On Monday 27th February 2017 at 6.30 pm in the Small Hall at Chelsea Old Town Hall
Andrew Ginger was interviewed by Peter York about his book “Cecil Beaton at Home”
Note by John Doncaster, Member of the Council of the Chelsea Society
Andrew Ginger’s new book, “Cecil Beaton at Home” made a suitable framework for the author’s talk to the Society on 27th February. With the able assistance of Peter York, author of The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook, he and Ginger shared a platform recalling the heady days of the Bright Young Things of the 1920’s 1930’s. During that period Beaton was the lessee of Ashcombe House, in a fold of the Wiltshire Downs, which he inhabited from 1927 to 1945. Ashcombe was the scene of many joyous occasions and parties, and it was with great reluctance that Beaton was forced to give up the lease in 1945, following which he bought Reddish House, a few miles east at Broad Chalke, Wiltshire.
Beaton as a boy was introduced to photography by his nanny, who taught him the elements of a good photograph as well as the technical processes needed to bring out the best in an image. While he appeared to follow a traditional path from Harrow to Cambridge, he early decided that his future lay not just in photography, but in such areas as interior decoration and stage design. He also felt, in the late 1920’s, that his future lay more in New York than London, though he gradually built up a select clientele in both places.
It was as a fashion photographer that Beaton reached a sophisticated audience. Between the wars he was a staff photographer for Vogue on both sides of the Atlantic and his talent was widely recognized . This in turn led to his being much in demand for his portraits of well-known people, and a list of those he photographed, from 1930 to 1979, looks like a Who’s Who of the rich and famous, from Winston Churchill to Grace Kelly, from Charles de Gaulle to Mick Jagger. But it was to the Royal Family that he was most attracted, and he was the darling of the Queen Mother. He took the official wedding photographs of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and, in 1953, the Coronation portrait of the young Queen Elizabeth.
During the Second World War he was an official photographer for the Ministry of Information and captured many images of London in the Blitz. After the war he was able to turn his hand to other forms of artistic expression, whether it was stage design (Lady Windermere’s Fan), or film set and costume design. The acclaimed sets and costumes for My Fair Lady, won him an Academy Award .
The cover of Andrew Ginger’s book, Cecil Beaton at Home, shows Beaton, standing casually in the front doorway of Reddish House. After Ashcombe, which he loved but never owned, he was able to make over Reddish House the way he wanted it. Ginger’s talk showed images of the interiors, the most remarkable of which was Beaton’s own bedroom, an eclectic mixture of the bizarre and the mundane. But to really gather up the flavour of the house as he transformed it one should buy the book.
Cecil Beaton was knighted in 1972 and died in 1980.