Some of you may not have heard of John Bignell. I googled his name when I was preparing to write this and you don’t find much – lots of results about his book Chelsea Photographer and the inevitable reference to the picture he took of Claudie Delbarre a few days before she was murdered. (See the King’s Road Blues post if you want see the picture) But there’s very much more to John Bignell. He did street photography, news, fashion, art even a bit of glamour. He documented bohemian life in Chelsea from the 50s to the 80s. And like many London photographers in the 60s he snapped his share of the celebrities of the day.
Celebrity itself was a little different then of course.
A young David Hockney, sitting with the widow of Igor Stravinsky.
A couple of other shots in art galleries:
Claire Bloom and Rod Steiger in 1961 according to Bignell’s notes, then married (his fourth marriage, her third, and final one) The man on the left is David Tomlinson but I don’t think it’s the actor from Mary Poppins. (or is it?)
The man with the prominent nose is L S Lowry sharing an amusing story with an unknown gentleman and the already ubiquitous Richard Attenborough.
Another high class occasion:
Derek Nimmo (ask some old person if you don’t know) officiating at some formal occasion puzzling over an illegible note with Lady Limerick. This could be a literary occasion. There’s an impressive collection of old books in the background.
Bignell must have been on good terms with his subjects. He often took pictures in their own homes.
Chelsea resident, film and TV actor Harry Fowler, with his wife Kay. Mr Fowler who died earlier this year made an appearance in the short lived BBC2 Chelsea-based soap opera World’s End, which I’ve already referred to in a previous post.
This is one of my favourites among Bignell’s celebrity photos:
Charles Gray, another local, looking like a man who knows how to have a good time. He had a long career in acting, playing one version of the James Bond villain Blofeld (in Diamonds are Forever), at least three versions of Mycroft Holmes, on film and TV, and most memorably for me Mocata, the villain in the Hammer adaptation of Dennis Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out.
Another classy interior:
A fairly young Ned Sherrin striking a pose while sitting down, possibly in the flat in Chelsea where he lived for many years.
Bignell found many of his subjects on the streets of Chelsea.
Ryan O’Neal examining a shop keeper’s pendant in a slightly disconcerting manner.
Sammy Davis Jr making his way down the King’s Road, possibly on his way here:
You can see him on the balcony. Has the crowd gathered for him, or is this a normal Chelsea Saturday afternoon back in the 60s?
You’ve seen a lot of male celebrities so far so here are a couple of famous women:
Jayne Mansfield with her daughter Jayne Marie at Victor Silvester’s dance studio on the King’s Road. Jayne Marie is unmistakeable I think. I got carried away with the caption Jayne Mansfield and daughter, thinking the daughter was Mariska Hargitay, star of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit but it turned out to be Ms Mansfield’s first daughter. I can see the family resemblance though.
Just a little way down the King’s Road was the Chelsea Palace. Here Bignell took this excellent picture of another famous blonde actress.
Diana Dors in the dressing room with a man named Michael Keaton who looks very pleased to be on the receiving end of Ms Dors’s attention.
This post has been an introduction to John Bignell. I’ll be coming back to him again over the coming months to try and show you the full range of his work. But for now here’s the man himself behind the bar of the Six Bells.
And here’s a puzzle for you. Who on earth are these guys?
Are they an actual group, or just some likely looking hipsters Bignell gathered together for the picture, which is simply called Love is all you need?
So if anyone has any ideas please let me know. We’ve already eliminated Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch by the way.