Monday, January 4, 2010

Mick Jagger

... it is said, once bought a bed from the man who made the above photograph of Oliver Messel. Angus McBean was his name and he considered himself a "bodger of genius" this besides his main claim to fame - his theatrical and frequently surreal photographs he made from the 1930s through the 1960s. However, that is another post, perhaps for later in the week.

Now, that phrase "bodger of genius" came as a surprise to me as I'd always thought bodger meant as Wiktionary defines it, one who works in a rough and ready, slipshod manner. I was right, but it has another perhaps older definition; a woodworker in the traditional style characterized by the use of hand tools. Bodging, for those who are more particular about their definitions, is the traditional craft of creating chair legs and stretchers.

Anyway, in the 1960s Angus McBean, photographer extraordinaire, bought himself a house; a 14th century moated manor that had been stripped of all its interior woodwork, paneling, and decorative trim. All the fireplaces, too, were gone, as were the doors, leaving a barn-like space 100 feet long by 26 feet wide.

The rooms he created in this vast space you can see in the following photographs. When McBean bought the house, ancient and historic buildings were still being destroyed and whole rooms were available cheaply - paneling, staircases and fireplaces came on the market almost as cheap as firewood - and what wasn't original he made - he bodged it together from oak, older than the Victorian material he eschewed as being merely stained to look old.

It has all the charm of the ancient, this house, all of the theatre of his photography, and none of the soul-sapping correctness that often came with period reproduction. It is pastiche. Pastiche has become such a dismissive term, often meaning parody, and it is a pity for it can mean the creation of a fantasy, a summoning of times past, an entertaining capriccio, or simply an uplifting setting for lives lived with elan.

The components of McBean's pastiche are Tudor paneling, Directoire and Second Empire furniture, Jacobean oak, wallcovering derived from walls in a Florentine palazzo, Roman stone, Cole's wallpaper, Spode and Liverpool china, a sense of the past, the needs of today and a love of theater.

This four-poster bed – looking authentic enough to lead one dealer to wonder why it had never been on the market – was in fact cobbled together from spare pieces of Jacobean oak. The previous bed, a prototype for this one, was sold to Mick Jagger. The bedside tables are two halves of a cupboard and the lamp bases are from a decrepit 16th century frame.

Far from being just a "bodger," McBean was clearly an artist, some might say a genius, and he certainly had an eye – another fascinating nugget: it was he who picked Audrey Hepburn out of an audition line-up to be a model for advertising cold cream.

Photo of Oliver Messel by Angus McBean from Oliver Messel, A Biography by Charles Castle, Thames and Hudson 1986.

Photos of Angus Bean's house by Angus Bean from World of Interiors, June 1983.

Text of post based on essay by Diana Winsor from World of Interiors, June 1983.


  1. Impressive. I think I may have floated through a picture of Mick's bed? but where. Pastiche is a word to strive for, what a beautiful home. As I have said before, to my eye Pastiche and design trumps historically correct interior decoration, though some can be beautiful. And 1983? I cry for that. I will be back to this post again.
    and again. GT

  2. "...bought himself a house." Hard for me to take in even one of the photos. Look closely and find a scissors collection! Who knows what else? Over my head and a lot of fun. If that's him in overalls, he has every reason to smile.

  3. When we moved a wonderful man called Mr. Tibbles came to give our dining table some TLC and he was a bodger. He loved the table and chairs. So they are still out there!

  4. How fantastic and impressive as little augury states! I think it's all the more charming for not being 'historically' accurate -but rather a passage through history through each room!

  5. Mr Tibbles, Bodger to the Gentry - I can almost see his trade card. Thank you, Anonymous.

    Terry, that is indeed Mr McBean standing before the empty shell of the building he bought.

    ArchitectDesign and Little Augury - thank you both!

  6. A good eye indeed...only a true master could cobble together such dispirate pieces in way that looks like they have spent several lifetimes together.

  7. I am enthralled by the "McBean pastiche"...perhaps it's my crow-like proclivities.

  8. All these images smoulder, thank you Blue. Was there a Mrs McBean?
    I am thinking of the insouciant paper napkins! I imagine Angus McB
    liked the design alongside the marvellous earthenware and enjoyed provoking anyone who would arch their eyebrows at paper. Or maybe the missus hadn't got the laundry done. Whichever way, they are a pleasing shock to the eye.

  9. Rose - there was not a Missus McBean as in wife to Angus as far as I know. Well spotted with the paper napkins! I wonder if he called them serviettes in that incorrigibly insouciant manner of his?

  10. Angus was of the "higher faith". His long term partner, assistant and model was David Ball. Still living a sprightly life in rural Suffolk.