Prison style: top tips

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Sir David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

Should one take scatter cushions to a friend who is in prison? Or a throw to jolly up the cell? Do you have experience of such things?

High security prisons do not allow gifts inside the cell but, for institutions in which scatter cushions etc are allowed, the normal interior decor rules must apply: therefore you will need to find out about the colour scheme of your friend/relation’s cell and, where applicable, the colour of the inmates’ uniforms. Which brings me on to the rule that I have outlined in earlier columns: cushions, scattered or otherwise, should never be placed in the diamond position. They should always be placed square on. Last time I went visiting a very old friend, who was jailed as a dishonest judge, I was prevented from leaving him a book, even though I argued that St Augustine’s Confessions was a great book for prisoners. And imagine trying to leave an illegal shahtoosh behind for the likes of Martha Stewart. Would she complain if its colour didn’t match her prison garb? Or, God forbid, if the zebra, arrowed/orange/or whatever uniforms clashed with the usually geometric borders of the shahtoosh? And how would any celebrated inmate wrapped in such luxury get up to the bars of the cell window in order to be photographed by the paparazzi? I must now be much more observant in my next visit to a prison and pay attention to its decorative surroundings. I would love to be commissioned by an avant-garde warder to design a set of corridors and cells for a prison. The whole concept of incarcerated functionality would open up a new horizon for interior decor. Outside the world of prisons, I think of Bayreuth, the Bavarian home of Wagnerism, where cushions are de rigueur because The Ring lasts for 30 hours, and all the seats are hard, wooden and without arm rests.

Please can you tell me what a “U” car is? You used the expression in one of your answers recently.

I think it was Nancy Mitford who coined the definition of “U” and “non-U”, where “U” means upper class and “non-U” non-upper class. It was a piece of snobbery, harmless though it was, because I don’t think Nancy Mitford was a snob. All the so-called Sloane Rangers in Britain missed the irony and went around believing that it was essential to be “U”, but that was 30 years ago and times have changed. Now it might be more appropriate for you to ask what an “in” car is according to the very popular TV programme Top Gear. I think Jeremy Clarkson has a permanent chart of “in” and “out” cars. This shows how Britain has replaced class consciousness, replacing it with a sort of meritocracy.

Are the Romanov-style photographs of my friends surrounded by their grandchildren, placed prominently in serried ranks on a grand piano, rather nauseating in this day and age? Please tell me it is unutterably wrong to have photographs on a piano.

It is not wrong to have photographs on a piano, except if one is a concert pianist and wants to open the lid – especially on a Steinway D, which is 9ft long and probably the most powerful instrument on earth – as it would be very tiresome to have to remove photographs each time. I just put two large frames on mine for ease of removal in case I want to imagine myself being a concert pianist with the majestic lid fully opened as in the Albert Hall. As for the content, I would advise against the Romanov style as all of them were murdered in the wood, and it would be extremely bad feng shui to imitate that grouping.

My wife and I disagree about the convenience of waiting for all to have been served the second course of a meal before starting. While I don’t feel comfortable beginning the second course when there is still somebody with an empty dish, my wife prefers to ask the convivium to start eating. Do you think that the correct procedure depends on the number of people around the table, as she says?

Unless the Queen is present, one should always start without waiting. This is only sensible because otherwise the food will get cold. Even if what is served is cold, it just seems rather superfluously middle-class for everyone to wait before tucking in. It’s like saying that we should not behave like schoolchildren eating in a refractory at a boarding school. But that’s exactly how we should behave – never losing our juvenility. It also takes the pomposity out of dining. Whenever I am host, I am always served first, and I always start eating first so that others can follow – and I tell them to. But of course I would have to change this selfish habit if Her Majesty were ever to come to a luncheon or dinner.

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