Angus McBean

Angus McBean and his Beatles photo

A substantial portfolio of work by photographer Angus McBean will be auctioned off next month in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.

The collection contains images of famous and noteworthy people including screen legends Marlene Dietrich, Vivien Leigh, Katharine Hepburn (my personal favourite) and Laurence Olivier, as well as musicians Shirley Bassey and the Beatles, who used McBean’s photo for their first album ‘Please Please Me’ in 1963.

Along with the photographs, a visitor book containing more than 1,000 signatures of visitors to McBean’s studio will be sold, making some autograph collector extremely happy (seriously, TS Eliot and Agatha Christie both signed his book).

McBean began his career designing scenery and creating masks for theatrical productions before he began to pursue photography. He opened his studio in 1935 and the work he produced was influenced by the Surrealist movement of the twenties. McBean soon became known for his dramatic and often exaggerated photographs.

After photographing British theatre stars from his roles as official photographer for the Royal Opera House and the Old Vic, McBean retired to Debenham to open an antique business, though he came out of retirement for a few years before he died in 1990.

I hadn’t heard of McBean until I saw this piece about him in our paper last month. I quickly went online and looked through his images. I quickly fell in love with McBean. It wasn’t his theatre photographs that did it, or his photograph of starlets or even the Beatles. Instead, it was his self-portrait Christmas cards- especially the one where he is dressed as Neptune from 1938. I also loved McBean’s 1950 Christmas card featuring him in a fish tank using simple trickery, but impressive for the time.

The auction, by Lacy Scott and Knight in Bury St Edmunds, will be held on 12 April, with the collection being sold in 200-300 different lots.

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