Untitled Cecil Beaton Documentary (2017) - full transcript

Subtitles by explosiveskull

Mr. Beaton, you've been
described at various times

as an author,
a designer, a dandy...

you may not report yourself
a dandy, but other people have...

a painter, a photographer.

Now, which of these
is your main profession?

I wish I knew.

I'm afraid that's been
my trouble

for a very long time.

The visual, really,

guides my life
more than anything.

"There is scarcely
a flattering self-portrait."

"Yet truth begins
with one's self."

"Of all the forms
of writing,

diaries are
the most personal."

"My obsession stems from
those same obscure motives

that have impelled me
to take snapshots

all my life."

"I exposed thousands
of rolls of films,

wrote hundreds
of thousands of words,

in a futile attempt to preserve
the fleeting moment."

"Some people seem to know
their vocation instinctively

and follow a single path
their whole lives.

Others wander
in the labyrinth of choice."

"I started out
with very little talent,

but I was so tormented
with ambition."

"Once you've started
for the end of the rainbow,

you can't very well turn back."

It's interesting
looking through his career

to break it up
into categories, genres.

The fashion work,
the portraiture,

the film and theater work.

But, in fact,
they meld into one.

It's always Beaton's look,
Beaton's touch.

He just gave over his life
to expressing beauty,

however he could do it.

In fact, he was... if he hadn't
have done photography,

if he had just done
My Fair Lady,

that would have
been enough for me.

He's looking very nostalgically
to the period

immediately before
the First World War,

the High Belle Époque,
Edwardian England,

and it's this wild escapism

that is kind of
hand in hand

with an extraordinary
futurism and modernism.

In fact, Cecil, you could even
say invented the Edwardian

and gave it a different look,

'cause he invented it
with My Fair Lady

'cause nobody
ever looked like that.

I mean, this... it's like,
uh, I mean, ever.

Come on.

Come on, Dover.

Come on.

Come on, Dover!

Move your bloomin' arse!

Beaton had this wonderful eye

that could assimilate
and draw magic

from the best of everything
that happened around him

and from the past.

But it's the approach of
somebody with this relentless,

restless visual hunger
and appetite for beauty.

What is beauty to you?

I think that
Francis Bacon said it

when he considered there should
be something curious in it.

I think that beauty
is only static for so long

and then we move on
with our own eyes.

I mean, if you see too much
of something too long,

then change
your attitude to beauty

and new wonderful vicissitudes
of beauty appear.

He had a relationship
with the idea of the person,

not actually the person.

There's truth in fantasy,

and I think Beaton was one of
the pioneers in that concept.

When you started, it wasn't
at all the fashionable,

trendy thing it is today
to be a photographer.

Oh, heavens, no.

No, a photographer had

a very ambiguous position
in society.

He was very much
looked down upon.

Not that I really settled

for being a photographer
when I started.

I think that that was
really a means to an end.

As a boy,
I was stage-struck

and I used to haunt
the outside of theaters

looking at the photographs
of the leading actresses.

And one morning I saw
this photograph postcard

of Lily Elsie,

and I thought I'd never
seen anything so beautiful.

He took such inspiration
from the theater,

from a world
into which you step,

you suspend disbelief,

you give yourself up to whatever
is happening on that stage,

and... and you leave in
this sort of cloud of delight.

That was the way he determined
to live his life.

I used to take photographs
of my sisters

and I used to dress
my sisters up.

They were very gauche,
rather ugly little school girls.

I was entirely self-taught

and I've always been
extremely bad

about anything mechanical
or technical.

But still I did learn
exactly how I wanted

to get the effects
that I was aiming at.

When the time came for you
to go to school,

was this a relief
or did you find it a burden?

Oh, I found it appalling.

At school I really was a dud.

I was a very bad scholar.

I'm pretty near uneducated.

I didn't read a book
until I was 18, really.

I learned a lot in school,

but nothing to do
with the things

that I should
have learned.

"In 1922,
I arrived at Cambridge.

I set about becoming
a rabid aesthete.

I took a passionate interest
in the Italian Renaissance,

in Diaghilev's Russian Ballet,

and, of course, in the theater
and in photography."

The new doors
were opening to me.

This was something that
I had never known before,

and I was thrilled by the fact
that certain people

would give up their life
to aestheticism.

I thought it was lots of fun.

Did you go in for the rather
more bizarre extremities

of this style of dressing
in fancy clothes and so on?

I think I dressed in
a rather peculiar garb, yes.

I wanted to show
my individuality.

In fact, I'm not so sure

that I didn't rather
like shocking people.

Couldn't help it.

I think he couldn't help
getting in drag at college.

He couldn't help himself
putting on

his mum's nail varnish
when he was five years old.

He wasn't being provocative
and rebellious.

It was in him and it came out.

"During the three years
I spent at the university,

I never went to any lectures.

Instead, I formed
the theater club,

designed scenery,

and performed
in stage productions."

He also promoted himself hugely.

He would send up a photograph of
himself to newspapers, saying,

"This is Cecil Beaton,

he's currently working
on the sets

of Pirandello's Henry IV,"

and in a sense you could say
he's almost the first PR man

because his line was,

"The more people
who know about the play,

the more money we can spend,"

and the money would be spent
in the absolute priority

of sets and costumes
by Cecil Beaton,

written by the playwright
and starring the actors

in that order.

Running through
Beaton's career

principally devoted
to photographing others

is an obsession with
photographing himself,

staging himself.

Just one of this world
of style and elegance

and fantasy
that he was creating.

His life was a stage.

"In 1925, I came to the end
of my Cambridge years

without a degree,
having failed, as usual,

in all my examinations."

Did you feel totally
confident and successful

in anything
that you had done

or were you still insecure?

Most insecure.

What were your ambitions
at that time?

To be able
to demonstrate

that I was not just
an ordinary anonymous person.

"The truth is, I didn't know
what I wanted to do or be.

I should have liked
to have been an actor,

but somehow I was diffident
or even terrified about this.

I wanted to write plays,

but I could find
nothing to write about.

I longed to design
for the theater,

but how is one
ever to get an offer?

The only thing I could do
without being invited

was to indulge
my photographic hobby."

"My sisters continued to show
compassion to me in my mania."

But it was absolute torture

'cause the more
I tried to keep still

the more I twitched.

It was so uncomfortable,
I remember,

'cause you would say,
"Put your head on one side,

stick your chin in, your
stomach out, cross your leg,"

I mean, I was like
a ruddy corkscrew in the end.


He couldn't do much
with the father,

but he could do
quite a lot with the mother

and the two sisters
and he did.

He would put notices in
if his mother gave a party,

and that would get
printed in the paper

and she would be kind of like...

she'd know he'd done it

but get sort of half-irritated

but half probably
quite excited.

