John Bignell and the celebrities: fame in the sixties

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.

27 responses to “John Bignell and the celebrities: fame in the sixties

  • Chris Pain

    I googled up photos of all the mid 60s bands I could think of, but none of them look like these. A clue could be the logo painted on the door together with the number 49. It looks like the young man in the middle, top row, has the same logo on his t-shirt – a sort of stripey cornet filled with bubbles or balloons! It must be 1967 or post because that’s when the Beatles di “All you need is love”.

  • Chris Pain

    I posted a link on my “World’s End, Chelsea” Facebook page and a couple of people suggested the house in the last photo looked like the ones in Stadium Street, so I had a good look on Google Street View and in fact number 49 Stadium Street is a very good candidate. Also, in 1968, a telephone at 49 Stadium Street was registered to a P. Whitehead. This might very well be filmmaker Peter Whitehead, who made the 1967 documentary “Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London”, featuring the Stones, the Small Faces, the Animals, Pink Floyd, David Hockney, Julie Christie, Vanessa Redgrave, among others:

    Still no idea who the lads in the picture are though! Top left looks a little bit like Alan Price.

    • Dave Walker

      Thanks Chris, I knew I could rely on you for some detective work. I’m sure the answer will emerge eventually.

      • Chris Pain

        Then again, as my cyberfriend Steve has pointed out, P. Whitehead could equally be Paul Whitehead, the artist who did the cover art for the Genesis albums: Trespass, Foxtrot and Nursery Cryme. This actually seems like a better bet, as an actual painter is more likely to decorate the facade and front door of his house than a filmmaker. Stll no idea who the people are. Maybe it’s just the artist and some of his mates!

  • Michael Gall

    Dear David, Wonderful to see Harry and Kay photographed by John Bignell…what a lovely couple. Thank you.

  • Amanda Kinsman

    I think with Derek Nimmo it is Lady Kilmarnock not Lady Limerick

    • Dave Walker

      Amanda – I was going by Bignell’s hand written caption on the back of the photo. I’ll have another look at that. It’s also possible that Bignell wrote the caption much later so he may have recalled the lady incorrectly. Thanks for your comment.

  • Emily Evans

    Oh what wonderful pictures. David Tomlinson – yes I think that is the M Poppins actor pictured but must ask Henry his son who is member at CAC. The Ned Sherrin pic is definitely taken in his flat in Cornwall Mansions -I lived upstairs for many years and recognise it. And as for the ‘band’ – not sure but very cool and looks like Ashburnham Rd or around there. Fantastic images. X

  • Sophie Parkin

    Dear Dave walker, are these pics your copyright? I’d very much like to use a couple in my book on The one of Lowry and Hockney. Sophie Parkin

  • Tom Pollard

    The last photo is of 49 Stadium Street. We lived next door at number 51 from 1973-1981 (I was 2 when we arrived). By the time we arrived the flowers had been painted over, and instead Rupert Bear was on his hands and knees between the first and second floor windows, staring down at ‘Rupert says No’ in the shape of an atom bomb.

    The man at the front is our dear, and deeply missed, friend John Hammond, who made a name for himself n the 70s and 80s as a photographer. He photographed many of the famous Benson & Hedges campaigns (Moths, Pyramids among others). One of the others IS Paul Whitehead (though despite having had a fling with him, my mum isn’t completely sure which one he is!).

  • Sue Bremner

    Hello Dave,

    I know this post began in July, but I’ve only just come across it. I lived in the house (49 Stadium Street) from 1968-1977 and I thought I might be able to tell you more about it, as I was familiar with the house before I moved in.

    The photo was taken in 1967. The P. Whitehead is in fact Paul Whitehead the artist, who is the person sitting on the bay window in front of his artwork. John Hammond is standing below holding the dog, and the guy sitting over the front door was called Rod, and he was a roadie for a band but I can’t remember which one.The house was also the subject of a cinema news reel film – I think it was “Look at Life” around the same time, or possibly a year later.

    If you look carefully you can just see a row of lights along above the bay as the house was lit up at night! After Brian Epstein’s death, Paul added the epitaph “Gone but not forgotten” to the house. I can’t remember exactly when Rupert appeared, but you know what they say about the sixties, “If you can remember it you weren’t really there!” So not surprising really.

    I’m interested in what brought you to this photo and to research it? It would be interesting to know more and I could also tell you more about the house and other residents of Stadium Street and Lots Road.


    • Tom Pollard

      I stand corrected Sue – though I blame Glynis’ deteriorating memory! 🙂

    • Dave Walker

      Thanks for all this first hand information. I’ve always liked that photo but it was a bit of a mystery to me so I saw the opportunity to get some answers by putting it on the blog. There was this feeling it might have been a band but no-one here knew who, and it could have been set up by Bignell.
      Unfortunately there are quite a few pictures in the Bignell collection where we don’t know the people in them or even the location, and in many case the nagging feeling that we should be able to figure it out.

    • Chris Pain

      Sue, thanks for solving the mystery … so it was Paul Whitehead after all!
      Please do tell us more, as you say, about the residents of Lots Road and Stadium Street.
      If you’re on Facebook, check out the page I run all about the World’s End, Chelsea:
      Thanks again!

  • Sweet Jane

    There’s a great clip of Paul Whitehead outside number 49 in 1967 over on British Pathé, there’s also some brilliant footage of himself and another artist doing some psychedelic artwork on a car too, this is more than likely the outtakes from the ‘look at Life’ film that Sue mentioned in her comment.

  • Colin Robinson

    I have a newspaper clipping of my Grand Uncles funeral cortege passing the Worlds End Pub. He was Stephen Coster and had a fruit barrow outside the pub for many years. The photo is credited to ‘WLP John Bignell FLA 9277’ so I assume it is the same person.

    • Dave Walker

      Yes that would be our John Bignell. The WLP would be the West London Press, a local newspaper and the FLA short for Flaxman the name of the Chelsea telephone exchange as they used to be called. I think we have some Bignell pictures of the fruit stall and Mr Coster you might like to see. I’ll email you direct about those when I’m back at the library. Coincidentally the new post this week will feature pictures by JB. Watch out for it on Thursday morning.

  • kympowellKym powell

    Steve Coster was my grandfather so I’d love to see any photos you have of him on his stall. There was a front page article in the Kensington post when died in 1955.

  • PG

    Hi Dave
    I’ve come belatedly to your excellent blog; this may be of interest – I featured Paul Whitehead’s house at 49 Stadium Street in my 2012 book Mr Freedom, about the much-missed and sometime World’s End character Tommy Roberts.
    Tommy’s life-long friend “Smart Mart” Cole – who later worked with Ian Dury as did Tommy – lived at Paul W’s house from 1967 onwards so I can send him the photo to see if he can identify himself or anyone else in the photograph.
    This was a much-celebrated place at the time, since Whitehead regularly changed the decoration of the frontage and also used it in his album art (you know he created sleeves for Genesis and Van der Graaf generator and is these days creating huge billboards in California). Apologies if I’ve missed something and am repeating info already posted.
    All best


  • john bignell: battersea fun fair, 1957

    […] this post on The Library Time Machine website. There’s another post on Bignell’s work here […]

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