Wednesday, 16 November 2011


Envy, I suspect, lies behind my irritation at those 60s icons – David Bailey, Michael Caine, Terence Stamp, Twiggy, any Beatle or Stone you care to name – who are forever saying how exciting it was, how young they were, how they didn't have a clue what they were doing, they just made it up as they went along – how, at any moment, it could disappear in a puff of marijuana smoke. It all sounds so much fun.

Photographer Terry O'Neill, who I interviewed for last Saturday's magazine, was bang slap in the right place at the right time. An eastender like Caine and Bailey, he stumbled into photography by accident. He was picked up in the early 60s by the Daily Sketch, which was after a young snapper to dispatch to the darker corners of London in search of those making the capital swing. The next oldest photographer on Fleet Street was 31 – a dinosaur.

He photographed the Beatles, the Stones (below), the lot – his informal, on the hoof style suiting these equally establishment-upsetting upstarts. "We were all just kids – none of us knew we were going to be famous." Yeah, yeah, Terry, save it.

Today, O'Neill is a short, sweet, twinkly-eyed man who still can't believe his luck, talks merrily about the past, and says there's no-one interesting left to photograph. I beg to differ. But I did enjoy visiting him in his tiny basement studio in Mayfair, filled with boxes, files, drawers and cigarette smoke. I inhaled it along with his stories, pretending I was right back there with him.