And he used to dress
the two sisters up identically,

and because
there were two of them

and they looked quite similar
in many ways,

they very often appeared
in the society columns.

Cecil was very vain
in a certain way

and very, very insecure.

I think the insecurity
stems from those early years

of never really feeling that
his family was grand enough

or, you know, it's not the kind
of family he wanted to be from.

Going right back
to your childhood,

you come of a prosperous
upper middle class family,

so it seems to me
from reading your diaries.

You've written very fully
about your father.

Now what was it that
made it difficult for you

to get on with your father?

Well, I think
it was very difficult

for my father
to get on with me.

"My father insisted
on living in Hampstead,

a suburb of London,

as he considered the air
healthier for children.

I was born in 1904.

There were two boys,
my brother, Reggie,

being a year younger than me.

Five and seven years later,

my two sisters,
Nancy and Baba, were born."

Until I reached the age
of puberty, shall we say,

I had an idyllically
happy childhood.

I wasn't conscious until later

that perhaps there wasn't
as much money as I would like.

My father
was a timber merchant,

and he wanted, obviously,

to have somebody who was
going to be like him.

And I found that
very difficult.

Intuitively, I went against
many of the things

that he stood for and liked.

"Reggie was my father's
favorite son."

"The two understood one another.

They were kindred spirits."

"My mother's dressing table
drawer of powder, rouge,

and mascara held
an uncanny fascination for me."

"One day, I stole into her
bedroom and painted my face."

"My father caught sight of me.

He became so enraged that
I was locked in my bedroom."

Now, did your mother know

about this feeling
of yours at the time?

Did she sympathize with you?

In a vague way,
but she was too busy

getting on with the job
of looking after a family.

She wasn't able to help you

in this particular
difficulty anyway.

No, no one could help me.

It was up to me to find
the sort of world that I wanted.

I think Cecil certainly wanted
to scale the social tree.

And he was the first
photographer, really,

to establish himself
in the world

of what would be called
Fashionable Society

with a capital S,
it doesn't exist anymore,

but he wanted to be up there.

The camera was,
in a way, I suppose,

his passport
into that world,

but what you need,

is a patron, and he found that
in Stephen Tennant.

"Stephen Tennant.

I first met this remarkably
poetic looking apparition

while he rode
the papier-mâché horses

on the roundabouts
at the Olympia Circus.

He wore a black leather coat

with a large Elizabethan
collar of chinchilla.

As he blew kisses
to left and right,

he created
an unforgettable sight."

Stephen Tennant was rich,
good looking,

bursts of imagination,
very successful,

he knew everybody,
he was surrounded by a bevy

of Guinness girls
and Bright Young Things,

and that's exactly the world
that Cecil Beaton wanted.

"I became a member
of the Bright Young Things

who did silly things.

Organized treasure hunts,
spoof exhibitions,

and dressed up
for nights on end

in fancy dress costumes."

"Our activities were all done
with zest and originality.

What a rush life had become."

Cecil Beaton,
I should think,

probably photographed
all of them.

Whenever he photographed one,
another one would appear.

I mean, they came in relays,
really, to Sussex Gardens

to be photographed by Cecil.

All those portraits
of Stephen Tennant.

You know, ropes of pearls
and looking in a mirror.

I mean, they are
terribly narcissistic.

The kind of noir quality
to some of those things

that goes back to the decadence
of the 1890s

and Oscar Wilde
and all that sort of thing.

He wanted to be one of them.

Forgetting the formality
and the hierarchy

and the snobbism of the era,

I think just
the basic Bright Young Things

and being with them
would have been amazing.

Just that youth
and that damn elegance.

Part of Beaton's world
of the imagination

obviously was
the dressing up trunk.

The idea of opening this...
this trunk

and pulling out costumes

and becoming
different personalities.

They were traveling
back in time

and having a glorious time
doing it.

Well, I would love to have been
on the bridge with Rex Whistler

and the Jungman sisters,
and, I have to say,

I'd like to insert myself
into that picture.

Beaton was essentially
an outsider

striving to get in.

Stephen Tennant, of course,
was to the manor born,

and Beaton didn't have
an inherited income

and, you know, he had to work
bloody hard for the money

and to keep it all going.

"I often wonder how it was
that none of the beautiful,

eminent, or celebrated
personages I photographed

raised an objection
to being seen upside down

embowered in flowers,

cellophane clouds,

or almost asphyxiating

with their heads under
a Victorian glass dome."

"But, no, it seemed
I could indulge myself

to my heart's content."

The idea of taking silver foil
and putting it up.

I mean, seeing beauty in
something people wrap food in.

It's sort of turning things
on their head

of what they're
not meant to be.

The sitter really became

much less important
than the background

or the whole conception
of the design

that I had made
with the camera.

And yet one very seldom
sees unknown faces

photographed by Beaton.

Was that a conscious policy
to find distinguished sitters?

No, I wouldn't say it was
conscious in that way.

I mean, I've photographed
a lot of friends

who weren't at all well-known.

I think, obviously,
that impression comes

because it was the distinguished
or well-known ones

that got into the newspapers.

And I did have an eye
to publicity.

That was very astonishing
for my father

who was quite baffled at the way
things suddenly moved.

Because very soon
I went to America.

I was confident
that I would really

just take America by storm.

What a marvelous thing
great physical beauty is.

It's nothing less
than a living miracle.

It's not the result
of achievement, skill,

or endeavor.

It's just a divine happening.

"Soon after my arrival
in New York,

I publicly challenged
the standards of beauty

between English
and American women."

For beautiful necks and heads,

England possesses
the prize winners.

There are many whose beauty
should be immortal,

for their alabaster complexions,

their cheeks
like pink ice creams,

the cherry lips,

pansy eyes,
the feathery lashes.

I think to begin with
in my career,

I was terribly limited
in my approach,

and I only could appreciate
certain forms

of character or beauty.

But the English fail badly
about feet and legs.

And here the New Yorkers win,

for their wrists,
their ankles,

their legs,
their movements,

they are perfect
and essential in 1929.

"I fell in love with the new
energy I found in the streets

and quickly began
recording it with my camera."

I think, with experience,
looking around in life,

the photographer
gets to appreciate beauty

in very much wider fields.

There's that old expression,
"Beauty is where you see it."

I think beauty is there
to be recognized

and I think
it's terribly important

for the photographer
to approach the subject

with a very definite
point of view of his own.

Well, it took some time
and it was touch and go

when then suddenly
things went well.

I got a terribly good contract.

Beaton wasn't the first
fashion photographer.

He didn't invent the genre,

but he certainly took it places.

He brought romance,
he brought a sense of style,

he knew how to pose his models,

he knew how to create the mood,

that ineffable magic
he brought to the mix.

He's the best-known
homegrown British photographer

of that period

crossing the Atlantic and
photographs being published

in both American Vogue
and British Vogue

and also French Vogue.

