Forever Came Today

Posted by in June's Magazine

Will nostalgia for the 1960s ever go away? No chance, says Kennedy Wilson

‘Sexual intercourse began in 1963/Between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles’ first LP’, wrote poet Philip Larkin. His inspiration, in part, was the 1963 Profumo affair the most famous political sex scandal of the 20th century. It was discovered that party girl Christine Keeler had been sleeping with the minister for war and the attaché for the Soviet embassy at the height of the Cold War and, worse still, the Cabinet minister John Profumo was revealed to have lied to the House of Commons. 


Taschen’s David Bailey SUMO limited to 2,700 @ £2,250

The first Bond movie was released around the same time and stories of peers, prostitutes and wild parties ran for months in the papers. Christine and her gal pal Mandy Rice Davies became witnesses at the Old Bailey but it was the women (and their reputations) that were really being judged. The Trial of Christine Keeler is to become a TV series to be broadcast later this year.

In the wake of the Profumo scandal Christine hoped she might trade on her notoriety but the only talent she had was for taking her clothes off. She wrote a book and had a screen test and was memorably photographed, apparently naked, on a modernist chair. Working class Christine was the first of many celebrities with ordinary backgrounds who became famous– in the fields of fashion, retailing, design, pop music, movies and photography – in the 1960s. 

Photographer David Bailey boasted of his East End roots and went on to revolutionise fashion photography – he gained a contract for Vogue in 1960 when he was just 22. He famously photographed all the most beautiful women of the 1960s top models like Jean Shrimpton, Twiggy and Penelope Tree. He married the French actress Catherine Deneuve in 1965 and the sexy 1966 art movie thriller Blow-Up (starring David Hemmings) was based on Bailey who became as famous as many of his sitters. 

‘The sexual revolution liberated a generation. But men most of all’, writes Virginia Nicholson in her new book How Was It For You? Which looks at women’s experiences in the 1960s. ‘We tend to think of the ’60s as a decade sprinkled with stardust: a time of space travel and utopian dreams, but above all of sexual abandonment. When the pill was introduced on the NHS in 1961 it seemed, for the first time, that women – like men – could try without buying’.

Bailey captured the London look of the Swinging Sixties and took it to America. He did photograph men (such as the Beatles and Michael Caine) as well as women. His double portrait of London gangsters the Krays helped glamourize and mythologise the pair. He specialised in bold shots with dramatic lighting in black and white.

Then, as the free-spirited 60s drew to a close he decided to publish a lavish coffee table book of portraits. The title says it all. Goodbye Baby, and Amen: A Saraband for the Sixties. It was a rushed affair. The Daily Express showbiz hack Peter Evans wrote the words and Bailey’s and others’ photographs captured everybody who was anybody – Michael Caine, Mick Jagger, Terence Stamp, Julie Christie, Mary Quant, Roman Polanski canoodling topless with his latest girlfriend.

David Bailey was at once a king in his seraglio, a pop star with his backup singers, a pimp displaying his wares. Still a man other men envied

Evans got in trouble with the publishers when he quoted Quant who said she trimmed her pubic hair in the shape of a heart. At the book’s 1969 launch Bailey was photographed, wrote Shawn Levy in his book Ready, Steady, Go! Swinging London and the Invention of Cool: ‘off the Kings Road with the trio of Christine Keeler, Marianne Faithfull and Penelope Tree – Miss ’63, ’66 and ’69, respectively. Standing amidst them, Bailey was at once a king in his seraglio, a pop star with his backup singers, a pimp displaying his wares… Still a man other men envied’.

By the time the book was in the shops in November 1969 it had an added elegiac quality – a number of sitters had died untimely, tragic deaths.

Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager took his own life; as did musician, author and aristo Robin Douglas-Home; Bailey’s sister-in-law (Deneuve’s sister) was killed in a car crash; the pop artist Pauline Boty succumbed to cancer at only 28; French model Nicole de Lamarge died in Morocco and Sharon Tate was horribly murdered in the summer of ‘69. 

Maybe some of Bailey’s subjects died but the same can’t be said of the swinging decade. Bailey’s latest limited-edition book of photographs costs £2,250. It has his iconic portrait of Mick Jagger in a furry hooded parka on the cover. Mary Quant is the subject of a recent V&A exhibition, in London. And Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie recreates the LA of 1969. 

As the Supremes sang in ’68: “Forever came today.”

Info: The Trial of Christine Keeler is due on BBC One in November; Mary Quant is at the V&A London until February 2020; Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is released on 26 July; Virginia Nicholson’s How Was It For You? Women, Sex, Love and Power in the 1960s Penguin £20 RRP

Twitter @kenwilson84

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