Although a stalwart of the St. Ives art world through the 1950’s and ‘60’s, Michael Seward Snow is today not so well-known as his fellow artists who settled in Cornwall, such as John Wells, Bryan Wynter or Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. Yet, with his love of poetry and painting, Snow’s aesthetic embodies the vibrant connection that existed between literature and the visual arts in St. Ives. He was multi-talented; writer, painter, sculptor, tutor and occasional photographer. Snow’s photographs of his friend, the poet William Sydney Graham, are in the National Portrait Gallery. Along with his second wife Margaret Lambert, he edited Night Fisherman: Selected letters of W. S. Graham, a testament to the writer whose work celebrates both the Cornish landscape and the artists inspired by its rocky coastline. The son of a schoolteacher, Michael Snow was born in Manchester in 1930, and attended the Lawrence Sheriff School in Rugby, where he developed an interest in art and poetry. He worked for some years as a librarian, painting in his spare time. In 1951, after visiting Liverpool and seeing an exhibition of contemporary art from St. Ives, he and his first wife Sylvia Jarrett, and their friend Alexander Mackenzie, decided to settle in Cornwall. A graduate of Liverpool College of Art, Mackenzie was one of the early influences on Snow’s development as an artist.
Largely self-taught, Snow was a generation younger than Terry Frost, Barns-Graham and Ben Nicholson, and was receptive to the new ideas expressed in their work. In his own art, he sought to emulate their approach to abstraction, and in paintings such as Sea Cliffs – West Penwith created a visual translation of the rhythmic motion of waves and the ragged line of Cornish clifftops. Other abstract works, such as Earth Slip and Triad 2, evoke the sea-rounded stones on the shores below those cliffs. He fitted in well with the St. Ives art scene, was elected a member of the Penwith Society in 1953 and became its secretary the following year. A talented artist and a fine colourist, he was more literal in his approach to abstraction than Ben Nicholson or Patrick Heron, and his paintings do not have the same hard-won abstract visual language that characterises the work of Peter Lanyon, but nevertheless he produced fine paintings, with an instinctive sense of form and colour.
In 1956, Snow and his wife divorced, with Sylvia then marrying their mutual friend, the poet Robin Skelton. In a neat and amicable reciprocation, Margaret Lambert, Skelton’s partner, then married Snow. The following year Snow and Skelton were in Manchester, where, along with John Anthony Connor, they founded the slightly anarchic Peterloo Group, and held a number of exhibitions, the first being in the large front room of Skelton’s flat. Skelton and his wife Silvia later settled in British Columbia, where he became a university professor, prolific author, and an authority on Irish poetry. Snow and Margaret Lambert returned to St. Ives, where they had a son, Justin. The Peterloo Group proved resilient, evolving from informal beginnings into the Manchester Institute for Contemporary Art.
Not long after their return to St. Ives, in December 1963, Adrian Flowers visited the town, photographing Snow and Margaret Lambert, walking on the beach below Porthmeor Studios, and along the nearby clifftops. He also recorded the dramatic rock formations of West Penwith and the sea-rounded stones that inspired many of Snow’s paintings.
Back in the studio above Porthmeor Beach, Flowers took a sequence of dramatic photographs, in which Snow laid a canvas flat on the studio floor, and then prepared it for painting. He evidently preferred to work standing above his paintings, using long-handled artist’s brushes. In one sequence, Snow is actively painting: an abstract composition evolves, circular motifs juxtaposed with parallel lines. Climbing up to a roofspace, Flowers photographed the artist from above. Other images record Snow accessing the beach below his studio, by simply climbing out the large window and shinning down a ladder. Adrian’s dog Sarah, a boxer labrador cross, accompanied him and appears in several photographs.
A later sequence of photographs taken by Flowers, 5 x 4 colour transparencies, depict abstract paintings by Snow, including the canvas Archangel, a work dating from April 1962. There are also photographs (undated), labelled “Mike Snow” showing a large welded metal sculpture, perhaps four metres high. Based on the structure of a leaf, this white-painted sculpture was probably a commission, destined for a public site. [AF 4258]
In 1964 Snow showed at the Rowan Gallery in London and the following year, took a job teaching at the Exeter College of Art and Design, a post he held for two decades. Having access to the college’s sculpture department, and inspired by an interest in cosmology and physics, he decided to make a series of welded metal sculptures. These works, some with metal discs, are not unlike the contemporary sun and moon sculptures of Morris Graves. In 1967, Flowers took large-scale colour transparencies of one of these metal sculptures by Snow. Two similar pieces are in the Box gallery collection in Plymouth, where Snow’s friend Alexander Mackenzie was Head of Fine Art from 1964 to 1984. In later years, the Snows lived on the edge of Dartmoor. Margaret died in 2009; Michael, aged 82, in 2012.
[see Robin Skelton “Retrospect- 4: A Brief Account of the Peterloo Group” in Ambit No. 10 (1961) pp 5-8]
On 7th January 1956, on the first floor of a house in Blackheath in south London, Adrian Flowers set up his studio lights and large-format Sinar camera, to photograph works by the artist Victor Pasmore. Facing the heath, the three-storey Georgian house was large enough to accommodate both the artist’s studio and family living space. Victor and Wendy Pasmore (née Blood) had moved into this bomb-damaged but elegant house in 1947; their son John was born there in 1953. On this day, and during at least one subsequent visit, using 35mm and 120 film, as well as large-scale colour transparencies, Flowers photographed Pasmore, his studio and artworks.
One transparency shows Pasmore, dark-haired, bearded and wearing a grey suit, seated in an armchair, with three plates on a bookcase behind him. Decorated with bold abstract patterns by the artist, the plates evoke a Japanese aesthetic, as does the accompanying branch of cherry blossom, in a glass vase. [The flowering blossom suggests this photograph was taken in March.] Although a picture rail is visible in some of these photographs, Pasmore subsequently removed this architectural feature, to create more of a white cube. The sitting room was furnished with a white couch, vases on the chimneypiece and louvered shutters outside the windows.
Three weeks after Flowers’ first visit, Pasmore wrote to him from Newcastle, requesting a photograph for a forthcoming article in Art and Architecture magazine. [Victor Pasmore, 46 Eldon Place, Newcastle on Tyne, to Adrian Flowers, 25 Jan 1956 (AF archive)]. By 1956, Pasmore had been head of fine art at Newcastle on Tyne for two years, but commuted regularly back to his Blackheath home and studio. In another Flowers photograph, he looks through a transparent section in one of his abstract reliefs. Suspended from a piano wire, this work cantilevered out from the wall. Behind it is the relief Abstract in White, Black, Indian and Lilac, a work now in the Tate (where it is dated 1957, but may date from the previous year). As the photography progressed, Pasmore hung a selection of Perspex and wood reliefs in different combinations on the sitting room wall.
The room was on its way to becoming a gesamkunstwerk, with abstract constructions, painted chimneypiece, striped cushions, and hanging mobile sculptures. The furniture is mid-twentieth century Modernist, including what appears to be an early Poang chair, and a wingback armchair. The modernist couch is a Hille design, from Heals. Like Pasmore, Hille’s principal designer, Robin Day, had worked on the 1951 Festival of Britain; his seating in the Royal Festival Hall was a triumph of modernist design.
Flowers’ photograph of the studio work table at Blackheath reveals that Pasmore used household enamels to paint his perspex and wood abstract relief constructions, his preferred brand being Enamel-it. According to the label on the tin, this lacquer paint was made ‘from bakelite’. There was also Fergusson’s gloss enamel, some pigments and oil colours, and a tin of Naylor’s cellulose, used as a thinner. The brushes were a mixture of those used by fine artists and house decorators. A sculpture made of wooden spools and discs threaded onto a cord, hung over the studio work table.
In another image, Pasmore is sitting on a metal chair, in front of a fireplace, above which hangs an abstract relief. Other geometric artworks hang on the wall alongside the fireplace. In making these works Pasmore had been influenced by American artist Charles Biederman’s book Letters on the New Art (1951) which advocated the use of industrial materials. The photographs show Pasmore during a period when he was at the peak of his career, a confident artist, thoughtful and reflective.
Other photographs taken by Flowers at a later date, black and white this time, show Pasmore supervising the construction of a temporary exhibition pavilion at the Whitechapel Art Gallery for the exhibition This is Tomorrow in 1956, a collaboration with Helen Phillips and Ernö Goldfinger, in which temporary walls were constructed within the gallery space using a framework of metal tubing and wood, to create an ‘environment’.