He's so full of energy,

he finds inspiration everywhere.

You look at the Surrealist
photographs from the 1930s,

it's very much about shadow
and forebodingness

or there's something impending.

And I think a lot of that
is actually taken

from some German
Expressionist cinema.

And, of course,
he makes friends with painters,

Tchelitchew, for example,
and Christian Bérard,

the sort
of French Neo-romantics,

he borrows an awful lot
from them as well.

I think that what he brought
to the world of Vogue

was something that no other
contributor brought,

which was not only was he
a great fashion photographer

and a witty illustrator...

...but he was also
a very, very evocative writer.

"Each winter,
I returned to New York

to take photographs
with a passionate enthusiasm.

But I did not feel I had yet
expressed myself completely."

"I still had a gnawing haunting
for the stage."

I was making a little money
with my photographs,

but I didn't deserve
to have even a cottage.

And I was staying
with Edith Olivier,

who was a great friend of mine.

I said to her, "I wonder if
you know of any little place

that just
would be big enough

to put a pot of honeysuckle
on the windowsill."

And she said, "Well,
there's a deserted place

that had a grotto
in the garden."

Grotto, my heavens,
that's just what we wanted.

I mean, a grotto
sounded so Baroque,

so Sitwellian,
so Romantic, so Italian.

So we went over and eventually
we saw this place.

And we walked down
from the top of the downs,

a very deep descent,

and we looked under
this marvelous archway,

which was part
of the building

that had belonged
to the horses and coaches.

"I was almost numbed by my
first encounter with the house.

It was as if I had been touched
on the head by some magic wand.

It was love at first sight."

"From the moment that I stood
under the archway,

I knew that this place
was destined to be mine."

Ashcombe was really
so remote and so romantic

and so mysterious,
it was magical, really.

I was so proud of this
strange wayward place,

that I tried to bring down
from London

as many friends
as I possibly could to see it,

and they all came under
its rather haunted spell.

When you read
about Ashcombe

and when he was
hosting parties there,

I mean, I just don't know

how the guests had even
one minute to breathe.

If you went to Ashcombe
as a guest,

I can imagine that you'd be
crawling out of there

on Sunday night,
unable to even think

because there was
so much going on.

"Ashcombe had become
a much-painted beauty spot.

Many painters, Tchelitchew,
Whistler, Bérard,

and Dalí made drawings
of the place."

"Tchelitchew at first
intimidated me,

but soon cast an almost hypnotic
influence over me."

"Sometimes, in order
to look at the landscape

from a fresh point of view,

I would employ the simple device
I'd learned from him

of gazing upside down
at my panorama.

It is quite astonishing
to discover

how much more clearly
one can see the picture

without preconceived ideas."

"I decided to give
a fête champêtre at Ashcombe.

Drawings were made of costumes
that my friends must wear."

"Before leaving my house
for the first time,

my guests were made to trace
the outlines of their hands

on the walls
of one of my bathrooms.

By degrees, an extraordinary
connection was achieved."

"For me, the years that followed
were the gayest of my life."

"In that time, life took on
a sudden color and warmth."

"Peter Watson.

His acute sensibility,

subtlety of mind,

wry sense of humor,

and mysterious qualities
of charm

made him unlike anyone
I had known."

"I wish I had
some of his gifts."

I read not long ago
about Peter Watson.

Peter Watson
was absolutely shocking.

And for Cecil he was like, "Oh!"

He was like a god, a young god.

He wasn't that young or wasn't
that god or that beautiful,

but for Cecil it seems to me
that he was like that.

"I have never been
in love with women,

and I don't think
I ever shall be

in the way that I have
been in love with men.

I'm really a terrible,
terrible homosexualist

and try so hard not to be."

The Peter Watson love affair
was very, very troubled.

Peter Watson kept him
very close to him,

but on a sort
of like no-touch basis,

so Cecil Beaton
was kind of like feeling

all the frustrations
of the rejected lover.

What does Peter Watson do?

He goes off with Oliver Messel,

under Cecil's own roof.

"Oliver Messel was my friend
and my rival."

"We had shared lovers,
though I am bound to admit,

I did not do well
in the race."

"There are no regrets in my
amorous friendship with Peter.

I am sad that it was never
a mutual love affair."

"My next stop
was the celluloid oasis.

At this time, all the Hollywood
studios were a buzzing hive.

Not only was this the center
of motion pictures,

but the talkies
had just been invented.

It was a time
when Hollywood was alive."

Then when he went to Hollywood
in the '30s,

he captures Hollywood

and American elegance
like no one.

He managed to make it more
American and chic at the time.

Come on, that picture of
Gary Cooper is beautiful.

"To watch the antics of this
lanky lad in Hollywood

was like watching
and enjoying

the obvious discomfort
of a caged eagle."

I don't think anybody has really
captured the 20th century

in many, many decades
like he has.

"My Hollywood photographs
were widely published

and had a great influence
in the film capital."

"Meanwhile, the unexpected
in all its forms

is always lurking."

"It can strike
at any moment."

He was often asked to illustrate
articles in Vogue.

Into this particular article,

he introduced
some very unpleasant

anti-Semitic slogans,

in particular the word "kike."

But very, very small,
and you'd really need

a magnifying glass
to see what he had written.

Condé Nast,
the proprietor of Vogue,

has to order the pulping
of 130,000 copies

of the magazine.

"Condé was very
emotionally upset.

It was so serious
that I had to resign."

It's very hard to understand
what he was thinking,

'cause half his friends
in New York were Jewish,

and American Vogue
was run by Jewish people.

I mean, it was
an extraordinary thing to do.

"Why did I do that?

I was baffled.

I can only tell you
how deeply sorry I am.

It was done unconsciously.

I am not anti-Jewish

and I am violently hostile
to Hitler."

Why did he do it?

The incident was caused by
thoughtlessness, arrogance,

and misunderstanding of
the gravity of the situation.

And generally just
getting above himself.

And down he went.

And he didn't really work for
a year and a half after that.

It was a wake up moment for him.

He worked very hard
to overcome it,

but it was something
that he didn't forget.

He had some amends to make.


"In July 1939,
the telephone rang.

'This is the lady in waiting

The Queen wants to know
if you will photograph her

tomorrow afternoon.'"

"At first I thought
it might be a practical joke,

the sort of thing
Oliver Messel might do."

"But it was no joke.

My pleasure and excitement
were overwhelming.

Another lease of life
extended to me

in my photographic career."

"I decided that of all painters,

the most suitable to express
the Queen's personality

would have been Renoir."

"But there was no Renoir
and I was to face my job

that afternoon
with a camera."

"When I entered the gates
of Buckingham Palace

for the first time,

on my way to photograph that
ravishing and wonderful person,

Queen Elizabeth,
I thought,

'How did I get here?'"

