The Earl Of Lichfield

Photographer who rose above his royal connections to make some of the defining images of his time
Click to follow
The Independent Online

As a photographer, Patrick Lichfield created some of the defining images of the Sixties and Seventies: Marsha Hunt in the nude; the star of Hair with the original big hair; Mick Jagger with his highly plastic mouth; Joanna Lumley; Jane Birkin - and his iconic Swinging London group portrait with Roman Polanski, David Hockney and Lady Antonia Fraser. Later in his career he became known better for his portraits of his own relations in the Royal Family - especially his wedding photographs of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981.

Lichfield was born to be a society photographer but lucky to come into his own at a time when the boundaries of "Society" were being stretched to include film and pop stars. Though he was the exact opposite of most of the working-class snappers who themselves became celebrities in that era, the fifth Earl of Lichfield had plenty in common with the first Earl of Snowdon, who, Lichfield insisted in his 1986 autobiography Not the Whole Truth, was "a photographer who became a Lord", and not, as he himself was, "a Lord who became a photographer".

Actually, Patrick Lichfield had a wry sense of humour, especially about himself. He could see, and relished, a touch of absurdity about his own position - particularly when he appeared in front of the camera as a model in advertisements for Burberry's.

Lichfield was born in 1939, the son of Thomas, Viscount Anson, heir to the fourth Earl of Lichfield, and Princess Anne of Denmark (née Anne Bowes-Lyon), the Queen Mother's niece. He was therefore a first cousin once removed of the Queen. He and his younger sister, now known as Lady Elizabeth Anson, the party organiser, were shunted back and forth between their grandparents' stately homes, accompanied by their nanny, Agnes Maxim. At Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire his paternal grandfather encouraged him to understudy the servants - Lichfield later referred to this odd practice as his lessons in "life and man management".

His interest in photography stemmed from this time, when he was given a Vest Pocket Camera and began taking photographs of animals around the estate. Two years later the young Patrick Anson was rumbled taking illicit snapshots with his grandfather's Box Brownie: when the film was developed, a photograph of a housemaid in her bedroom - shot through a window from a fire escape - was revealed. "That was my first nude," Lichfield confessed.

At Harrow, as well as being a gifted sportsman, he realised he had a talent for capturing the character of his friends in photographic "leavers' " portraits, for which he charged 9d per shot taken with his Kodak Retinette.

He joined the Grenadier Guards in 1959 (he said he had been drunk when he did so), but left after a year when his grandfather died and he inherited the earldom and the 10,000-acre 18th-century Shugborough estate. (His father had died two years earlier, of an allergic reaction to a bee sting.) Lichfield was subsequently forced, because of large death duties, into passing Shugborough and most of its contents to the National Trust, retaining a small portion of the house for his private use.

Lichfield now embarked on a career as a professional photographer. According to him, his family thought his photographic career, when he initially worked as a darkroom technician for Dmitri Kasterine and Michael Wallis, "far worse than being an interior decorator and only marginally better than hairdressing".

Throughout his life Patrick Lichfield, as he preferred to style himself, objected to the way the press painted him as "a renegade royal who swapped his coronet for a camera". A favourite of the gossip columns, his name was frequently linked with the rich and glamorous, and his playboy life style commented on. The real story, Lichfield claimed, was less romantic and not without unhappiness. In 1969 he told the Daily Sketch, "I have really worked at being a photographer. I've used pseudonyms to make sure that it is my work and not my name that counts."

Lichfield's photographic career embraced fashion, glamour, commercial photography and portraits. Famous sitters ranged from Sophia Loren, Britt Ekland and Debbie Harry to Harold Macmillan, and his work from sensitively shot nudes for the Unipart Calendar to formal royal commissions such as Princess Anne's engagement photographs and the Queen's silver wedding portraits.

As is the case for most photographers, the bread and butter of his profession remained commercial work throughout his career, which he did from a studio in Notting Hill, west London, where he once employed a staff of five. Early photographic subjects consisted mainly of debutantes he met on the social circuit, portraits of whom he sold to glossy magazines like Queen and the social pages of the tabloids.

His first significant break into serious photography came when Diana Vreeland, the celebrated (and helpfully snobbish) editor of American Vogue, commissioned Lichfield to take some portraits of the Duke of Windsor in his Paris home. Lichfield's shots of him tying a Windsor knot were the first of many assignments from the Vogue titles in Britain and the United States. Lichfield was pleased to have become part of the Brit pack of photographers working in New York, which included Tony Snowdon, Cecil Beaton, David Bailey and Norman Parkinson. Further proof of his acceptance as a professional came when the Royal Photographic Society staged a one-man retrospective in 1974.