Through a lifetime of teaching, designing structures and making art, Victor Pasmore was responsible for leading a wider popular acceptance of Modernist art and architecture in mid-twentieth century Britain. Born in Surrey, he grew up in a middle class household, his mother being a painter, while his father, the medical superintendent at Croydon Mental Hospital, was a keen art collector. Pasmore attended Harrow School, where he was taught by Maurice Clarke and, three years in succession, won the Yates Thompson Prize for art. However the death of his father in 1927 resulted in Pasmore having to secure a job with London County Council. Employed as a clerk in the Public Health Department for ten years, he maintained his art education, taking evening classes at the Central School of Art. Pasmore’s work during this period was sensitive, naturalistic, and inspired by a feeling for nature and respect for artists such as Cézanne and JMW Turner. In 1934 his first exhibition took place, at the Zwemmer Gallery in London. Three years later, along with William Coldstream and Claude Rogers, he founded an independent School of Drawing and Painting at Fitzroy Street. With support and encouragement from the art historian Kenneth Clark and philanthropist Samuel Courtauld, this enterprise later became the Euston Road School. Aided by Clark, Pasmore retired from his job with LCC and became a full-time artist. During the Second World War, Pasmore was a conscientious objector, and with some difficulty succeeded, again with help from Clark and Coldstream, in obtaining exemption from military service. In 1943 he took up a teaching post at Camberwell School of Art, where he taught for six years, and was tutor to Terry Frost. During this time, while living at Chiswick, and later at Hammersmith Terrace, and inspired by Turner’s atmospheric paintings, he produced lyrical views of the river Thames.
In 1948, shortly after moving to the house at Blackheath, Pasmore shifted from painting in a lyrical representational style to one of pure abstraction. He described these works in terms suited to music—as motifs or variations—and was not afraid of what he called ‘arbitrary invention’, although his approach to creativity was in fact highly-skilled and far from arbitrary. A visit to St. Ives in 1950 and meeting with Ben Nicholson were critical to his change in approach, and the following year Pasmore was elected to the Penwith Society of Arts. As with many of his generation, he was idealistic, seeing in art a way towards a better future for society, and actively sought to share his aesthetic feelings with a wider public. In 1950 he was commissioned to create a mural for a bus station in Kingston Upon Thames, and the following year was one of the artists selected by the Arts Council to create works for the Festival of Britain. He also took up a post at the Central School of Art, where he taught for four years. In 1954 Pasmore became head of painting at the Department of Fine Art in Durham University in Newcastle, a position he held for seven years. Teaching at Newcastle provided him with the opportunity of introducing a fine art course modelled on Bauhaus teaching. This course led to a BA degree, one of the earliest in Britain or Ireland. In spite of differing approaches to art, Pasmore and Richard Hamilton worked well together. Pasmore introduced Hamilton into the school as a tutor, and in time the new arrival took over as head of department. Together, these two artists epitomise the best and most progressive art of post-war Britain, creating an energy that in every way matched that of the leading art schools of London. Commissioned to create murals for the Newcastle Civic Centre and Pilkington’s glass works, Pasmore also worked on the Peterlee development, designing a monumental Modernist concrete structure for the new town centre. In 1959, he was selected for Documenta II and two years later represented Britain at the Venice Biennale. He was also appointed a Trustee of the Tate Gallery. In 1966 Pasmore bought a house in Malta, and over the following years, until his death, spent much of his time there. His son John kept on the house at Blackheath, with the studio and other rooms virtually unchanged since the January day in 1956 when Adrian Flowers recorded his first images of Pasmore on film.
In early August 1954, Adrian and Angela Flowers visited Peter Lanyon in ‘The Attic Studio’ in St. Ives, to photograph both the artist and his work. The results are preserved in two rolls of 120 black and white negative film held in the Adrian Flowers Archive. In one photograph, wearing his trademark black beret, and dressed in short-sleeved shirt and sleeveless pullover, Lanyon demonstrates the mixing of artists’ colours, using a muller (mortar) and glass sheet. Another image shows the artist leaning against a cupboard, with Angela seated on a couch beside him. In the background is a book press and a rotary grindstone. Hanging on the wall is the 1948 painting Headland (Tate collection). A third photograph shows the artist standing before his studio easel, pointing out details in a large painting in progress, Blue Boat and Rainstorm. In another image, Lanyon, smiling, leans against his workbench. On the windowsill stands a construction, while hanging on the wall is an antelope horn—a trophy probably brought back from South Africa, where Lanyon, aged twenty, had visited relatives. Also photographed were the slender columnar 1948 Construction, the 1951 Porthleven Boats, both now in the Tate collection, and Construction for Bojewyan Farms, a painted sculpture of curving forms dating from 1952 and now in a private collection. Another work photographed by Flowers that day include Lanyon’s plaster sculpture of a bull, from his Europa series. This was a work in progress, with copper pipes projecting from the animal’s head, forming an armature for plaster horns. The concept for the classically-inspired Europa series had taken shape in Anticoli Corrado, the hilltop town east of Rome, where Lanyon and his wife Sheila had stayed for four months the previous year.
Lanyon was pleased with the photographs, and wrote to Flowers not long afterwards, requesting permission to use a black and white image of one of the works photographed during that session, for a book being produced by Patrick Heron. Lanyon offered to call to Flowers’ studio when he was in London on Monday 20th September, to collect the photograph. To assist Flowers in identifying the work [Construction for St. Just (1952, Tate collection)], Lanyon included a sketch in his letter [PL to AF at 44A Dover Street, letter in AF Archive c Sept 1954]. A painted sculpture made from discarded window panes, and inspired by pencil and charcoal sketches of the town that was once the centre of the Cornish tin mining industry, Construction for St. Just reveals how Lanyon was not only inspired by the art of Naum Gabo, but also used his own three-dimensional works to guide the completion of paintings, described them as akin to the scaffolding used to support a building in progress. In 1953, the painting that resulted from this process, St. Just, was shown at the Hanover Gallery in London in Space in Colour, an exhibition selected by Patrick Heron. It is now also in the Tate collection.
Just ten years later, the early death of Lanyon robbed British art of one of its stars. His career had been short but brilliant, his work carrying forward a Romantic vision, in which the energy and zest of Cornwall’s coastal landscape was infused with European formalism and Mediterranean colour, resulting in paintings that are in every way equal to the best abstract expressionist work produced in America, but also infused with a sense of history and human endeavour.
Born into a well-off mining family, and educated at Clifton College in Bristol, Lanyon had taken great pride in his Cornish ancestry. Photography and music were part of his early education, and while still a teenager he took painting lessons with Borlase Smart in St Ives. In 1937 Adrian Stokes advised Lanyon to enroll at the Euston Road School, where Victor Pasmore and Naum Gabo were tutors, and he studied also at the Penzance School of Art. Back in St. Ives, it was inevitable that Lanyon would meet Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, who had moved to Cornwall in the 1930’s, as did Gabo. During WWII, Lanyon served as a flight mechanic with the RAF in North Africa and Palestine. He was also stationed in Southern Italy for two years, during which time he painted murals and gave lectures on art. He ran an art education workshop for servicemen, developing his own austere, psycho-analytical, but optimistic approach to art. In 1946 he married Sheila St John Browne and over the next decade they had six children; their son Andrew also becoming an artist. Lanyon was inspired by Ben Nicholson’s approach to abstraction, and during the 1940’s made constructions that show the influence of both Nicholson and Gabo. He was a founding member of the Penwith Society of Arts in 1949, and had his first exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery in London that same year. In 1951, as part of the Festival of Britain, the newly-created Arts Council commissioned sixty artists to create large-scale paintings. One of these, Porthleven (British Council collection), an abstract work by Lanyon, is ambitious and hectic, crammed full of allusions to birds, gliders, harbours and quays, the composition surmounted by the clock tower of the Bickton-Smith Institute overlooking the harbour of Porthleven. Lanyon, Heron and Bryan Wynter were also included in the exhibition “Abstract Art”, curated by Adrian Heath at the AIA Gallery, and in another important show, British Abstract Art, held at Gimpel Fils, that same year. In the early 1950’s Lanyon taught at Corsham College of Art, where William Scott was also a tutor, and later that decade he, William Redgrave and Terry Frost ran a school, at St. Peter’s Loft in St. Ives, with Nancy Wynne-Jones among the artists attending. Lanyon’s first New York exhibition was at the Catherine Viviano Gallery in 1957, when he met Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell and other artists. Over the following years he showed regularly at the Viviano Gallery. There was a demand for Lanyon’s work in the US, and in 1962 he painted a mural in the house of Stanley Seeger, in New Jersey. Initially tightly constructed, Lanyon’s work during the 1960’s became freer and more painterly. He took up gliding so as to appreciate the physical beauty of the Cornish landscape from the air, but died in a gliding accident in 1964, aged just forty-six.
Beginning in July 1954, Adrian and Angela Flowers, and their year-old son Adam, made the first of what was to become a series of regular visits to St. Ives. Setting out to photograph the artists and writers who had made the town famous, during this first visit Adrian also photographed other aspects of Cornish life, including carpenters at work and a traditional mummer.