That very first sitting
that Beaton had

with Queen Elizabeth
as she was then,

later the Queen Mother,
was in 1939.

And in his diary
he writes about the fact

that he's expecting the sitting
to last 20 minutes or so.

And, in fact,
he spent a full three hours

at Buckingham Palace
in many of the state rooms,

out in the garden taking
those incredibly romantic,

beautiful pictures of the Queen
with a parasol.

So it was an immediate rapport
that he struck up with the Queen

that then led to so many
subsequent sittings

with her family
and her children.

Beaton photographed
nearly 30 members

of the British royal family,

including the Duke
and Duchess of Windsor.

Beaton's images
of the couple together

helped to promote that idea
of a royal love story

and the king who abdicated
for the woman who he adored.

"Wallis Simpson, the lady who
became the Duchess of Windsor,

was one of my
most frequent subjects."

"For those who enjoy gossip,

she was a particular treat."

I think it's an
extraordinary testament

to his strength of character
that he was able to,

on one hand, photograph
the marriage of Wallis Simpson

to the Duke of Windsor,

and also to then take
photographs of Queen Elizabeth

and her husband,
the reigning king.

These are two sides
of the family

that absolutely
despised each other,

and Beaton
successfully manages

to keep in
with both factions.

"The afternoon light
began to fade,

and the Queen, with all
the wistful symbolism

of a Chekhov character, said,

'You watch, Mr. Beaton,

in a little while the sky
will be rose-colored.

I sometimes think Piccadilly
is on fire every evening.'

Her words, alas,
were only too prophetic."


"The Blitz began in 1940.

For months, London
was terribly bombed.

Once more, I was faced with
my old vocational vertigo.

It was clear that in anything
connected with soldiering,

I would be a real sad sack.

But I wanted to be useful."

"I went down to the city
to photograph the damage done

by Sunday night's raid."

The Minister of Information
was desperate

for international understanding
and support,

particularly from America.

Cecil Beaton's unique style
of photography,

it was felt,
would catch the eye.

It was different to
the normal press photography.

They regularly used
five photographers,

and Beaton
is the most celebrated.

He still felt
that sense of shame

for what he had done in 1938
with American Vogue.

He genuinely did long
for redemption.

And it's really
only the war years

that sort of save
his reputation

'cause he does go
out of his way to be

an extraordinary
documentary photographer

from 1939 onwards.

During the war, Cecil Beaton
took over 7,000 photographs.

He published eight books.

Writing for innumerable
magazine features

and articles,

as well as drawing for them.

That began to open the door
for Beaton to make a return,

and it certainly made American
Vogue and British Vogue

think that maybe
they ought to think again

about employing him.

I treated it always
in a sort of visual way.

I think it was
a marvelous opportunity

for me to be dug out
of my little rut.

"I went to most
of the theaters of war.

I went to Burma
and China and Egypt."

"I remember
a most extraordinary sight

when a whole lot of tanks
had been blown up

and left there,

and these strange
circular objects

were half-buried
in the sand.

They just remained looking
like a Surrealist picture."

So different from
conventional war photography

because he's an aesthete

and he's looking
for beautiful things,

even in extremis
and despair and hardship.

Which is very, very powerful
and enduringly so, I think,

it's just this idea that,
you know,

culture and beauty
is going to survive

whatever they throw at us.

I think his sexuality
is extremely important

in those photographs, because
the portrayals of, you know,

the airmen and the soldiers
and the sailors

are very, very loving

and sometimes eroticized and...

...and I think that's also
something that you don't get

with conventional
war photography.


"In the hangars of an aerodrome,

I found more thrilling sets

than in the Hollywood studios."

"In the hospitals, there are
characters and personalities

to be seen,

more vivid than
in any stage drama."

"With her little head bandaged,

Eileen Dunne was in bed

with wild, staring eyes
and a gray face

and clutching a gray toy.

Perhaps all that remained
of her former life."

Becomes the cover
of Life magazine.

You know, and it really does
help persuade American opinion

in favor of helping out Europe.

Beaton worked
extraordinarily hard

and often fell ill.

He traveled
in great discomfort.

He was in a very serious
airplane crash.

Before that he was like
a sugared almond,

a sort of pretty little sweet,

and then the inside of him
he was like a hard nut.

And he just got on a plane,

the plane crashed,

he got out of that plane
and got on the next one,

kept going, I mean,
that's an incredible...

for that sort of foppish dandy,
that fondant piece of icing,

he actually had
a very hard interior.

Have you ever,
at any stage in your life,

had to do something which was
really too difficult for you?

Oh, I'm always
having to do things

which are
too difficult for me,

and I think that that is
the thing that keeps me going.

I'm perfectly willing
to take on any job

that I think may help
make me a little better

as a human being.

"Pelham Place,
my home in London,

was no longer habitable.

The street
was roped off

with an unexploded bomb
in the vicinity.

So I was
particularly blessed

to have Ashcombe
as a retreat.

It became, more than ever,
a refuge."

When the time came,

for me to go
and see my landlord

and to hear that he wanted
to take over the place,

I... I just couldn't believe it.

It was like a death knell.

I couldn't imagine
that I would be expelled

from this loveliness
that I had made my own.

"I've been going through
all the old boxes."

"The past comes alive
with shocking vividness."

"Some of the letters
and documents make me sad.

Some almost stop
my heart beating.

The telegram announcing
my father's death."

"A piece of paper
left on the hall table

indicating that my brother,
Reggie, was out.

He would never come back
to write that he was in."

"The evening that Reggie was
killed by an underground train,

I felt unmoved."

"His suicide was the crowning
blow to my father's life.

I thought,

'Dear Daddy, what a
nightmare ordeal for you.'"

"'Reggie was your favorite son.

You'd been such friends.'"

"I'm thinking now
of all the days

Reggie and I
spent together.

We grew up in great intimacy,

fighting a lot
but really devoted.

I feel full
of regret and guilt

for having been so selfish."

His mother was very much
his responsibility

after the father died.

He was very protective
of his mother

and very devoted to her.

Wherever he lived,
she always had her own room

and she was part
of the scenery.

"Since I was thrown out
of Ashcombe,

I have found a small house
in the country

to take its place.

Of course,
Reddish House did not possess

the wayward romantic
remoteness of Ashcombe.

This was the abode
of an adult person.

Is it because it is my own
that I love it so much?"

He not only grew up

and began to value things
in life beyond himself,

but it was also
the point at which

his life
changed direction,

which was less photography
and more about stage design.

After the war, when he did
that famous production

of the Wilde play
Lady Windermere ' s Fan,

I mean, that gave a glamour
after 1945,

after the dreadful, dull, gray,

bleak, ruined, shitty
kind of atmosphere.

Post 1945,
suddenly to see this vision

of Edwardian grandeur,

I mean, we needed that.

