Angus McBean

This picture was taken in Angus’s home in Suffolk, a lovely Suffolk pink house but very dark inside hence the feint image. I never used artificial light more than a 60 watt lightbulb but he didn’t have one of those. It was about 1985.
I recently heard a funny story about my visit from Alan Stuart, who is writing a biography of Jill Bennett. The story is below. Rather blush making but hey..

Angus McBean

‘I finally arrived at Bury St Edmunds for my spur of the moment visit, an upcoming auction brought me there – property belonging to the late photographer Angus McBean. Researching the life of actress Jill Bennett I wanted some details of his photographs of her that I now owned. On arrival at the auctioneers they were all displayed, those famous iconic prints all for sale to the highest bidder– the Oliviers, a young Audrey Hepburn, Margot Fonteyn.. even an oil painting of the great photographer himself (one for the National Portrait Gallery I hoped). Busy place but I took copious notes on Jill Bennett (and others) from the McBean Photograph Register .
A quiet lunchtime meant I could finally look uninterrupted at the McBean Studio Visitors Books – the first of these was the prize exhibit of the auction. Everyone who had visited and been photographed by McBean had signed – a volume of British Social History.
Opening the book my thoughts were interrupted by an unfamiliar voice over my left shoulder..
‘Oh that’s Katherine Hepburn there, wasn’t she great in ‘My Fair Lady’!!
‘Was she’?… I answered dryly (not bothering to correct his mistake)
It was clear this limpet of social knowledge was going to remain steadfast at my elbow…
‘Look and there’s ‘Orson Welles’..and he…….’
‘Yes, I’ve heard of him’ I said, stemming the verbal flow..
‘Look there ‘The Beatles’ – all four and the actress Vivien Leigh – married to Lord Larry you know..’
‘Yes’, I replied
‘It is quite brilliant’ he finally concluded after sharing his views with me on almost each and every page…..
My chatty yet unknown companion was right, this was indeed a superb collection of great names of the twentieth century. Sadly for me this weighty treasure may have been in my hands but was totally out of reach of my funds.
Despite being so large, this book crammed in all these famous evocative names on the same pages – Joyce Grenfell rubbing shoulders with Maria Callas and Dame Edith Sitwell, Richard Burton with Adam Faith and Frankie Howerd – signatures all stylishly jostling together across the pages….
Apart from one …..
As I was getting towards the final pages, one familiar name caught my eye..one single signature at the centre of one solitary page…
I turned the book to face my companion so he too could linger over the name, his voice was puzzled:
‘David Gwinnutt 1985’, who’s that then? never heard of him…
‘Haven’t you? I replied ,turning sharply and purposefully adopting an incredulous tone , I continued……
‘David is of course a brilliant photographer and writer in his own right, do you know he was also the subject of work by many famous painters and artists? A champion campaigner and a very good friend of mine (despite having met David twice up until then I thought lay it on with a trowel). I hope to be seeing him again very soon, but he is so very busy these days…’
Absorbed in my own satisfaction I smiled, closed the book and handed it over carefully, quietly he muttered his thanks followed by a final thought..
‘Well ! as you say he must be quite somebody to have one page in here all to himself! ’
‘Oh he is ,he is…..’I replied, still smiling broadly as I left the auction house and set off for the station’

Alan Stuart

David Gwinnutt Written by:

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