Angus McBean (8 June 1904 – 9 June 1990) was a Welsh photographer, set designer and mask maker
McBean learnt his photographic craft in the studio of the society photographer, Hugh Cecil. Working as a mask maker and theatre designer, his break came when he made masks for Ivor Novello in the ‘Happy Hypocrite’. Novello was so impressed with his work that he commissioned McBean to produce photographs of the whole production. These photographs adorned the pages of all five weekly ‘shinies’ in effect launching McBean’s career. He became the pre-eminent photographer for the British stage, photographing most of the important productions from the 1940s to the 1960s. He developed a form of photographic surrealism starting in 1937 with a series of photographs for ‘The Sketch’ which he re-invented over forty years later with a series of extraordinary colour fashion shoots for Vogue and Harpers in Paris in the 1980s.
For most of his career McBean produced a photographic record of his life in self-portraits. Beginning in 1936 and continuing almost without interruption until 1986, he created an extraordinary series of Christmas cards, featuring himself in often surreal set-ups. Produced in limited numbers, printed to a high standard and hand finished, they comprise a wonderful record of self-portrayal. At the same time, he would produce cards for his mother Irene, and his partner David Ball. Quentin Crisp, one-time McBean model and lover, wrote a tribute to him on his death in 1990 ‘He played that life was happy; that all women were lovely - even Edith Evans; he played that love was everywhere. This philosophy made him delightful to be with, impossible to talk to and infinitely sad… He worked hard for his success, and when it came he enjoyed it chiefly because it brought him into contact with so many illustrious people… he was genuinely star-struck. I never heard him speak badly of anyone well known. In his eyes, celebrity made anyone adorable. Despite his success he remained mysteriously modest.'
1904 Born South Wales. Attended Newport Technical College
1925 Moved to London. Worked in Liberty’s antiques department
1935 Began career in theatre as mask maker and scenery designer
1936 First commission for Ivor Novello. Started yearly photographic christmas cards which ran until 1986
1937 Sketch magazine commissioned a series of ‘Surrealised Portraits’
1940’s Official photographer for Stratford theatre, Royal Opera House,
Sadler’s Wells, and Old Vic, amongst others
1942 Sentenced to prison for 4 years for gross indecency
1960’s Photographer of pop stars, creating record covers, most
famously, the Beatles’ Please Please Me
1984 Colour fashion plates for French Vogue
1989 Colour fashion plates for Harpers & Queen
1990 Died in Ipswich on the night of his 86th birthday