"It was Diaghilev
who set me on the track

of designing for the theater
and the ballet."

"He was neither a dancer,
a painter,

a choreographer,
nor a musician,

but he had the vision,

the taste,

the knowledge to embrace
all these things."

Cecil Beaton was inspired by

the two great Russian icons
of ballet

who came from
the same generation

and were totally opposed
to each other...

Anna Pavlova
and Serge Diaghilev.

Ballet people talk about
the word "perfume,"

and Anna Pavlova was
the ultimate perfume ballerina.

She would leave essences
of herself,

and had a wonderful quality
of upper body acting,

so people thought
she was like a flame.

The ballet I wish we could see

is the original version
of Apparitions.

Just see these extraordinary
splashes of color

where the whole
corps de ballet,

one section's wearing
purple and lilac,

one section's wearing scarlet,

and that gives us such an idea
of pure beauty.

I don't think Cecil Beaton
was like

anybody else
in the world of dance

because he was a photographer
and he was a designer.

I can't really think of people
who did those two things.

But he was, you know, he was
a personality and opinion,

and he was like all these
post-Diaghilev people,

he was a dandy.

Everything about him was style.

The way he dressed,
the way the table was laid.

The flowers in the house.

All those little details
of a kind of dandy.

It goes far beyond clothes.

It's an attitude,
and in his case

the way he documented
the world around him.

Do you think you were,
when you were younger,

abnormally self-conscious
about your appearance?

- Oh yes.
- Are you still so?

Luckily, no.

I've got rid of the past
except for this hat.

This hat I wear because
I think it has a certain...

Edwardian bravura,

and also it hides the fact
that I'm going bald.

And I don't like to exhibit
myself quite bald, you know.

Cecil had an aura about him
that really drew you in.

He was extremely stylish,

but he looked totally unlike
anybody else.

He's both very vain

and very modest
at the same time.

He has a kind of social vanity,

which is amusing and unique,
and I like it,

and it's part of his charm.

Am I vain?

Oh no, anything but vain.

I'm my worst critic.

I've got this strange feeling
about vanity.

I think vanity's
when you think you're perfect.

And Cecil didn't think
he was perfect

and tried to improve himself.

But he was hugely critical.

I think he thought some people
didn't rise to his standards.

Who is the most beautiful woman
you've ever photographed?

Uh, I suppose Garbo.

"I am obsessed by her.

The moment I wake
in the morning,

I start to think about her,

and so it goes on all day,

and then in my dreams
at night."

Don't speak.

Miss Garbo, I always wanted
to photograph her,

but she was very averse
to the idea

until suddenly one day,
fate played into my lap

and she said,

"If only you weren't such a
grand and elegant photographer."

So I said, "I suppose
then you'd ask me

to take a passport photograph,
wouldn't you?"

She said, "How did you know?"


Well, the pictures I took

weren't very suitable
for passport.

They were
the most beautiful pictures,

those pictures of Garbo,

and they were loving,

you could feel that
he just adored her, right,

more than other subjects.

These pictures of her
kind of sprawled out on a couch

wearing a turtleneck
and this amazing bracelet.

"She put a penciled line

on the back of those
of which she approved,

and would allow me to publish
one of them in Vogue."

"A week before the magazine
was to be in all the bookstores,

Greta sent me a cable

saying that if more than one of
the photographs were to appear,

I would never be forgiven."

"Frantic calls to my friends
at Vogue, 'Stop everything!'

It was too late,
the copies were already bound

and on their way
throughout the country."

"Through a complete

it was now impossible
to prevent her

from feeling
completely betrayed."

"My abject cables, letters,
telephone calls,

and flowers sent to her
were unanswered."

There was a self-destructive
thing there,

not in terms of his career

or what he was doing
as an artist,

much more about the destruction
of relationships, you know?

This compulsion to make things
all the time

is what drives your life,

and you sacrifice
almost everything

on the altar of that.

Beaton is a creative force,

and it's about creating
this illusory world

that the viewer is invited
to step into.

The idea of the scrapbook,
the collage, is pure Beaton.

"So I have now 150 diaries
and 97 scrapbooks,

memorials of
many violated magazines,

repositories of
museum picture postcards,

theatrical programs,
letters, and photographs

which I have accumulated
since childhood."

"If I could bring one thing
to a deserted island,

I would choose
one of my scrapbooks,

because they're full of pictures

of people still alive
in my memory."

"Finally, after six months,

Greta called and left word
with my secretary

that she would visit me
that afternoon."

"My heart started to thump
so violently,

it was almost alarming."

Yes, I think there was some
hanky panky with Greta Garbo.

Something happened,
I don't know what.

It might have just been
a rather...

awkward fumble on the sofa
or something,

I don't know,
but something happened.

He thought he could turn Garbo,

and I think Garbo hoped
she could turn him.

But I'm told actually
Cecil was quite good in bed

with girls.

"I had known that
we were made for each other."

"I asked,
'Why don't you marry me?'"

"I never asked anyone
to marry me,

and yet to make this proposal

seemed the most natural
and easy thing to do."

"But Greta looked
completely astounded."

Garbo, to some extent,
may well have been a lesbian,

but she also had quite a lot
of relationships with men.

The problem certainly about him
sort of settling down

into one of
those cozy partnerships

was unlikely to work
really very well

because there was always

some incredibly tempting
lighted candle somewhere

which was more appealing.

He had this vision
of what he wanted to be,

and he was always in a hurry.

"Anything for the uprise,"
as he once put it.

He was very, very keen
to move in good social circles.

He loved that royalty thing.

I suppose if you looked
at it one way,

it could be kind of endearing

that he was so taken in
by all that stuff,

and, uh, and I think
'cause of his background,

he wanted to be part of
that group of people.

If a person had a crown
on his head,

he liked them much more.

He was a terrible
social climber.

"The call saying the Queen
wanted me to do

her personal coronation

comes as an enormous relief."

By the time of the Queen's
coronation in 1953,

Beaton was already world famous.

He attended Westminster Abbey
for the ceremony itself.

He was seated very high up
in the abbey,

up near the organ pipes,

and he had his top hat
stuffed full of sandwiches

and drawing materials.

And he recorded,
in very simple black sketches,

the goings on in the abbey
as they unfolded before him.

Long live the Queen!

Long live
the Queen!

When you look at those pictures
of the Queen,

particularly the color images,

there's a real glow about her,

there's a sense that she's
almost radiating light.

The image he created
of the monarchy

was absolutely crucial,

and his ability to create

this seemingly magnificent,
unfolding tale

of romance and glamour
was so important

to inspire the nation.


I don't know if he ever
became an insider himself,

because I think
that he always saw himself

as beneath his subjects,
especially the royal family.

He just felt so privileged
to be near them

in the same room, you know?

And I always found that
a little sad.

