Photography, said David Bailey, is sex. He made it that way.
The man who styled the 1960s, changing the way we looked at women and helping to create celebrity culture, was a shameless priapic who thought nothing of a quick one in the studio with almost every model he worked with. He was married to, or lived with, some of the most beautiful women in the world — Jean Shrimpton, Catherine Deneuve, Penelope Tree, Marie Helvin — but was incapable of being faithful. Often he had three girlfriends at the same time. From the age of 14, Bailey was a hard-drinking tough nut from London’s East End, and his chat-up line at dances was: “Do you want to f***?”
For the next 60-odd years, it seems, they all said yes, indulging and adoring him. Such was Bailey’s charm. No one could resist. And no one, however insanely jealous they became, could ever say they weren’t warned. On his first date with the New York heiress Penelope Tree, a 17-year-old virgin, the 30-year-old playboy told her the Aesop fable of the frog asking the scorpion why he’s stung him halfway across the river, imminently drowning them both. “I can’t help it,” replies the scorpion. Fifty years later Tree tells Bailey’s co-writer, James Fox, “I couldn’t believe I listened … and didn’t think ‘I’m outta here.’ ”
At the time Bailey was married to Catherine Deneuve and having an affair with someone else. As soon as Tree was 18, she ran away to be with him. Seven feet tall in high heels and her hair piled up, she looked, he said, like Bambi crossed with an Egyptian Jiminy Cricket, “her legs up to her neck”. He made her internationally famous.
He was married to, or lived with, some of the most beautiful women in the world — Jean Shrimpton, Catherine Deneuve, Penelope Tree, Marie Helvin. Often he had three girlfriends at the same time.
She lived with him in London, the hostess at parties where the cast list was the 1960s: John Lennon, Ravi Shankar, Brigitte Bardot, Bill Brandt, Peter Ustinov, Mick Jagger, Roman Polanski, Terence Donovan and many more. Bailey, a lifelong workaholic — and a self-confessed alcoholic at the time, drinking a bottle of spirits a day — was frequently away filming. She said he had pictures of all his girlfriends on the mantelpiece “like notching up kills on an Air Force plane”. Cecil Beaton’s butler remembered Bailey, high on pot, slapping Tree on the rump and asking Beaton: “What do you think of this old bag?”
Tree was roadkill. Within three years she had anorexia, bulimia, acne, a problem with cocaine — and her modeling career was over. “She started to get fat,” whines Bailey. “It was awful, awful. I didn’t know what to do with her.” He began an affair with someone else.
From the age of 14, Bailey was a hard-drinking tough nut from London’s East End, and his chat-up line at dances was: “Do you want to f***?”
One of this memoir’s strengths is that Fox reunites Bailey with his old lovers. Tree is blunt about his selfishness. “Bailey has always stayed in a bubble … that narcissism that completely denies the reality, basically, of anybody else’s existence.” The front of the book — styled, naturally, by Bailey — has a Beaton portrait of him. He looks like the singer Michael Hutchence, smouldering in leather trousers, Cuban heels, long dark hair, with seductive, unruly gipsy eyes.
Tactile, flirtatious, unfiltered, outrageous, Bailey was irresistible to both sexes. Gay men made his career, he says, and pursued him all his life, though he never indulged. He taught Rudolf Nureyev to do the twist in the famous 1960s Ad Lib club. “He was so like a woman … he wanted to get in my trousers … I feel I’ve missed something, looking back. I think, shit, I might have had a go.” One of his big influences as a child, growing up in the brutality of the war-torn East End, was his gentle gay Uncle Arty, a sailor who brought home unusual pretty things, music and shawls. He went to live in San Francisco and died of Aids. Bailey believes his own undiagnosed dyslexia made him an outsider, just like gay men.
Like Father, Like Son
Bailey was born in 1938. Childhood was pretty bleak and loveless. He disliked his parents and did not attend their funerals. His father, Bert, was a hard-drinking tailor, an overt womanizer. He remembers the day he and his mother, Glad, entered a pub to find Bert necking with the barmaid. Glad was a dress-machinist who took him to the cinema four or five times a week, filling his head with images. A dyslexic boy’s vivid, visual memories haunt this section of the book: Glad in a flowery dress, walking through the brown grass of Wanstead Flats with the wind blowing, looking beautiful; or trying on a dress she couldn’t afford in Selfridges, when he glimpsed her twirling, backlit. “That was the moment that changed my life. I thought it was magic.”
