By Bill Mouland
13th November 2009
They are the portraits that escaped an inferno - a bonfire of the
vanities lit by celebrity photographer Brian Duffy after a trivial
row over toilet rolls. Thirty years ago, in a fit of pique, he put a
match to his collection of negatives, almost destroying them all -
just because his office boy had complained the loo was out of paper.
Fortunately, for history's sake, his best friend, David Bailey,
stopped him turning his life's work into a pile of celluloid ashes.
Now the images that escaped destruction - iconic photographs which
define the Sixties - have gone on show in London after languishing
for years in cardboard boxes at Duffy's home. The exhibition, at
Chris Beetles Gallery and titled Duffy, features 60 photographs which
capture the mood, the trends and the politics of the time.
John Lennon looks at the camera with that familiar mocking smile,
Michael Caine manages languid menace and the Mail's own Keith
Waterhouse, in his Billy Liar heyday, is simply magnetic. Now 76,
Duffy - one of the so-called Black Trinity of fashion photographers
who included Bailey and Terence Donovan - has revealed how the row at
his office sent much of his archive up in smoke.
In the mid-Seventies, his career was at its height, but Duffy
couldn't cope. 'I travelled constantly and, although business was
good, I was stressed - probably on the verge of a nervous breakdown,'
he said. 'I came into work one morning and an assistant said to me:
"We haven't got any toilet paper." Here was I, the boss, having to
make all these decisions and all he could think of was bog paper.
'I just stopped and sent everyone home. I went out into the garden
and started burning things. You would think celluloid would burn
easily, but it didn't. Then the neighbours complained about the smoke
and people from the council turned up and it all got nasty and we
were all arguing. 'David Bailey turned up and he said he would have
helped me if he'd known. I stopped burning stuff and the rest of the
negatives just sat in shoe boxes in my house until my old lady [wife
June, 75] asked me what I was going to do with them.'
The rest is history - albeit slightly singed. Here, Duffy gives his
own acerbic comments on his famous subjects...
[See URL for photos.]