But he's English,
so he knows his place.

The British class system
is a very, very interesting

and strange animal.

If you were born
outside that world,

that was just it,

and you could be, you know,
a court jester,

and you could be
a sort of entertainer

and a recorder of it,

but you were never going to be
inside that world.

Underneath it I think there was
always an insecure person.

You know,
he was never, ever confident

that people were accepting him.

That's also a driving force.

He published about 38 books
in his lifetime.

Some of them obviously
were very visual,

some of them were
more like diaries.

I think there are
photographers and stylists

and certainly designers

who have referenced Beaton
heavily through the years.

That incredible book,
The Glass of Fashion,

changed my life.

He's able to do
these incredible drawings,

and it's great writing.

I was 18 and I got a job
as an archivist

in the Vogue Beaton archive.

It was my job
to look at the negatives,

hold them up to a light

and try and choreograph them

to the Beaton pictures
on the page in the magazine.

Of course it rubbed off on me.

I think it was Beaton's romance
that attracted me.

Human beings feed off
escapism and fantasy

in a reaction
to the harshness of reality.

I think there's a sort of
nobility to fantasy

for that reason.

He opened my eyes
to photography,

and I then realized

there are some
good portrait photographers.

Beaton used the camera
in a very particular way.

Really what mattered to him
was always the subject.

Seizing, freezing, holding
that beauty, that glamour,

that idea.

Creating this Beaton universe.

It's not the world
as he found it,

it's the world
as he transformed it,

as he wished it to be.

One of the greatest

to the quality of Gigi

is the fact that the producer
hired Cecil Beaton

to do everything visual
in the film.

Can you imagine what that was
like for Cecil Beaton?

Going to a soundstage
where you could just create

absolutely anything,
carte blanche.

That's like a fantasy,

that's like being in
the biggest space in the world

and someone saying, like,
"Just create your own reality."

Hello, Grandmama.

Gigi, where have you been?

- Playing in the park.
- Armenonville.

A lot of the picture
was shot in Paris,

and then we went back
to Hollywood

just for the interiors.

It was the first time that
I've ever worked as a designer

in a major Hollywood studio.

You can ask the impossible
and it suddenly appears.


Look, Gaston.

Four yards of material
in the skirt.

Cecil didn't miss a minute.

He was there every day
from seven o'clock on.

And then while we were shooting,
he would take pictures.

"More than anyone else,

Leslie Caron poses
the question,

'What makes a face photogenic?'

In life and onstage,

we see a delightful
little frog."

"In the twinkling
of a flashbulb,

we see a photograph
of a beauty."

Beaton entered into my realm
subliminally when I was a kid.

I think that, of the films
that I love of Beaton's,

the one that I love the most
is My Fair Lady.

When they came to me
with My Fair Lady,

I just knew that
I'd really got something

that I'd always
been wishing for.

It was really a question

of delving down into the...
my youth, into my childhood,

into my adolescence.

My mother took me to see
My Fair Lady,

and I remember the credits
coming up.

I also remember thinking that
he'd got it all horribly wrong

by giving the Ascot ladies

that... those kind of early
sixties Cleopatra winged eyes.

♪ Pulses ♪

♪ Rushing ♪

♪ Faces ♪

♪ Flushing ♪

And I could already see
that that was entirely un-1912.

♪ I have never been
so keyed up ♪

So I was a little bit tut tutty
about the whole thing.

But I...

which is a little bit scary

considering I was seven
or eight, I think.

Um, but of course
I later came to realize

that as an ensemble,
it was quite remarkable.

♪ The rain in Spain stays
mainly in the plain ♪

♪ I think she's got it ♪

♪ I think
she's got it ♪

♪ The rain in Spain stays
mainly in the plain ♪

You could argue that
after Eliza Doolittle

learns how to speak properly,

Cecil carries the rest
of the film completely.

And it's all visual,
really, after that.

On top of being a photographer,
on top of being a writer,

he was a painter.

And that color sense
that Beaton had was marvelous.

For me, if you get the color
right, you have it.

The one production that one
tends to associate with you

above all others is
My Fair Lady,

both the play and the film,

which won you, I think,
two Oscars.

I got the impression that when
it came to doing the film,

you were less happy
in Hollywood.

I loved the preparation.

I thought that was
the most exciting thing

because I was rethinking
the whole production.

But unfortunately,
once we started shooting,

I felt disappointed

with certain personal aspects
of the whole set up.

He was quite wound up
over in Los Angeles,

'cause he hated it.

"Oh, that terrible
George Cukor.

Such a nightmare."

I gather that you really
didn't get on very well

with Cecil Beaton.

No, I didn't.

Would you like
to expand on that?

No, no, it's a boring subject.

I'm sure he's bored with it,
and so am I.

No, no.

- But...
- Except he did pick my pockets.

And he attempted
to strangle me,

and he's a forger
and everything.

No, no, it just...
we just didn't get on very well.

And I was right.

"I really suffocated
in Hollywood."

"It is ugly beyond belief,

and there were very few people

with whom I could speak
the same language."

"It is two years
since that night

when at that strange locale,
among the black leather toughs,

one very beautiful fawnlike
creature in olive green

smiled the sweetest,
most tender of smiles at me."

I think Cecil was very much
in love with Kin Hoitsma.

He was like a schoolgirl
with Kin.

He was all...
I remember in the pool,

and Kin would sort of
pick up Cecil in his arms,

and Cecil, "Yeah," like that.

I mean, he was so
sort of girly with Kin.

"He was a continuous delight
to the eye,

full of laughter,

enchantingly young
and coltish,

and ceaselessly beautiful.

He was my most prized

I don't think that Kin brought
out the best in Cecil Beaton.

At that point,
Cecil was experimenting

with a whole new generation,
a whole new life.

He must have felt
that this gave him

a sort of
a great youthful boost,

but that's not a very good basis
for a long-term relationship.

"Kin's exit was as if
to an execution."

"I like to think it was
as bad a moment for him

as it was for me."

"I went back to bed,

not to sleep
but to moan at my loss

and to feel desperately sad."

I think he always wanted
to have a longstanding romance,

and it never really worked.

I mean, the... he really was
in love with Peter Watson

all his life, I think.

Kin was not unlike Peter Watson
in a funny way.

Same sort of look.

Cecil Beaton seems
to have had a knack

of being a pretty bad chooser,

and maybe we see a little thread
going through all this

that perhaps, you know,

he didn't really want
to settle down with any of them.

Cecil Beaton, I suppose,

was basically homosexual
without a doubt,

but he always realized that he
was on the outside of society.

Cecil was definitely gay

in a time when it was
against the law.

He did have a physical life,

but it was very behind
closed doors.

He had one
regular black gentleman

that he used to visit
quite frequently.

But he was very discreet
about it.