Denis Mitchell (1912 – 1993) A sequence of photographs document the studio of Denis Mitchell. An abstract sculptor, working mainly in wood and bronze, Mitchell was an early member of the St. Ives group, having moved to Cornwall from Wales in 1930. Located in the former workshop of plumbers W. F. Smithson, his studio was a timber and corrugated iron building, in a cobbled courtyard off one of the town’s narrow streets. The entrance was decorated with abstract paint marks, perhaps made by Mitchell himself. Upstairs, the interior contained a cast iron stove, workbenches and timber sculptures. The whitewashed walls were decorated with paintings, antelope antlers and an African mask. At the side of the studio was an improvised rack for holding lengths of timber.
Present that September day were Mitchell, Stanley Dorfman and Terry Frost. Angela and young Adam were there also. Mitchell, then in his early ‘40s, was photographed sitting in an Victorian armchair, hand under chin, looking grave and thoughtful. Since moving to Cornwall twenty-four years earlier, he and his brother Endell had contrived to make a living in St. Ives, renovating houses and growing vegetables and flowers. St. Ives was famous for its early spring flowers, violets and the yellow narcissus Soleil D’or. In 1938 Endell became landlord of the Castle Inn on Fore Street, the pub that was later to be the birthplace of the Penwith Society. Around this time Denis, working in a craft market, met Jane Stevens; they married in 1939 and were to have three daughters. During WWII, Mitchell worked in the local tin mines, learning to hew stone deep in the narrow mine shafts. He also served in the Home Guard, where he met the potter Bernard Leach and art critic Adrian Stokes. Encouraged by Leach, in 1946 Mitchell joined the St. Ives Society of Artists, and three years later was taken on as an assistant by Barbara Hepworth at Trewyn Studio. When Adrian photographed him, he had been working with Hepworth for five years, learning the art and craft of abstract sculpture. In 1955 he became chairman of the Penwith Society, and later joined John Wells at his Trewarveneth Studio in Newlyn. Mitchell is credited with inspiring many younger artists, including Broen O’Casey and Conor Fallon. Another photograph by Adrian shows Dorfman and Mitchell standing together in the studio, with Frost descending the staircase. This introduction to the artists of St. Ives ultimately led Angela, some years later, to open her first gallery in London. For two decades Mitchell was one of her leading artists. A major exhibition of his work opened at the Angela Flowers Gallery in March 1993, just before his death.
Stanley Dorfman A television and film producer, renowned for introducing Top of the Pops to BBC audiences in the 1960’s, Stanley Dorfman was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. Aged nineteen he began to study architecture, but switched instead to fine art and in 1946 was awarded a scholarship to the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. After spending six years in France, Dorfman and his wife and children went back to South Africa to see his parents, but they found the political system there repellent. In 1954, he moved to England, settling in the artists’ colony of St. Ives, where he worked as a studio assistant to Barbara Hepworth, while continuing to develop his own art. His wife and children remained in South Africa until Dorfman could afford to bring them to Europe. His paintings from this early period are hard-edged abstract works, with strong flat colours and titles such as Vertical St. Ives (Paul), Blue and Brown Study, and Composition with Four Rectangles. His 1954 painting Across the Bay features abstracted hard-edge waves.
He also created three-dimensional panels which, while paying homage to Mondrian and De Stijl, hark back to mosaic designs and wall pieces he had made in South Africa. In South Africa also, Dorfman had organised music concerts, featuring jazz musicians. This interest in music remained with him, and in 1964 he left St. Ives to work as an art director with BBC television, then as producer and director of the popular weekly music programme Top of the Pops. Meeting Dick Clark who had travelled from the United States to England in search of new talent, Dorfman began to alternate between New York and London. He a created a series for the BBC called ‘In Concert’, beginning with Randy Newman, and followed by Joni Mitchell. In 1968 he had Leonard Cohen on the show. During his long career in British film and television, Dorfman directed over two hundred shows, with musicians such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elton John and David Bowie. In 1974 he decided to relocate to Los Angeles, where he directed and produced music videos for many artists, from Robert Plant to Emmy Lou Harris. He took over Dick Clark’s In Concert series and also worked with Yoko Ono on videos, made using footage taken by John Lennon. He collaborated with David Bowie on two videos, Be My Wife and Heroes, both from 1977, and both in the collection of MoMA. After a career as music producer and director, Dorfman returned to painting. His later works, more lyrical and painterly, often reference music, as in La Bamba and Imagine. His partner of some forty years is the actor Barbara Flood. Dorfman currently lives in Los Angeles, and exhibits his paintings there at The Lodge gallery.
Terry Frost (1915 – 2003) A second visit by the Flowers family to St. Ives followed in December 1954, and a subsequent visit in May 1956, when Adrian photographed Terry and Kathleen Frost, with their young sons Adrian and Anthony. The group assembled on Smeaton’s Pier, with the harbour and Wharf in the background. Terry’s warm and convivial personality shines through in these images. He and Kath took raising a large family in their stride. He would often get up at 6am, to take the toddlers for a walk on the quay. In one shot, he holds up Anthony, while pointing to the sky.
Born in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire in 1915, Frost had led a varied life before coming to St. Ives. The son of an artilleryman, he left school aged fourteen to work first at a cycle repair shop, then at Armstrong-Whitworth, the company renowned for its battleships and locomotives (and also for the universal ‘Whitworth’ thread that standardised nuts and bolts). By the time Frost went to work for the company at Coventry, it was called Vickers-Armstrong, and was making Whitley bombers, on the wings and fuselages of which he painted RAF roundels. Having enlisted in the Territorials, during WWII Frost served in France, Palestine and Greece. Fighting with the commandos in Crete in June 1941, he was taken prisoner and spent the rest of the war in POW camps. At Stalag 383 in Bavaria, he found he had a talent for sketching portraits of fellow prisoners, using canvases made from hessian pillowcases, primed with glue size made from barley soup. The brushes were made from horsehair. He painted around two hundred portraits, and also met the artist Adrian Heath who encouraged him to take up painting as a profession. Having studied with Stanhope Forbes in Newlyn, Heath was familiar with Cornwall and its tradition of welcoming artists. Frost credited the semi-starvation he experienced during the war as helping him achieve a higher level of spiritual awareness; this no doubt contributed to the qualities of alertness and intellectual presence that characterise his art in the post-war period. After the war, on returning to England, Frost enrolled firstly at the Birmingham College of Art, then at Camberwell School of Art. In 1945, he married Kathleen Clarke, who had worked in aircraft factory during the war. The following year, forgoing a job as a lightbulb salesman, and availing of his soldiers’ back pay that had built up during years of imprisonment, he moved to St. Ives with Kath and their first-born son. They lived in Headland Row, overlooking Porthmeor beach, while he attended the St. Ives School of Art, and also worked in a café to make ends meet. The St. Ives School was run by Leonard Fuller and Marjorie Mostyn, both dedicated artists: Fuller painted a portrait of Terry Frost with his young son on his knee. In 1947 Frost’s first exhibition Paintings with Knife and Brush was held at Downing’s bookshop. Returning to Camberwell in 1948, he studied under Victor Pasmore, Ben Nicholson and William Coldstream. Pasmore was at this time moving towards abstraction, and Frost followed his lead. Although Madrigal, his first abstract painting, dates from 1949, when the Frosts were back living at 12 Quay Street, on the St. Ives seafront, it is the Cubist-inspired Walk along the Quay, painted the following year, that is regarded as his breakthrough, its bold composition dominated by semi-circles, interrupted by vertical linear areas of blue and khaki green. Walk Along the Quay is the first in a series of paintings, done on hardboard, that show an increasing confidence with abstraction. Another work from this period, Brown and Yellow (c1951-2), is in the Tate collection (although the Tate was initially slow to acquire a work by Frost). Many of his paintings from these years suggest draped fabrics, or the Cornish landscape with long fields terminating in angular cliff edges, as in Blue Winter (1956). Frost showed for three years with the St Ives Society of Artists, and was elected a member of the more progressive Penwith Society. For many years he made prints with Hugh Stoneman. During the 1950’s he exhibited regularly with the Leicester Galleries in London and also taught at Bath Academy, the University of Leeds, and in Cyprus. Although Frost joined the London Group in 1958, over the following decade a new generation of mostly London-based artist came to the fore. As sales of his work flagged, he ceased to show with the Waddington Gallery, and increasingly turned to teaching to help support the family, while continuing to pursue his own art. After Leeds, the Frosts moved to Banbury, Oxfordshire, where they lived between 1963 and 1974, with Terry lecturing at the University of Reading. In the early 1960’s he undertook a residency at San Jose in California, experimenting with new acrylic paints, and also teaching at the University of California. He showed in New York, beginning with the Barbara Schaeffer gallery in 1960, where he met Mark Rothko and other leading artists. In 1992, Frost was elected a Royal Academician and six years later was knighted. He and Kath had six children in all: five sons, Adrian, Anthony, Matthew, Stephen and Simon, and one daughter, Kate. Stephen is an actor, while Adrian and Anthony followed in their father’s footsteps as artists; Anthony still lives and working in St. Ives. When Alan Bowness was appointed director of Tate, he initiated the idea of a contemporary art museum in Cornwall, to celebrate the work of Frost, Heron, Hepworth and the many other artists who had forged a new approach to art in Britain in the 1950’s. When Tate St. Ives opened in 1993, a large banner by Frost, painted on Newlyn sailcloth, was displayed in the entrance. Terry Frost died in Cornwall in 2003. Twelve years later, on the centenary of his birth, a retrospective exhibition of his work was held at Tate St. Ives.
