Angus McBean, draft of autobiography

Scope and Content

Annotated draft of McBean's unpublished autobiography 'Look Back In Angus', where he recounts his experiences photographing various theatre performers and other prominent sitters. The autobiography draft is in two parts and combined totals 319 pages. The first part of the autobiography contains several loose items at the front, including obituaries of McBean, an introduction on him possibly for an exhibition catalogue and details of 'A Darker Side of the Moon: The Photographs and Writings of Angus McBean'.

Administrative / Biographical History

Angus Rowland McBean (1904-1990) was born in Newbridge, Monmouthshire, to Clement Philip James McBean, surveyor, and his wife Irene Sarah nee Thomas. He was attended Monmouth grammar school between 1915-1921 and briefly attended Newport Technical College. He first purchased a camera when a teenager, whilst his aunt introduced him to the world of theatre through amateur dramatics.

McBean worked as a bank clerk between 1921 to 1924, the death of his father in 1924 saw McBean's mother move the family to London. McBean worked for the Liberty's department store between 1926-1933 as an antiques salesman. His interest in theatre continued, specifically in prop making and in 1933 he secured his first design commission for 'Richard of Bordeaux'.

In 1934 he secured his first photographic exhibition at the Pirates' Den teashop, London, following this he became assistant to Bond Street photographer Hugh Cecil. In 1935 McBean opened his own studio. In 1936 he photographed Ivor Novello in 'The Happy Hypocrite', his photographs were boldly lit and dramatic and he was soon in demand for stage photography with work appearing in glossy magazines.
The 1936 exhibition of surrealist art in London inspired McBean to begin radical experiments with photographic portraiture, creating fantastical portraits. A work of this period being Vivien Leigh enveloped in a plaster of Paris gown, posing amongst cotton wool clouds. He became a well-known and admired figure in London theatre circles, receiving commissions from the major theatre companies during the 1940s and 1950s.

McBean photographed the Beatles for their first album cover but as the 1960s progressed photography fashions evolved and McBean's style fell out of favour. He had turned sitters into glamourous stars, the 1960s saw stars want to look ordinary.

McBean sold his glass plate negatives to Harvard University and retired to Suffolk in the 1970s. A retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the Impressions Gallery, York in 1976 – and at the National Theatre two years later. These shows saw his contribution to British photography be fully recognised and the 1980s saw major exhibitions of his work, television documentaries and photographic commissions. McBean died in June 1990.

This biographical description is largely based on 'McBean, Angus Rowland' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, September 2004, version Oct 2012 [ , accessed 6 Mar 2019]

Access Information

Available to view by appointment in the Heinz Archive and Library Public Study Room, to make an appointment contact Archive Reception . Although records are generally available for public consultation, some information in them, such as personal data or information supplied to the Gallery in confidence, may be restricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Personal photography is permitted for research purposes only. Photocopying is not permitted.