Gang fights were part of his everyday life. He was diminutive, so he started using humor to sidestep violence. After national service in the RAF, where he learned photography and read books, he went to work for John French, the gay fashion photographer on the Daily Express. By 23 Bailey was working for Vogue. He discovered Jean Shrimpton, a posh girl from Buckinghamshire with a need to please and no confidence. “She had fantastic legs … she and Kate Moss are the best models I ever worked with.” When Jean left him in 1964 he was shattered, even though he was unfaithful. “Wasn’t going to let it happen again, allowing a woman to break my f***ing heart.”
Jean, Penelope and Catherine Dyer (his present wife) he names as the great loves of his life. “It’s funny a short-arse like me made it with all those girls.” He had a brief marriage to the French actress Catherine Deneuve. “She was a bit short — five foot eight — and a bit on the fat side for me … but she was a very good model, especially after I’d finished with her.” Deneuve, rather more generously, says she saw in Bailey the shy romantic pretending to be more cynical than he is. Laughing is a defense. He has an ability to be astonished by simple things that he sees as beautiful. But “he never spoke really of himself”.
Bailey taught Rudolf Nureyev to do the twist in the famous 1960s Ad Lib club. “He was so like a woman … he wanted to get in my trousers … I feel I’ve missed something, looking back. I think, shit, I might have had a go.”
Names drop in this book like overripe plums from the tree. He hated working with Coco Chanel. “She always had what I considered old models — at least 25. They seemed like old dykes to me.” He didn’t like ugly girls or ones with breasts. “I don’t like big udders.”
Bailey introduced Andy Warhol to Mick Jagger. He took Diana Vreeland, editor of American Vogue, to the cinema with Beaton. He remembers Anjelica Huston (another lover) and Jack Nicholson trying to steal a lion’s-head knocker off a door in Regent’s Park to humor a stoned Vreeland at 3.30am. He amused royalty. There was Princess Margaret: “I like her wit … she was a big fan of my photography and not Snowdon’s, and he used to get angry.” Dinners with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in Paris. And, famously, the Queen, whom he pictured smiling broadly. He asked whether her emeralds were real. “I liked working with her, she was all right.”
Through drunken madness, he ended up on Aristotle Onassis’s yacht with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. “She stole my camera … she was drunk. She had kleptomania, she had two bodyguards when she went into shops, walking round after her, paying for anything.” Mother Teresa was “a tough old bitch” and Princess Diana was “no great beauty … she insisted on that terrible hairdo, the one that looked like a wig. She had terrible posture.”
These tales are fun for a while, but become tiresome. The book is the work of the co-writer, Fox, responsible for Life, the bestselling autobiography of Keith Richards, using interviews with Bailey, who says he hasn’t read it. So you can hear his authentic voice, but you also cannot escape the deafening emptiness at the book’s heart, which is Bailey’s total lack of self-awareness or self-reflection, even at the age of 82. He remains narcissistic, sexist and competitive to the end. “My basic attitude to children [he now has three], and to marriage, is that it’s nothing to do with me.” Great photographer, though. —Melanie Reid
Twenty years ago Patrick Marnham, Francophile and former Private Eye columnist, was sent a letter from an anonymous well-wisher with inside knowledge about the French Resistance. Marnham had just published a book about Jean Moulin that cast doubt on the official explanation of the death of the Resistance hero. The mysterious letter suggested that his book, The Death of Jean Moulin, missed a trick and prodded Marnham to dig deeper.
It is an artful beginning worthy of Sherlock Holmes. The letter writer, clearly English, elderly and with connections to the intelligence service, was a tease. Was it mere coincidence, he suggested, that Moulin was arrested by the Gestapo on the same day — June 21, 1943 — that Prosper, another Resistance network, the largest Special Operations Executive (SOE) collection of agents in France, was crushed by the Germans? A suspiciously lucky day for Hitler’s security apparatus in occupied Paris.
Marnham wants to solve the riddle because as a young man, in the summer of 1962 before going up to Oxford, he learned French in a château presided over by a battered but dignified woman who had once been a leader of the very group that had been betrayed. The lady of the house, Anne-Marie de Bernard, otherwise known as Souris (“the mouse”, because she was small and quick), gave lessons to the offspring of well-bred Englishmen. Perhaps they reminded her of the SOE agents from twenty years before.
Was it mere coincidence that Moulin was arrested by the Gestapo on the same day that another Resistance network was crushed by the Germans?
War in the Shadows begins as more of a personal memoir than a historical investigation. It is beautifully written, minutely observed. For instance, when an SOE officer first made contact with the château, he arrived on a bicycle loaded with toilet rolls that concealed instructions for Souris. He stayed for lunch, gulped down a plate of tripe, and took the train back to Paris.