In the 1956 Smeaton Pier photograph are Terry and Kath Frost, flanked by their sons Adrian and Anthony. To their left is the poet and budding architect David Lewis, who had come to Britain from South Africa (the girl beside Lewis has not been identified). After moving to St. Ives, Lewis became secretary of the Penwith Society and promoter of the town’s artists. Like Frost, Mitchell, Hilton, Dorfman and others, he worked for a time as an assistant to Barbara Hepworth. In 1949, Lewis married Wilhelmina Barnes-Graham. However, seven years later he departed Cornwall, to study architecture in Leeds and to work with Peter Stead on modernist housing. This led to a new career in the United States, where he taught at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh and was a co-founder of Urban Design Associates (UDA). In 1985 Lewis was the catalyst for the retrospective exhibition St. Ives: 1939-64, at the Tate Gallery. Other photographs on that same contact sheet include shots of terraced granite houses on Back Road, and a Land Rover parked on Teetotal Street, where David Lewis lived at No. 4. A narrow thoroughfare, Teetotal Street has changed little over the years, although now it is littered with green wheelie bins. In another photograph, Kath and the girl stand beside a clinker-built boat drawn up on the solid granite setts of the pier; today the boats are gone, their place taken by brightly-coloured plastic surf boards. However surfing has been popular in Cornwall for many years, and in the summer of 1955, the beaches were thronged with holiday-makers, many of them carrying small plywood surfboards.
Born on 30th January 1920 in Leeds, Patrick Heron was a multi-talented creative genius, equally at home painting, writing, lecturing, or engaging in polemical discussions. He first came to live in Cornwall as a young child, when his father Tom Heron (1890-1983), a Fabian Non-Conformist and member of the Leeds Art Club, spent several years in St. Ives, as manager and partner at the Cryséde Silk company. Founded by Alec George Walker in 1920, Cryséde produced block-printed textiles—many of them abstract patterns— for dress designers, using silk sourced from the Walker family firm in Yorkshire. After four years there was a falling-out with Walker and in 1929 Tom Heron moved to Welwyn Garden City, where he set up a new company, Cresta Silks, building a factory on Broad Water Road, and opening retail outlets, on Bond Street, Baker Street and Brompton Road. The distinctive modernist fronts and interiors of the Cresta shops were designed by the Canadian Wells Coates, while Edward McKnight Kauffer also designed for the company. While working as a designer for his father, Patrick Heron’s love of Cornwall, where he had spent idyllic days of his childhood, saw him returning frequently to St. Ives. In the late 1930’s, he enrolled at the Slade School of Art, but attended only two days a week, while continuing to design fabrics for Cresta Silks. Melon, his first design for a Cresta scarf dates from 1934, when he was fourteen years old, while his Amaryllis, dates from two years later. Paul Nash also produced designs for Cresta fabrics, including Cherry Orchard (1931), as did Graham Sutherland and Cedric Morris.
With the onset of WWII, and also being requisitioned for parachutes, Cresta turned to making utility clothing. Heron registered as a conscientious objector (as had his father in the First World War) and, although suffering from asthma, went to work as an agricultural labourer in Cambridgeshire. Ill health 1944-45 resulted in his being invalided. He returned to St. Ives, where he worked for a year at the Bernard Leach Pottery, admiring the works of Shoji Hamada, and meeting Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. After the war, he went back to work for Cresta Silks as head designer. Heron pursued his own career as a painter, and in 1947 had his first solo show. Nine years later, an exhibition of American Abstract Expressionist painting held in London marked a turning point in his career, inspiring him to move from working within a French Cubist and School of Paris style to one that showed the influence of the abstract painters of the United States. However Heron never lost that innate and instinctive love of colour and tactile surfaces, that derived both from his intimate knowledge of textile design and his enduring admiration for Bonnard and Matisse. While he pursued his career as an artist in Cornwall, the Cresta company continued to flourish and by 1973 there were 70 shops and over 1000 employees. After Tom Heron’s retirement, the company was taken over by Debenhams.
As an writer, Heron contributed essays and articles to the New Statesman, Art New York and other journals, using the opportunity to champion the work of his fellow St. Ives artists, including Peter Lanyon, William Scott, Bryan Wynter and Roger Hilton. In his 1955 book The Changing Forms of Art, the argument for abstraction was set out with characteristic passion. The following year, Heron and his wife Delia bought Eagle’s Nest, a large house overlooking Zennor, five miles west of St. Ives. For many years, the area around Zennor had attracted artists and writers, including DH Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield and poet John Heath-Stubbs. Virginia Woolf spent her childhood summers at St. Ives, memories of which fill her novel To the Lighthouse. The artist Bryan Wynter lived nearby in Carn Cottage. The Herons settled in to Eagle’s Nest, welcoming fellow artists such as Roger Hilton and William Scott, and raising two daughters; Susanna, who went on to became a sculptor, and Katharine, now professor of architecture at Westminster University. Although Eagle’s Nest is a large house, Heron needed a separate workspace and so in 1958 moved his paints and canvases to the artists’ studios at Porthmeor. Other artists in the complex included Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and Terry Frost. The space Heron was allocated was No. 5, Ben Nicholson’s former studio, next door to Tony O’Malley. Although he remained an abstract painter for the rest of his life, Heron’s work retains memories of the Cornish landscape, small fields surrounded by stone walls, lopsided houses, and villages crowded around little coves. Through the 1970’s and 80’s, he continued to paint and write, achieving a legendary status both for artistic vision and idealism. A lifelong socialist and pacifist, he was involved in many activist campaigns to preserve the Cornish landscape. Heron received many accolades during his lifetime, but he declined both a knighthood, and the opportunity to become a member of the Royal Academy. He died at Eagles Nest in 1999.
In the Ember days, following Whitsun, May 17th 1959, the Flowers family; Adrian, Angela, and their two young children Adam and Matthew, travelled to St Ives for a short break. They stayed in a rented house at 6 Draycott Terrace. At the time Angela was pregnant with Daniel, who was born in August of that year. As always, work was combined with holiday. Adrian visited Patrick Heron at his Porthmeor studio, where several of the leading St Ives artists were based. Slim, in his late 20’s, and dressed in pullover and work trousers, Heron stands beside an unfinished large canvas as he is photographed. In one image he reaches out to touch the surface of the painting. This work is Yellow Painting (1958/59), now in the Tate Collection. The photograph shows the canvas some weeks before completion and reveals how Heron was using yellow, applied over mauve underpainting, to enhance the chromatic intensity of the work (an excellent description of Yellow Painting is given by Laura McLean-Ferris on the Tate website). During this period was moving towards the pure, soft-edged abstraction that would characterise his work in the early 1960s, while not letting go of the earthy, painterly quality of his canvases from the late 1950s with their embedded memories of landscape, stonewalls and hedges. In another photograph, Heron sits in a west country chair, looking at the camera, holding a large paintbrush. Although the photographs were taken using Kodak 120 colour negative film, the contact sheets were printed in black and white, with some colour prints. Today, No 5 studio has changed little, and still retains the wood-battened white walls, large skylight and bare floorboards that appear in the series of photographs taken by Flowers in 1959.
In 1967, Penguin paperbacks published the London Dossier by Len Deighton. The book comprised essays on London by people who knew the city well, including Adrian Bailey, Jane Wilson, Spike Hughes and, of course, Adrian Flowers. A brief biography, written by Deighton, introduces the chapter on photography written by Flowers, and also throws light on their friendship:
Born in the general depression, is still recovering. A typical cancerian who moves sideways out of trouble. His main occupation is advertising and editorial photography. He has taken food pictures for the Observer and took the cover photo of Twiggy for this book. His studio in Tite Street, Chelsea, is crammed full of equipment, all of which he insists is absolutely necessary. His home is in Kentish Town, where he keeps his wife, three sons, one daughter, a dog and a cat, and an au pair girl. He owns four old cars, which are shared by his assistants, and a launch for touring the Thames. Keeps fit by playing football every day with his faithful bitch, Sarah. His aim in life, apart from keeping his wife happy, is to take the picture of all time.
In his essay in London Dossier Flowers advises the aspiring photographer to first of all buy an umbrella, at James Smith & Son, 53 New Oxford Street. This landmark at the corner of New Oxford Street and Shaftesbury Avenue still sells—according to its tarnished and extravagant Edwardian window signage, dagger canes, swordsticks, tropical sunshades, Irish blackthorns and umbrellas. “Get a large one and on leaving take a picture of this changeless shop” wrote Flowers, adding that even the act of carrying an umbrella, for the superstitious, might prevent rain. Although Smith’s survives, all the independent specialist photography shops mentioned by Flowers are now gone; their place taken by chains such as Jessops and the recently-merged Wex and Calumet. Specialising in Flowers’ favourite camera, the Hasselblad, the Photo Centre in Piccadilly Arcade has long since given way to a shoe shop, while Dixons on Oxford Street is now home to a Carphone Warehouse.