I think he was genuinely curious
about other people,

and felt inspired
by great artists.

He saw himself
in that sort of constellation

of great creative people.

You didn't have
to be madly beautiful

to appeal to Cecil Beaton.

What he liked was people
who expressed themselves.

But he was a very good friend
to his friends,

and his friends were
very, very loyal to him.

From the beginning,
I've known him all my life,

he's a friend of a lifetime,

he always wanted
a very good life,

and he realized there's
only one very good life,

and that's the life
that you know you want

and you make it yourself.

That's what he's done.

Don't you think?

Yes, well,
he's a total self-creation.

- Mm, total.
- There are very few people

in the world that are
total self-creations,

and he certainly is one.

You see, what I like
about Cecil,

he's got a great deal
of the outrageous in him.

He likes all the limits,
doesn't he?

Well, he certainly goes
to extremes.

- Yes.
- He can be extremely kind

or extremely rude.

He can be the rudest person
I've ever known.

Yes, and he picks his enemies
beautifully, doesn't he?

Mm? He knows what he's doing
when he's doing those things.

I wonder, though, really,

I mean,
he certainly gathers enemies

like other people gather roses.

- That's right.
- I'm not so sure

that he picks them well.

But he's very positive,
he's not a negative person.

He loves, it's very easy
for him to love.

Well, he positively loves you
or he positively hates you.

Are there any close friends
from either school or Cambridge

that you've carried right
the way through with you

and are still
close friends today?


Um, enemies?


No names, I suppose,

Uh, I don't mind
giving a few names

- if you want.
- Tell me a few names

of friends and enemies

who've been with you
all the time.

Well, um...

Evelyn Waugh, uh, is my enemy.

We dislike one another

He thinks that
I'm a nasty piece of goods,

and, oh, brother,
I feel the same way about him.

"As for Noël Coward,

I admire everything
about his work.

Why then have I hated him?"

"Perhaps I was envious
of the success of his career."

"I've always despised
the Burtons

for their vulgarity,

and crass bad taste.

Richard Burton is
as butch and coarse

as only a Welshman can be."

"Elizabeth Taylor is
everything I dislike,

combining the worst of
American and English taste."

"Katharine Hepburn's appearance
is appalling.

A freckled, burned, mottled,
bleached, and wizened piece

of decaying matter.

She has no generosity,
no heart, no grace.

She's a dried up boot."

Oh, yes, I can hate.

I can hate unreasonably.

I mean,
I'm very conscious of that.

And then a lot of the time
I feel,

well, I'm only doing it
just for a gag,

that I really don't hate
this person,

that it's just a sort of game

I'm playing with myself
about them,

but clearly they're not too bad.

But I take a line about
certain people and stick to it.

I think he could be
very disapproving.

You'd suddenly see
a little flash of...


There's a way the English have
of being rude in a nice way

where you actually quite like
them being rude to you.

And Cecil didn't have that
rudeness, he just had rudeness.


I actually really loved Cecil.

I had a huge soft spot
for him.

I think that was something
to do with his melancholy side.

He never gave the impression
of being a happy person,

although he had a lot of humor

and he was... he engaged with
people very, very easily.

I think that probably love,
or the lack of love,

was an enormous part
of his life.

Maybe he didn't open his heart
very much.

He was very hard to read,

and I think like probably

most interesting people
in the world,

he was just this sort of
mass of contradictions.

Let's face it,
he was two faced.

I remember one weekend
I was staying with Cecil Beaton

and he spotted this woman
outside the door and he said,

"Oh, it's that fucking woman!"

Opening the door,
"Mary, darling,

it's so wonderful to see you."

That got him in one.

Supposing you had to judge
yourself from your diaries,

what sort of man do you think
you'd find there?

Were you a bit shocked
when you looked back

on the early ones?

Um, I really looked upon them
from a technical point of view.

I came across this hoard
and I started reading them,

and I was appalled by the person
that was revealed there.

But suddenly,
there would be a little patch

that I thought had
great vitality,

that still seemed to...

be valid,

and so I collected them

And even if I came out of them
in a pretty unbecoming light,

and I thought
they were interesting,

then I let them go in.

Of course the most notorious
example of that

was when he published
his diaries

about the affair
with Greta Garbo,

because he thought it was a very
important part of his life

and it couldn't be ignored.

Well, she was
a very, very private person,

and that did not go down well
either with her

or with a great number
of other people

who considered that he had not
behaved like a gentleman.

I do find that my opinion
changes very much

as time goes by,

and I'm always
sort of reconsidering,

and I think perhaps
I've been much too outspoken

on rather trivial subjects.

That's marvelous, Penelope,
just like that.

Good, your fingers straighter.

And head a bit higher.

That's right, now then
will you follow me?

I want you to look ecstatic,
you must be inspired.

Don't smile, no, very serious.


Jolly good,
jolly well done.

I think you're absolutely super.

I was with David Bailey when
he decided to do a documentary

on Cecil Beaton.


You know, I didn't like him,

He was such a snob.

But I thought he was
a great photographer

and a great designer.

That's absolutely marvelous.

- Precioso.
- Oh...

Cecil was very patient
with Bailey,

but I think that Beaton
absolutely loathed Bailey.

- All right?
- No.

In a way, you have to sort of
get the person in the film

when you're making a film
about them.

- Thank you.
- Good, and walk towards me.

- Walk towards you?
- Yeah.

Drag them in, in a way,
even if you have to annoy them.

- Good.
- That's right.

"Bailey, your film
is entertaining

and is of good value.

But it is not a good film.

It is inconclusive
and superficial."

Well, I got him then, didn't I?


Right on the head, maybe
it's too close to home, Cecil,

if you're listening up there
with God,

decorating His front room.

A lot of people just dismissed,

you know,
younger successful people

as being flash in the pans
or pop culture,

but Cecil, you know,
he knew what talent was,

and he... you know,
he followed that.

He was photographing
the great modern artists

of the post-war years.

Bacon and Freud
and Gilbert & George.

Well, he loved anything,
anything new.

Loved youth.

Good, uh, just lean forward
like that awful advertisement,

"Your cigarette, sir."

He came in
the Royal College of Art

when I was a student.

I knew he was an old queen.

I knew a few things about him.

Then he told me
he wanted to buy this painting.

He offered me 40 pounds for it,

which I'd never had 40 pounds
for a painting before.

And so I used that money to come
to America the first time, yeah.

Look out of the false window.

"It staggers me
how this young man

can be so at home in the world.

He has the golden quality
of being able to enjoy life."


"He is never blasé,

never takes anything
for granted.

Life is a delightful
wonderland for him."

And then just look at me.
That's right.

I mean, I did get to know him
quite well.

I had to sketch him for Vogue,

and he photographed me.

So the drawings
took a long time.

I remember if he liked
the drawing, I didn't.

