... 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.