At 93 Fleet Street, the venerable Wallace Heaton shop, notwithstanding its royal warrant, is now an outlet for mobile phones. Many of the early negatives in the Adrian Flowers Archive are preserved in distinctive green Wallace Heaton envelopes. The company, which also had a shop at 127 Bond Street and published the famous photographers “Blue Book”, was taken over in 1972 by Dixons.
Likewise, Pelling & Cross at 104 Baker Street, specialising in Voigtlander cameras, is gone, while Kafetz Cameras, down the road at 234 Baker Street, is now home to Vy’s Nails. Flowers identified the Kodak Instamatic and Voigtlander Bessy-K cameras as most suitable for beginners. For more serious photographers he recommended the Nikkormat, with 28, 50 and 105mm lenses, but for maximum versatility, he suggested the half-frame Olympus Pen D2 or Canon Dial. Agfa CT 18 film was good at capturing the grey London fogs, but Flowers warned that the colours red and green were inescapable, in a city full of buses, parks, guardsmen and pillar boxes. The budding photographer was invited to go to St. James’s Park at three in the afternoon, when the pelicans were fed with herring. Moving on from there, the top of Lambeth Palace would afford a panoramic view familiar to Canaletto. However if admittance to the palace proved difficult, Flowers suggested the landing stage by the river, where the Decca radar company had established its head office. Moving along, the photographer would head to the Beefeaters and ravens at the Tower of London—the latter best photographed from the top of the Port of London Authority, and from thence proceed to Tower Bridge. Flowers includes in his itinerary that ‘quarter mile of sordidness for the sinister-seeking’; the area of East London made infamous by Jack the Ripper, with Christchurch at its centre. “Ripper’s Corner in Mitre Square has only one wall remaining. This is where the body of Catherine Eddowes, his fourth victim, was found. I suppose it is like collecting pregnant silences on tape, but even so, if you are interested in Jack the Ripper and have read all about the rippings, the experience of photographing this bit of wall will have a strange effect on you. The wall is in the southerly corner and should be taken in the gloom of dusk with the aid of the gas lamps that are still there.” [Len Deighton’s London Dossier Penguin Books 1967, p. 150] After these dubious thrills, the reader was encouraged to explore Thrawl Street, and Flower and Dean Street (Flowery Dean). Commercial Road, Puma Court and Hanbury Street. Wilkes Street led to the Gilead Medical Mission, an organisation dedicated to bringing the Gospel to the Jews, not to be confused with present-day Gilead Science. Many Shoreditch slums had been cleared by then, the ‘Old Nichol’ being replaced by the splendid Arts and Crafts Boundary Estate. Flowers dwells on the area’s association with slaughter houses and butchers, singling out the Jolly Butchers pub (formerly the Turk and Slave) in Cabbage Court, 157 Brick Lane, as a good subject. The setting for an unofficial morning jewellery market in the 1960’s, the Jolly Butcher closed in 1987 and now houses a café, sandwiched between two bagel shops. “To round off the visit, not forgetting to visit some dark and sinister laneways, wend your way to the Cosy Café in Cheshire Street.” [p. 150] Famed for its egg, bacon and bubble, this establishment is also sadly no longer in business. The building survives, just about, in a boring modern streetscape utterly devoid of character. Beside the Cosy Café, an alley led to a footbridge over the railway lines.
Flowers recommended twilight as the best time of day for taking photographs in London, singling out the Victoria Embankment, and the promenade between Westminster and Lambeth bridges on the south side, as good for night shooting. “Trafalgar Square is worth taking at dusk. . . During the day Nelson can still look admirable without his column, apparently standing on a wooden box when viewed from Carlton House Terrace. At the end of this terrace is an unusually well-preserved example of bomb damage, contrasting strangely with the surroundings.” [p. 150] For explorations of Soho, Flowers recommended beginning in Compton Street, and that the photographer try to look like a tourist ‘to avoid being lynched’.
Not long after opening in 1959, at the corner of Dean Street and Romilly Street in Soho, the Trattoria Terrazza had become one of London’s most popular eating places for people from the world of theatre and advertising. Run by Franco Lagattolla and Mario Cassandro, the “Trat” had genuine Italian friendliness and style, and served good Italian food. Less formal than Le Caprice or the Ivy, more exciting than other Soho eateries such as L’Epicerie or Wheelers, nothwithstanding Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud occasionally holding court in the latter, it was a fun place to meet, attracting regulars such as David Puttnam, Raymond Hawkey, Len Deighton and Adrian and Angela Flowers. Deighton wrote passages of The Ipcress File at the Trat, including mention of its cuisine, and it was here he met Michael Caine, before the novel and film brought both fame. While Cassandro was outgoing and charming, not a little of Lagatolla’s more reserved style is captured in the persona of Harry Palmer created by Caine. Other diners included David Niven, Brian Duffy, Julie Christie, Terence Stamp, David Bailey and Jean Shrimpton. The interior was remodelled in the 1960’s by Enzo Apicella, who created a spare, white Modernist space, while retaining a rustic flavour, with tiled floor, rush-covered seats and rough-plastered walls—a style emulated by countless other trattoria that sprang up in Britain over the following years, and is still exemplified in better restaurants such as Scalini’s in Chelsea. Flowers’ night snapshot of the exterior shows the cheerful neon sun motif that reflected the Trat’s legendary charm and style. No 19 Romilly St is today occupied by Le Relais de Venise, a dull steak and chips establishment with an exterior of gothic lettering and scumbled wood that caters mainly to tourists.
Flowers also suggested hiring a taxi to tour the streets slowly ‘you can get many fascinating shots this way’. Leicester Square was best photographed from Cranbourn Street, while Lower Regent Street provided the best view of Piccadilly Circus.
Even with fast film, the photographer would need a tripod to capture flashing neon lights at night. Battersea Park, with its Henry Moore sculpture, was on the itinerary, with the nearby power station chimneys still belching out smoke. The 29th of May, Oak Apple Day, saw pensioners of the Royal Hospital Chelsea on parade, while the Chelsea Flower Show, also held in May, was a treat, particularly at 4pm on the last day, when plants were sold off cheaply. ‘If you could get a hundred viewpoints at once, you’d have the film of the year.’ observed Flowers drily. Leather Market Street south of Guy’s Hospital on Friday mornings, and the Caledonian Market on Bermondsey Street, were charming to photograph, as were Portobello Road and Petticoat Lane. Flowers was less comfortable with Victorian architecture – ‘If wild monstrosities are your passion start with the Albert Memorial’. Berkeley Square, King’s Road, Chelsea – ‘If you want to see and not be seen, a good tip is to grab a window table in the pub called the Chelsea Potter about midday.’ Horse riding at Rotten Row, Hyde Park, every morning, and the dray horses still used by Whitbread Brewery in Chiswell Street and Watney’s Mortlake brewery. St. Paul’s Cathedral was a favourite. The viewing terrace of the Shell Building could be visited for two and sixpence, but closed at four in the afternoon, which was disappointing for photographers hoping to shoot at twilight. The GPO tower was also disappointing, due to haze, but the Monument provided a good view of Tower Bridge. Flowers recommended the Tudor houses at Holborn, Chancery Lane, and Lincoln Inn Old Buildings, where barristers in their regalia could be seen at lunchtime. Other sights included the Old Curiosity Shop, and men wearing bowler hats, still a common sight at London Bridge in the morning, and at Cornhill and Lombard Street.