Souris was a good choice as an agent. She was a passionate hunter who understood the lore of the forest: trust your horse if you don’t know which way to turn, shout downwind if you want to be heard. Her first contribution to the struggle was as a people smuggler. The forested Sologne region was hard on the border between occupied France and Vichy France run by a collaborationist regime. It was on the route for fugitive downed British airmen heading south towards Spain.
Souris organized fake funerals — the coffin contained a wounded pilot, the mourners were escapees, and Souris played the grieving widow. The Germans waved them through because the papers were in order. Souris had seen to that. She recruited poachers and gamekeepers, hotel owners, the vet who tended her horses, a garage owner and a hairdresser (salons have always been useful dead-letter boxes). Gradually, and with help from the SOE, they were drawn into regular sabotage operations: blowing up high-tension lines, derailing German troop trains, setting on fire a supply train heading for the Eastern Front, detonating a railway bridge.
Souris organized fake funerals — the coffin contained a wounded pilot, the mourners were escapees, and Souris played the grieving widow. The Germans waved them through.
Then came a change of direction from London. “Parachutage” — dropping of huge quantities of guns and ammunition on the marshy wasteland of the Sologne — took over. The official explanation was that it was to prepare France for a national insurrection that would accompany the D-Day landings. But this was 1943, and it had quickly become clear to the British leadership that the invasion of northern France could not happen any time soon. There was an Allied shipping crisis and an acute shortage of assault craft and escort vessels.
Britain’s geopolitical imperative was to keep Stalin in the fight. The German surrender at Stalingrad in February 1943 had given the Red Army momentum. It was pushing back the Germans to liberate Kharkov, but Hitler had transferred 36 divisions from the Western to the Eastern Front. By March, Erich von Manstein had retaken Kharkov and destroyed 52 Soviet divisions. The big German counterattack, it seemed, was just round the corner. Stalin demanded that the Germans be pinned down in the west, and that the US and Britain get on with opening a second front.
And so the French Resistance was used to simulate preparations for a nationwide insurgency, one that would accompany an Allied landing. The Germans had to be persuaded that something serious was brewing in France, so serious that it would be risky to send its men east. But the Soviets were to be kept in the dark. Churchill’s minuted instructions: “Stalin not be informed that 2nd Front is now cancelled.” The air drops, the escalation of Resistance activity — these were all part of a bluff, an attempt to deceive the Germans, the Soviets and even the French Resistance.
But it was a bluff that cost lives as the Germans cracked down. Moulin was arrested and tortured by the savage Gestapo officer Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyons”. The Frenchman was put on a train to Berlin, but died of his wounds before crossing the border. Souris was sent to Ravensbrück camp; another member of her group, Yvonne Rudellat, arrested after a car chase, died in Belsen. The SOE agent Andrée Borrel was thrown alive into a Dachau incinerator. Marnham lists many more: “the people who were expendable and who died in the labyrinth, in the shades of successful deception”.
The deception worked, in part. Despite the arrests, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt remained convinced that there was a high risk of an Allied invasion at least until the beginning of the autumn storm season. But all deception entails a betrayal of trust, and Marnham’s book is full of underhand trickery: the departmental rivalry between the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and the SOE; Churchill versus de Gaulle; the German Abwehr versus the Gestapo. In France the betrayals were rife. After the liberation the same people who had shopped resisters to the Germans turned in alleged collaborators. It was an angry place full of vendettas.
The deception worked, in part. But it was a bluff that cost lives as the Germans cracked down.
Marnham captures all these twists with verve, but he is no stranger to fierce denunciation. He feuds relentlessly with the official chronicler of SOE activities, the late MRD Foot, and the book would have been stronger without this personal animus. And the German side of the story is under-reported.
The book is subtitled “Resistance, Deception and Betrayal in Occupied France”, but it doesn’t quite answer a central question: did the British betray the French Resistance as part of a smoke-and-mirrors deception? Some Resistance veterans certainly thought so after the war, and Marnham, who has produced in every sense of the word an intriguing book, plays with the idea. He smells conspiracy where perhaps there is none. In the end he leaves it up to the reader to join the dots.
There is no ambiguity, however, about the character of its understated heroine, his former hostess in the Sologne château. Souris and her husband returned alive but damaged from imprisonment. Yet Souris plainly retained a clear sense of right and wrong until her death in the 1970s. Her integrity shines through in a double-crossing world. But she would probably have agreed with the idea that deception is not in itself dishonorable.
“Deception,” according to a textbook definition used by British intelligence, “induces belief that something false is true.” That is, it conceals falsehood. That was the premise of the British operations in occupied France, in 1943 and a year later when the D-Day landings brought a terrible war closer to its conclusion. —Roger Boyes