitler put paid to that career; Don would serve in a battalion of the Welch Regiment with Eighth Army, in North Africa, Austria and Germany, while young Bryan spent the ages of 11 to 14 living through the London blitzes, and starting work as an apprentice in the print trade. In due course Bryan did his National Service in the Ordnance Corps, including stints in Egypt and Palestine. Returning to a career in ‘the print’, in 1965 he married Heather, and their sons Angus and Ian were born in 1967 and 1971.
By that time, Robert Maxwell had put an end to his first career, and Bryan was working from home at a variety of jobs connected with magazine publishing, while he and Don pursued their shared passion for military history. Don was at one time the President of the British Model Soldier Society, and for many years a leading member of the Society for Army Historical Research. Don was the writer, and Bryan the illustrator, of their many contributions to specialist publishing, and they also worked on dioramas for the National Army Museum, which opened in Chelsea in 1971.
In the mid-1960s, a character called Roy Belmont-Maitland was running a model soldier shop called ‘Tradition’ (previously, Norman Newton Ltd) in Piccadilly, originally selling mainly Charles Stadden 54mm figures. To support this business, he decided to launch a magazine for uniform-history enthusiasts, also called Tradition, of which Bryan became the editor. In 1973, Bryan decided to devote himself full-time to military research and illustration.
In the first years of the Men-at-Arms series in the early 1970s, few of the authors or artists were specialists. When I became series editor, it was through meeting veterans of Tradition – such as Gerry and Ron Embleton, and Bill Carman – that I began to make contact with more expert contributors, who included the Fosten brothers. Thus I soon had the great (and educational) pleasure of working with Bryan, a collaboration that lasted pretty much non-stop for some ten years – and a friendship that lasted for 40. During much of that time no gathering connected with our trade or hobby was truly complete without the sight of Bryan’s face (in later years, increasingly resembling Santa Claus) grinning quietly among a knot of friends in a corner of the bar.
When I made the following list of the MAA titles that Bryan illustrated, I was surprised to find that there were fewer than 30 – his contribution to the series bulked much larger in my memory. Its importance lay in the fact that it covered, splendidly, the 18th-century and Napoleonic titles published in the 1980s, when we first really got to grips with producing high-quality work on the European armies of those crucial historical periods. Working with such expert authors as his brother Don, Philip Haythornthwaite, and Peter Hofschroer, Bryan produced some 650 beautifully clean and detailed figures. It was a time before the current taste for highly animated figure work, and Bryan’s ‘Meissen-like’ figures delighted our hard-core readership of military modelers, who needed clear detail for reference.
Bryan was a brilliant craftsman, a generous colleague, a delightful companion, and simply one of the nicest men I have ever known. Osprey owes him a great deal, and personally I shall remember him with great respect and fondness.
Men-at-Arms titles illustrated by Bryan Fosten:
MAA 114: Wellington’s Infantry (1) (Line)
MAA 119: Wellington’s Infantry (2) (Rifles, Light Inf, Highlanders)
MAA 122: Napoleon’s German Allies (5): Hesse
MAA 126: Wellington’s Light Cavalry
MAA 130: Wellington’s Heavy Cavalry
MAA 141: Napoleon’s Line Infantry
MAA 146: Napoleon’s Light Infantry
MAA 149: Prussian Light Infantry 1792–1815
MAA 152: Prussian Line Infantry 1792–1815
MAA 153: Napoleon’s Guard Infantry (1) (Old Guard)
MAA 160: Napoleon’s Guard Infantry (2) (Middle & Young Guard)
MAA 162: Prussian Cavalry of the Napoleonic Wars (1) : 1792–1807
MAA 167: Brunswick Troops 1809–1815
MAA 172: Prussian Cavalry of the Napoleonic Wars (2) : 1807–1815
MAA 176: Austrian Army of the Napoleonic Wars (1) : Infantry
MAA 181: Austrian Army of the Napoleonic Wars (2): Cavalry
MAA 189: Russian Army of the Napoleonic Wars (2): Cavalry
MAA 192: Prussian Reserve, Militia & Irregular Troops 1806–1815
MAA 199: Napoleon’s Specialist Troops (Artillery, Engineers, Medical )
MAA 204: Wellington’s Specialist Troops (Arty, Engrs, Commissariat,
Staff Corps, Med )
MAA 206: Hanoverian Army of the Napoleonic Wars
MAA 223: Austrian Specialist Troops of the Napoleonic Wars (Arty, Engrs,
Staff , Med)
MAA 226: The American War 1812–14
MAA 236 : Frederick the Great’s Army (1): Cavalry
MAA 240: Frederick the Great’s Army (2): Infantry
MAA 248: Frederick the Great’s Army (3) – Specialist Troops
(Arty, Engrs, Jägers, Freikorps, Staff, Med)
MAA 253: Wellington’s Highlanders