Photographers were advised to take the 214 bus from Tottenham Court Road to Highgate West Hill, and to go through Hampstead Heath, on to Kenwood House, and then to the Spaniard pub. They would then to take the 210 bus to Highgate Village, and from there walk down Swains Lane to the cemetery, for Flowers a place he held sacred as the burial place of the pioneer of photography William Friese-Greene. Regent’s Park Zoo and Tilbury Docks, the bridge on the River Thames, all received honourable mention, while Flowers recommended photographing the London Policeman ‘still proudly not carrying a gun’. The Roman wall at Cooper’s Row, off Trinity Square, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and London’s fire stations were all on the list. Flowers highlighted details such as cast iron railings, although many of these had been melted down during WWII. His final suggestion was to go to a theatre near Covent Garden, eat and drink into the early hours at one of the specially licenced pubs “Then, at 4 or 5 in the morning use stamina to judge, with an unjaundiced eye, the picture-making possibilities of the famous flower and fruit markets.” [p. 157]
While the first edition of Deighton’s spy novel Horse Under Water, published by Jonathan Cape in 1963, contains many action scenes centring on the discovery of a U-Boat sunk off the Portugese coast in the last days of WWII, it is in the paperback edition, published by Penguin, that the author introduced an additional early episode, in which the British agent trains as a scuba diver at the HMS Vernon base in Portsmouth. As always, Deighton carried out detailed research before writing, managing to get permission to go to Portsmouth and not only witness navy divers undergoing training, but to experience what it was like for himself:
Adrian Flowers accompanied Deighton on this trip to Portsmouth, photographing both the author and navy divers. For Flowers, it was in many ways a homecoming, as his mother’s uncle Alfred West, a photographer and pioneering cinematographer at the turn of the twentieth century, had specialised in photographing and filming the Royal Navy. In 1898, West had photographed torpedo practice in Portsmouth. He also filmed Charles Parsons’ experimental steamship Turbinia, and gave demonstrations of his films at Osborne House. In 1913 he sold his yachting negatives to Beken of Cowes (they are now with the Brett Gallery) but most of his films, made under the ‘Our Navy’ title, are now lost. Adrian’s childhood was spent at “Atherstone” on St. David’s Road, just ten minutes’ walk from Alfred West’s photography studios at Palmerston Road, Southsea.
Deighton put his brief training session at Portsmouth to good use. Descriptions of diving occupy much of the first half of Horse Under Water, as various characters compete to gain access to the treasures on the sunken vessel. The plot moves along at bewildering speed, and it is not revealed until the end of the novel that the race to retrieve items from the submarine wreck has been prompted by the existence of a list of people in the UK who were prepared to collaborate in a German occupation of Britain. This theme of betrayal, touched upon in many of Deighton’s novels and short stories, forms the basis of his later novel SS GB. In Horse Under Water, it is revealed that the former Royal Navy officer ‘Fernie’, a dodgy character who gets involved in the submarine dives, had been earlier recruited into the ‘League of St. George’, influential people who hoped to form a Nazi Party in Britain. As always, Deighton brings his narrative to life with vivid descriptions of people and places, as befits his experience as an illustrator. He also introduces lively references to 1960’s music and consumer culture, including Miles Davis, Charlie Mingus, Tio Pepe Sherry, Omo washing powder etc. Although Adrian Flowers’ photograph of the actor Michael Caine is used in the Penguin edition cover, Horse Under Water was never made into a film.
BOMBERS AND FIGHTERS
On 3 Jan 1971, in The New York Times, Len Deighton reviewed an autobiographical account by Peter Townsend of the Battle of Britain and the events leading up to it, in which Townsend described an aerial duel between a Hurricane fighter and a Heinkel III bomber. Two years before, when working on Bomber, his own dramatised account of an RAF night attack during WWII, Deighton had carried out detailed research on aircraft of the period, particularly the Heinkel III. On August 15 1969, he was invited to join the crew in a restored Heinkel which was being flown from England to Siegerland airfield, near Cologne. The aircraft was in fact a post-war machine, one of several hundred built under license by CASA for the Spanish air force. Thirty or so of these Spanish Heinkels were used in the 1969 film The Battle of Britain. Although it was planned to fly the Heinkel over the city of Cologne as a promotion for the film, this publicity stunt was cancelled, not least because many of the inhabitants had died in air raids by the RAF during WWII. The following year, after a few demonstration flights, the Heinkel was grounded at Siegersland for safety reasons. It was subsequently acquired by the Deutsches Museum and is now fully restored and on display in the Flugwerft Schleissheim—but with Spanish air force rather than Luftwaffe livery.
Before the flight took off on August 15th, Adrian Flowers photographed Deighton, both standing in front of the Heinkel, and also inside the cockpit. The research undertaken by Deighton during this period informed his writing of Fighter, published in 1977. One of the chapters in Fighter is titled “Inside a Heinkel He III”.
While working on Bomber, Deighton leased from IBM a new device called an MT/ST (Magnetic Tape Selectric Typewriter)—an early word-processor—and had it installed in his home in Merrick Square, near Elephant and Castle. Adrian Flowers photographed Deighton in his home office, surrounded by typewriters, the IBM word processor and filing cabinets. Although he surrounded himself with high technology, some of the energy evident in Deighton’s prose style may derive from the down-to-earth fact that he liked to write while standing rather than sitting.
Among Len Deighton’s best-loved cookery books are Ou Est Le Garlic? (1966), Basic French Cooking (Jonathan Cape 1979), ABC of French Food and Basic French Cookery Course. However it is his Action Cook Book, first published in 1965 and later re-issued as French Cooking for Men, that best retains the fresh and breezy appeal of ‘sixties London. The Action Cook Book is a compilation of Deighton’s ‘Cookstrips’ published in the Observer between 1962 and 1966. The deceptively simple graphic style and hand-drawn fonts of the Action Cook Book remain innovative today, and have inspired a new generation of publications in which comic-book art and texts are combined. In 2015, celebrating the success of the 1960’s Cookstrips, Len Deighton and his son Alex began collaborating on a new series for the Observer Food Monthly Magazine. While retaining Len’s style of simple images and hand-drawn lettering, these new strips are drawn by Alex, and have introduced readers to a wide range of world cuisine.
With its cover designed by Raymond Hawkey and photography by Adrian Flowers, the Action Cook Book was stylish, modern and met a growing demand among readers for information on good food. Its success led to a second Deighton cookbook, Ou Est le Garlic? As a child, Deighton had learned inventive cuisine from his mother, Dorothy (née Fitzgerald), who occasionally cooked for a London nightclub. Using ingredients exempt from food rationing, she created dishes that were given colourful names in the menu, such as ‘sweet and sharp tongue’. In an interview with John Walsh in the Independent (23 Oct 2011), Deighton described how, during summer vacations from art college, he had worked as a kitchen porter at the restaurant in the Royal Festival Hall: “One day I was mopping the floor when the fish chef asked me if I would do some jobs for him, as his assistant hadn’t arrived. My first task was skinning Dover soles. I must have been a good student because he then showed me how to fillet them. From then onwards, my days were spent as unofficial assistant to the fish chef, though I was still paid only porter’s wages. I once asked my chef why he’d chosen me for this sudden elevation. He said everyone had noticed the way I ‘hung around watching the cooks’. He was right.” In addition to summer jobs in London and Paris, Deighton also attributed his culinary education to Philip Harben, television’s first celebrity chef.
Following the success of his first spy thriller The Ipcress File, Deighton moved to Jonathan Cape, who in 1963 published his second novel, Horse Under Water. This was followed by Funeral in Berlin and three years later, The Billon Dollar Brain appeared, which, along with An Expensive Place to Die, published in 1967, confirmed his status as writer of gripping and complex stories, spy thrillers that were neither as melancholic as Le Carré’s, nor as simplistic as Fleming’s. In addition to the novels and cookbooks, he wrote non-fiction history books, mainly on WWII topics.
However, even in his spy novels, food and cooking are a constant motif. In the opening pages of The Billion Dollar Brain, Alice runs up the stairs of the Charlotte Street offices with a tin of Nescafé, while the anonymous hero later has lunch in Trattoria Terrazza, enjoying ‘Tagliatelle alla carbonara, osso buco, coffee’ before being provided with a false passport that identifies him as one Liam Dempsey, born in Cork. In the first chapter of Funeral in Berlin, Hallam drinks his Darjeeling tea from an antique Meissen cup, and eats custard cream biscuits, while discussing the defection of a Soviet scientist. Later, in describing how to fry up breakfast, Deighton describes how the pan must cleaned with paper, not water, before cooking begins. However his self-description – ‘a supercilious anti-public-school technician’ wearing ‘mass-produced, off the peg clothes’ – is revealing. Much of Deighton’s success as a writer stemmed from these sharp barbs, in which few were spared. In Chapter 15, it may well be his friend Adrian Flowers who is referred to in a pub conversation:
A man with a paisley scarf tucked inside an open-necked shirt was saying, ‘He’s the best damn photographer in the country but he’s a thousand guineas a shot.’ A man with suede chukka boots said, ‘Our deep frozen fish-fingers nearly beat him. I said, “Make the beastly things out of plaster, old boy’ we’ll get the piping hot effect by burning incense.” We did too. Ha, ha! Put the sales up six and three-quarter per cent and he got some kind of Art Director’s award.’ He laughed a deep, manly laugh and sloshed down some beer.
In reality, Flowers prided himself on using real ingredients in his food photography, as in the above image of fish fingers, taken for Birds Eye. Although he had championed photography while a student at the Royal College of Art, Deighton in his novels sometimes seems to have had it in for photographers—part of the self-deprecating style that made his novels so attractive to readers tired of literary narcissism and improbable heroes.
In Chapter 18 of An Expensive Place to Die, the scene in Les Chiens bar—’hot, dark and squirming, like a can of live bait’—sums up something about Deighton’s attitude to both himself and the camera shutter. “On a staircase a wedge of people were embracing and laughing like advertising photos. At the bar a couple of English photographers were talking in cockney and an English writer was explaining James Bond.” A brawl then erupts when one of the photographers punches the writer, who is about to read a Baudelaire sonnet.