If I liked the drawing,
he didn't.

He never really rested.

I don't see how
he did everything

and went out every night.

It's extraordinary
how much he got done.

"I have always complimented
myself on my stamina,

and can wear out
even my younger friends

when it comes to work or play."

"I can still think of myself

as a rather appealing
bright young thing."

Look at Hockney,
you see he's giggling away.

I love his green shirt.

I went to Cecil's parties.

Get him out of here.

I mean,
I met all kinds of people there.

I met Vivien Leigh there,

Laurence Olivier,

loads of film people.

That's where I met Mick Jagger,
at Cecil Beaton's.

I first met Cecil Beaton
in part of Morocco

which was little known then.

I was walking in the medina
one day

and I saw this beautiful figure
clad all in a white suit

and a beautiful fedora hat.

It was very nice.

Take some nice pictures.

"Mick Jagger is sexy,

yet completely sexless.

He is beautiful and ugly,

feminine and masculine.

A rare phenomenon."

Cecil Beaton had a knack

of always being in the right
place at the right time.

You know, he wasn't having
a siesta in the hotel

when the Rolling Stones
came by,

he was out there
and he saw them

and he took their pictures
by the pool.

Terribly good of Andy Warhol.

I like that one the most.

He continually embraced
what was exciting and new

and modern and happening
and of the moment

and up to the minute and with it
and swinging and hip.


The mind boggles to think
what he could have made

of today's internet,
Instagram, selfie world.

I'd love to see a Beaton
portrait of Kim Kardashian,

and I'd particularly like
to read the diary entry.

"I come down to the country
by the earliest train possible."

"The landscape is
everything I love,

with dry grasses
in the hedges

and all the cottage gardens

When you found
the real Cecil,

it was delightful.

The real Cecil would come out
when he was home at Reddish,

in the garden with
his old garden clothes on.

He was happy.

There was no grandeur.

He really was himself,

which was very nice to see.

Here's my little cat.

He likes very much staying
in the herbaceous border.

I wonder if I might be able
to get you.

Come on, Timothy, yeah.

Oh, I'm so pleased to see
a nice cat.

Timothy White.

Timothy White.

I have no plans
for settling down at all.

I think my idea of
a peaceful old age

is continuing to experiment
and develop

and tackle each new hurdle
as it comes along.

National Portrait Gallery

is paying an unprecedented
compliment to Cecil Beaton

with an exhibition of 700
of his portrait photographs.

It was a landmark show.

It put Beaton
back in the limelight.

It put
the National Portrait Gallery,

up until then thought of as
the dowdiest gallery in London,

at the height
of glamour and excitement.

And no national collection
had ever staged

an exhibition of
a living photographer.

So it put photography
on the map as never before.

"Barbra Streisand.

She has star quality.

She's a natural.

She is above all else

Her brain works so clearly,
so healthily,

she could be a lawyer."

Would you have liked your life
all to be different?

Very different, yes.

I think that I wish that
I were able to dig down deeper.

I think that
I relied on my instinct

and tried to perfect
my inner sense of reality,

but I don't think
that I have made

an intellectual enough approach

to my work and my life.

And the winner is Cecil Beaton
for Coco.


This is simply spiffy.


I'm very lucky to get this.

I'm lucky because
I don't think any other designer

has ever had such a marvelous
inspiration to work to

as Mademoiselle Coco Chanel.

Beaton's relationship
with the V&A Museum

began when he was invited
to stage an exhibition

called Fashion: An Anthology.

It was a huge success.

It was wildly popular.

And it included garments
and clothing

from virtually everyone
Cecil Beaton knew.

Cecil got a CBE in 1957.

That's Companion of the Order
of the British Empire.

And for a long time
he wasn't knighted.

But what he actually said when
he did get knighted finally

in 1972 was,

"Oh, it's practically

Good, and the hands, give it
a little more sort of...

"As the years pass,

I have found that I must work
harder than ever I did before."

It's good, it's very nice.

"The whole problem of the future
is one of anxiety."


After a very intense
working career,

Beaton suffered his stroke.

He was greatly debilitated.

He was paralyzed
down his right side

and he never really got the use
of his right hand back.

Worst of all perhaps for him

is that he lost
his particular elegance,

and that he resented very much,

and he was
very, very, very depressed.

"It is awful how easily I weep.

Why have I not
any self control?"

"Suddenly I realized
I was appalled

by the sadness of life."

"I was weeping
for my own lost youth,

and I was weeping for
the dead people I had loved.

My mother and my brother

and all who had been
part of my childhood."

"Why should I feel sad
about the passing of so much

rather than gratitude that so
much has been fitted into life?"

He was on this endless quest
for something,

not immortality

but to achieve something
that he was proud of.

But I feel in some kind of way

that none of the things he did
really satisfied him.

I don't think he thought
that he really...

was all he could have been.

He was so much more interesting
and so much more curious,

and so much more complex
as a person.

But I think that complexity
he had is what artists have.

It's not... it's not
for the ordinary.

He gave up writing diaries

when he had this bad stroke
in 1974,

but there was actually
a post-stroke diary as well,

because when I went to see Cecil
and Eileen, his secretary,

they told me that they'd had
this terrible drama

because the cat, Timothy,
after 17 years

had had to be put to sleep.

And when I actually got my hands
on the diary,

the last thing Cecil Beaton
ever wrote was,

"So Timothy has passed through
to oblivion.

Is he perhaps the lucky one?"

And exactly a week later,

he himself got flustered
in the night

and out he went.

Cecil Beaton died
at Reddish House

on the 18th of January 1980.

There were three photographs
in his room when he died.

One was of Peter Watson,
one was of Kin Hoitsma,

and one was of Greta Garbo.

Those were the three people
that he considered

the great loves of his life.

I was sad for him

because I know
he would have hated dying.

He loved life too much,

and it would... he would have felt
he was missing something

by being dead.

His life was about
living for the wondrous,

living for beauty,

rejecting the banal,
rejecting the commonplace,

and believing
that you can create a life,

you can create a personality,
you can create a world

for yourself
and those around you.

No one has had the ability
to wave the wand

and scatter the magic
over somebody like Cecil Beaton.

He was uniquely connected
to so many different worlds,

and it's always fascinating
having his perspective.

The pointed observation that
someone else might have missed.

It's very interesting to get
the unvarnished truth sometimes.

And I think he could always
be relied upon to furnish that,

you know, even in
his most private writings.

"If I knew anyone
had read this,

I'd almost go mad."

"And yet I feel
I had to write it."

I have digressed in life.

But what if one
doesn't want to specialize?"

"Be daring."

"Be different."

"Be impractical."

"Be anything that will assert
integrity of purpose

and imaginative vision
against the play-it-safers,

the slaves of the ordinary."

"What if one is a dreamer?"

Subtitles by explosiveskull