“There was a scuffle going on at the top of the staircase, and then violence travelled through the place like a flash flood. Everyone was punching everyone, girls were screaming and the music seemed to be even louder than before. A man hurried a girl along the corridor past me. ‘It’s those English that make the trouble,’ he complained.” When An Expensive Place to Die was ready for publishing, Hawkey produced a range of different cover designs, each of which incorporated photographs taken by Flowers.
Deighton married twice; the first time to fellow Royal College of Art student, the illustrator Shirley Thompson. Len and Shirley divorced in the mid 1970’s. Len’s second marriage, in February 1980, at Holte in the Netherlands, was to Ysabele, daughter of Johan Antoni and Frederika de Ranitz. A career diplomat, in the late 1940’s, Johan de Ranitz served as first secretary at the Netherlands Embassy in Sydney, Australia. Born in 1941 in the Netherlands, Ysabele is also is also the niece of WWII hero Eric Haselhof Roelfzema, whose autobiographical Soldier of Orange in 1977 was made into a Paul Verhoeven-directed film. Over the years she has assisted Deighton in translations and research. They have two sons, Frederick Alexander and Antoni. Over the years, Flowers photographed the Deighton family on several occasions, including visiting Len when he lived in Ireland, in the seaside village of Blackrock, Co. Louth.
Having met while both were in the Royal Air Force in the late 1940’s, Adrian Flowers and Len Deighton (b.1929) became close friends. Over the years, as Deighton’s career as illustrator, novelist and cookery writer evolved, Flowers photographed him many times. The photographs in the Adrian Flowers Archive range from personal family shots, to publicity photos, to images of Deighton pursuing his favourite occupation, cooking. The earlier photographs were taken in Deighton’s council flat at Elephant and Castle, before he and his wife Shirley moved to a more stylish Georgian house off Borough Road, where they were better able to entertain friends. There are also family snapshots, taken when Flowers visited Deighton’s home in Blackrock, a coastal village in Co. Louth, Ireland. Deighton later moved to the Channel Islands, where he still lives. Another set of photographs show Deighton standing in front of a Heinkel 111 aeroplane and were part of the promotion for Bomber his novel recounting a night raid by the RAF over Germany.
The son of a chauffeur and a cook, Len Deighton was born in Marylebone and grew up in Gloucester Place Mews, a narrow street in central London, between Marble Arch and Regent’s Park. In 1947, he enlisted for two years’ national service with the Royal Air Force, training as a photographer with the Special Investigations Branch. During this time he met Adrian Flowers, who also training as a photographer with the RAF. After completing his military service, Deighton enrolled at St. Martin’s School of Art and in 1953 won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, where he and Raymond Hawkey—who was to become a lifelong friend—edited the college magazine Ark. A decade later, in an interview for Town magazine, journalist Jane Wilson wrote about Deighton’s student days: “As an art student he took the then revolutionary step of illustrating Ark with photographs and was generally known as ‘The Photographer’. Students at RCA are now so cool they can hardly stand up, and so mod they can hardly sit down. Ark is so avant-garde it’s inexplicable and so design-conscious you can’t read the sans-serif. But in Deighton’s day life was more gracious and students tended to wear dark suits. So to be called a photographer was like being called a garage mechanic.” [Jane Wilson “How to Succeed without Really Spying”, Town, April 1965, Vol 6, No. 4, p. 43] Notwithstanding Wilson’s reservations, Hawkey became renowned for his use of bold graphic images and san serif fonts, and is best remembered today for his cover designs for the James Bond novels, published in the 1960’s by Pan. After graduating from the RCA in 1955, Deighton also designed book covers, among them the first British edition of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
Coming from a working class background, Deighton could easily identify with Kerouac’s hero Moriarty, and his jacket design, with its references to jazz and American culture, is very much in the spirit of the times. During his time at St. Martin’s, Deighton lived at Moor Street, close to Cambridge Circus, and occasionally stayed at Flowers’ maisonette in England’s Lane. In 1960, Deighton and a fellow-illustrator Shirley Thompson were married. In 1961, having been appointed head graphic designer at the Observer, Hawkey commissioned Adrian Flowers to take photographs for the magazine’s cover and the following year he commissioned Deighton to produce a series of cartoon-like “Cookstrips” for the Observer. In making the recipes of Catherine David and other chefs accessible to a wide audience, Deighton’s series was a great success and ran for four years. His cover for Kerouac’s novel and the Cookstrips are similar in style, combining hand-drawn bold fonts with simple graphics. The style is direct, modern and easy to understand.
In 1962 also, Deighton’s first novel, The Ipcress File, was published. Largely based on Deighton himself, the hero Harry Palmer was working-class, cynical and tough. However, this cocky spy, from Burnley in Lancashire, was also an unexpected aesthete, a devotee of fine French cookery and classical music. These things mattered to Deighton. In real life, while working in London’s advertising world, he had been one of the few in his agency not educated at public school. In contrast, Adrian Flowers, always impeccable in shirt and tie, had attended Sherborne School in Dorset. As a novel, The Ipcress File is less about espionage than an exposé of the British class system, which at that time was undergoing one of its periodic convulsions, with ambitious working-class youngsters laying siege to the bastions of the establishment. Although Deighton often modelled his characters on people he knew, in The Ipcress File, Adrian Flowers does not seem to make an appearance. In making a star of the young Michael Caine, the film version of The Ipcress file confirmed Deighton in the public eye as one of the great spy story-tellers of his day. Caine’s portrayal of Harry Palmer is perfect, right down to the dexterous slicing of green peppers and onions, as he prepares a meal in his flat for Jean (Sue Lloyd). The kitchen is furnished with cafetieres, copper saucepans from Madame Cadec’s, and—in a neat touch—copies of Deighton’s Observer cookstrips, pinned to the wall.
The early photographs of Deighton taken by Adrian Flowers are gritty, with strong contrast between black and white. Standing the kitchen of his flat in Elephant and Castle, Deighton, wearing white shirt and tie, tea-towel tucked in his waistband, brandishes a frying pan with gusto, as he holds court. The kitchen is a clutter of mortar and pestle, eggs, enamel jugs, spoons, knives. On the table, a cutting board, onions, lemons, a tin of olive oil and packets of herbs labelled ‘Aromes de Provence’. On the window sill behind, a bottle of cider vinegar and a clockwork timer. On a counter near the camera, the lens cover for a Pentax camera. Behind it a blowtorch—presumably for crème brulee—and a large stockpot. In another photograph, taken on a different occasion in the same kitchen, Deighton demonstrates the single-handed cracking of an egg into a bowl, echoing Michael Caine’s cooking skills in The Ipcress File. In these photos, Deighton wears a khaki military-style shirt. The walls of the kitchen are white—in the first series, they are decorated with reproductions of Dutch tiles. On the windowsill is a railwayman’s lantern, an artefact clearly of significance for Deighton, perhaps a momento of his father’s or grandfather’s occupation or military service. On the wall above the cooker hangs a bouquet of bay leaves. On the windowsill—wonder of modern wonders—an electric blender. In these photographs, Deighton wears an apron printed with Victorian woodcut images of men. His tie tucked into the khaki shirt, he peers quizzically at the camera, seemingly nervous in the presence of the photographer. Again, a shot taken in the dining room of the flat, standing at the door beside a Welsh dresser laden with willow pattern ware, Deighton makes a nervous gesture with his arm, while his wife Shirley, smiling and relaxed, reclines in a Thonet rocking chair in her stockinged feet. On top of the dresser the old lantern still has pride of place. Other photographs show the table decorated with flowers, fine china cups and plates. Deighton sits at the head of the table, holding a restive cat. He seems permanently wound up.
With The Ipcress File’s success, Deighton and his family moved from a council flat in Elephant and Castle, to a Georgian house near Borough Road in Southwark. With fame came attention, interviews and magazine articles. For the series “My Favourite Room” Edith Blair, editor at Woman magazine, visited the new Deighton home. When she admired the large wooden table in the kitchen, Deighton explained it had been his father’s carpentry workbench. [Woman, undated clipping, c. 1963] In the 1965 Jane Wilson interview for Town magazine, the cover was designed by Hawkey, with photography by Adrian Flowers. Wilson was low-key but efficient in her probing: “Deighton is understandably loth to talk about James Bond. But he did say, quietly, that he thought the books a little childish” With their simple themes of a hero overcoming titanic odds, the Bond stories affirmed individual free-enterprise capitalism, whereas Deighton’s novels were more nuanced, more authentic in detail, and Socialist at their core. Wilson understood what drove Deighton: “He says he remembers vividly the first time he heard himself described as an intellectual. He thought about it for days afterwards. He feels a bit bolshy and deprived when confronted with a highly polished Oxbridge product, and can put on quite a production about being working-class whenever it seems appropriate.” [Wilson, Town, p. 43]
A later series of images shows the same kitchen dresser from Elephant and Castle, with the same lantern, but this time in the Georgian house near Borough Road. The grimy kitchen floor has been replaced by chequered black and white tiles, gas cooker, stainless steel sink, and ample space for plates and cutlery. A pegboard wall is home to a variety of cooking implements, including mouli, sieves and rolling pin. The lantern on top of the dresser has now been joined by a German WWI helmet, complete with spike.
Using a cable release, Flowers sits at the table, dining with Deighton and a friend, taking a series of photographs as the evening progressed. Included in this series are photographs of Deighton working in his office, again an organised confusion, of angle-poise lights, magnetic tapes, shortwave radio, electric typewriter—all attesting to his love of new technology. But, on the wall hangs a medieval carving of a crucified Christ—perhaps another family momento from WWI. A sequence of shots of Deighton again reveal his nervousness in front of the camera, his hand constantly touching his forehead, patting his hair. There are shots of Deighton in his bathroom, wearing vest and trousers, shaving, and standing in front of a bookcase, with a map of downtown San Antonio, Texas, pinned to the wall. The titles on the spines of the books attest to his research interests: The Bridge at Remagen, V-2, The Edge of the Sword, Panzer Leader, Moscow, Stalingrad. Another image by Flowers, of a ‘top secret’ spy kit, Ministry of Defense Intelligence Unit WOOC (P) The Ipcress File, includes a copy of the novel that brought Deighton fame, along with a playing card, fountain pen, buttons and revolver.
Between 1957 and 1975, Adrian Flowers made several visits to the studio of Mary and Kenneth Martin. Mary Martin, who died in 1969, pursued a distinguished career as a sculptor. Photographs of her by Flowers are featured in a previous post This is Tomorrow.
The present text deals mainly with Kenneth’s life and work. Taken with a Rolleiflex, using fine-grain black-and-white film, the early photographs taken by Flowers of Martin show him white-haired, looking more like a scientist than an artist, fabricating the abstract metal sculptures for which he had become well-known. Over the ensuing years, Flowers documented the development of Martin’s art. The last photographs, of a suspended brass spiral mobile, were taken in March 1975 with an 8 x10” Sinar camera, in preparation for a retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery, held that same year.
Kenneth Martin was part of a generation of artists whose careers were interrupted—and also partly defined—by WWII. After studying at the Sheffield School of Art, and working for six years as a designer in that city, in 1929 he was awarded a scholarship to the Royal College of Art. There he met Mary Balmford, a fellow student who had moved to the RCA from Goldsmith’s College. They were married the following year. Beginning in 1934, Martin exhibited with the Allied Artists’ Association, and two years later showed with the London Group, becoming a full member of the Group in 1949. He also worked as a designer in his early years in London. His first solo show was held at the Leicester Galleries in 1943. He taught at St. John’s Wood School of Art and was also a visiting lecturer at Goldsmiths.
Initially, Martin painted in the ‘Euston Road School’ style, but as the 1930’s advanced, he became more aware of progressive European and American art. In the late 1940’s, inspired by Victor Pasmore and Anthony Hill, he began to experiment with abstract forms, in a style reminiscent of Russian Constructivists such as Rodchenko, El Lissitzky and Tatlin. However, in post-war Britain the audience for avant-garde art—particularly an art that traced its roots back to revolutionary Russia—was limited. Claims that this art in Britain had sprung fully-formed from an interest in pure composition are unconvincing, although it is true that geometry and mathematics formed the essential language of Martin’s aesthetic. He described his constructions as resembling drawing in space with metal—an upbringing in the engineering town of Sheffield perhaps having a bearing on this conceptual approach. Made from lengths of metal welded together, often arranged around a vertical central spine, Martin’s sculptures were based on the idea of retaining and embodying the memory of a spiralling dynamic movement in space, akin to a propeller in water. The idea of rotation in abstract art, found also in the Synthetic Cubism of Albert Gleizes, was further enhanced in his spiral mobiles, where the sculpture was suspended, and allowed to rotate freely.
Although each pursued their own career, Kenneth and Mary Martin often worked closely together. In his introduction to the catalogue Mary Martin, Kenneth Martin, published to coincide with an Arts Council touring exhibition in 1970, Paul Overy described their approach: “In 1960 Mary Martin and Kenneth Martin made a Structure in Collaboration for a joint exhibition at the ICA, in Dover Street. It is a large work in four rectangular sections bolted together to form a large square, its scale and proportions directly related to the particular wall it was designed for, using the Fibonacci series in mathematics yet it does not give the impression of being coldly calculated. The whole structure is painted white and it seems perfect to combine the quiet, meditative introspection of Mary Martin’s earlier reliefs and the spiralling controlled energy of Kenneth Martin’s first series of mobiles.” The Martins worked on two such projects, the other being Environment, designed in collaboration with the architect John Weeks, for the ‘This is Tomorrow’ exhibition, held in 1956 at the Whitechapel Gallery. For this seminal show, the Martins made tall free-standing screens, again reminiscent of Russian Constructivist art, that embodied their theories on a modular, mathematically-based art, where accident and order were held in creative tension. Kenneth Martin’s creative method included using a limited range of materials, such as graph paper, square canvases and a restricted range of colours—and then he would, as it were, throw a dice, and introduce random factors into the composition. While he cited artists such as John Cage and Sol le Witt as having been influential in this regard, Martin’s art echoes the world of I Ching and the interaction of order and chance in the everyday world. Writing in 1987, Hilary Lane remarked “Kenneth Martin was interested in the opposition of experience and information and the puzzle of separating the two. He had a great capacity for experiencing the world; others have written of how the shortest journey in his company was made into a voyage of discovery. The physical sensations of moving through, over, under and across, of walking past, up and down were felt anew and tiny signs of nature, particularly as it triumphed in an urban habitat delighted him.” [Hilary Lane, University of Sussex, Introduction, Annely Juda Fine Art catalogue, 1987, p. 5] In a lecture given in 1956, Martin sought to outline the thinking behind his art:
The wise men of Lagado in Gulliver’s Travels carried on their backs objects to take the place of the spoken word. The construction, were it to act as a substitute for oil painting or drawing, would be as cumbersome and unnecessary. But the construction obeys its own laws and the dictates of its own material and expresses in a tangible manner what can only be expressed by that means. It is architectonic but not architecture and, in the case of the mobile, mechanistic, but in an aesthetic machine not a useful one. [‘Invention, a lecture 1956’, first published in Kenneth Martin, Tate Gallery, London 1975]
Working with assistant Susan Tebby, herself a noted Constructivist/Constructionist artist, Martin received several commissions for public sculptures, including, in 1960, a stainless steel kinetic work for a fountain at Lambeth College in Brixton, and Twin Screws for the Union of Architects building in London the following year. His 1967 Construction in Aluminium is sited at the entrance to the University of Cambridge’s Engineering Department, amidst Georgian terraces at Trumpington Street, Cambridge, while his construction for the Nuffield Institute at London Zoo dates from that same year. Four years later Martin was one of the artists shortlisted for a public art initiative sponsored by the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation and the Arts Council. Having been selected, in 1972 his Construction was installed at Arundel Gate in Sheffield, on a site now occupied by Sheffield Hallam University’s Owen Building. Based on the same mathematical system of rotations (“pendulum permutations”) employed by the artist in his smaller works, this six metre tall work consists of alternating plates and boxes, welded together to form a vertical column. The sculpture was fabricated locally, by Thomas Ward Ltd in Sheffield. Although it was hoped Construction would be purchased by the city’s Polytechnic, this did not transpire, and the work was shortly afterwards transferred to London, having been acquired by the Commonwealth Institute for its new building in Holland Park. It was later sited in parkland at Sutton Manor in Hampshire, and then at Millbank Street in Southampton, before being transferred to the New Art Centre in Wiltshire. In 2007 Construction was sold to a collector in California, but more recently it has returned to England. [Dr. Susan Tebby Kenneth Martin: Construction 1972 (New Art Centre 2022)
The removal of Construction meant that there was no public sculpture by Martin in his home city of Sheffield, an omission that has not been rectified over the ensuing half century. Nor is there a sculpture by him in Sheffield Museum—although he is represented by a late abstract, Chance, Order, Change 24 History Painting A. (A portrait of Martin by Jeanne Masoero, a friend of Adrian Flowers, is also in Sheffield Museum). In 1987 a joint exhibition of Kenneth and Mary Martin’s work was held at Annely Juda Fine Art in Tottenham Mews London, followed by exhibitions at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge and other institutions. Kenneth Martin is represented by several works in the Tate collection, in Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, and in other museums. In 2007-8, an exhibition of work by the Martins was held at Tate St Ives, and in 2022, on the fiftieth anniversary of its first siting, his Construction was sited again at the New Art Centre, at Roche Court in Wiltshire, with Susan Tebby contributing an essay to the catalogue published to mark the sculpture’s return.