He secured his first royal commission after approaching the Buckingham Palace press office with the suggestion of shooting group photographs of the Queen and her family on holiday. He capitalised on the newly prevailing spirit of informality - started by the television cameras' being allowed into Westminster Abbey for the Coronation in 1953, and developed further by Richard Cawston's 1968 television film, Royal Family, which, by showing the Windsors as hard-working individuals, altered the public's perception of them for ever.

Lichfield's successful execution of informal portraits helped humanise the royals. He depicted a relaxed and smiling family on holiday - dressed casually in kilts in front of Balmoral, with the corgis playing by their feet: fishing, having barbecues, riding and walking. More royal commissions followed, which he states in his autobiography were "among the hardest and most rewarding pictures I have taken". He outmanoeuvred press photographers at the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1981 by clicking his tongue, successfully emulating the sound of a camera shutter closing, prompting his rivals to use up their own quota of exposures believing he had done the same, thus leaving Lichfield to capture the famous shot of the bridal group collapsing in a heap of giggles after the formal shoot was over.

Patrick Lichfield's trademark grey bouffant hair-do and beautifully tailored clothes, with a crisp white handkerchief protruding from his breast pocket, never changed. Following his stint as a Burberry's model with Annunziata Asquith, he became synonymous with British style and elegance, making him the perfect model to market his own ready-to-wear range of clothes - "the Lichfield line" - which he developed in the US in the Sixties.

As an arbiter of beauty and glamour, he put together several photographic books including The Most Beautiful Women (1981), Lichfield on Photography (1981) and Lichfield on Travel Photography (1986). Queen Mother: the Lichfield selection (1990) and Elizabeth R: the Lichfield selection (1991) followed. In 2003 the National Portrait Gallery staged an exhibition, "Lichfield: the early years 1962-1982", celebrating the 40th anniversary of his starting out as a professional photographer.

A bon vivant, Lichfield was director of several restaurants in London including the casual Deals restaurants which he ran with Eddie Lim and David Linley. It must have been in connection with this aspect of his career that six of us - Jilly Cooper and Sue Arnold were of the party - once had lunch in the private room called the Orangery at Claridges, when a doddering and ancient waiter used the salt rather than the sugar caster to prepare our ostentatiously flambéed pudding course. All six struggled to keep a straight face and pretend that we had already eaten more than we could manage, while Patrick Lichfield instantly told a pre-emptive joke that allowed us to collapse in laughter but spare the old waiter's feelings.

Latterly he tried to change his anyway undeserved dilettante image and highlight a compassionate side to his public persona. In 1989 he took on a role as the VSO's first ambassador, visiting volunteers worldwide.

A devoted father to his three children, Patrick Lichfield admitted to feeling devastated when his marriage to Leonora Grosvenor, sister of the Duke of Westminster, whom he wed to great fanfare in 1975, ended in divorce 11 years later. The amount of travel that Lichfield undertook during assignments, spending on average 200 nights a year in hotels, had presumably contributed to the break-up. The constant stream of tabloid stories "documenting" his alleged affairs with models throughout the Seventies and Eighties did not help.

On the breakdown of his marriage, Noel Myers, Unipart's art director who had worked with Lichfield on the famous calendars, suggested in an interview that Lichfield was driven to being a workaholic because he was determined to prove he was not the beneficiary of privilege.

Lichfield wished his legacy to be the arboretum he planted at Shugborough in 1976, and was proud that he knew the Latin name for each of the 52 varieties of oak that grow in the park. It was, however, his million or so negatives that will be the more apt reminder of a man who acknowledged, "I am happier taking photos than doing anything else in life."

Alexandra Younger and Paul Levy

It was the Sixties and London was swinging, writes Karl Dallas, when the Queen's cousin was thrown together with a jumped-up working-class commie, namely myself, who had had the cheek to criticise the dress sense of his relative the Prince of Wales in Tailor & Cutter magazine.

After Woodstock, I attempted to get a British festival organised along similar lines, and Patrick Lichfield was instrumental in getting together half a dozen of the richest young men in the country to raise the millions of dosh we needed to get it off the ground. Alas, the debacle of the Rolling Stones concert followed shortly afterwards, and the money men withdrew from the project.

For a time I represented Patrick's clothing-design ideas in the United States, though I never found a clothing company willing adequately to pay for the Lichfield name. One time, when I was fashion consultant to Bob Guccione's short-lived Lords magazine, the actor I had booked for a shoot failed to turn up, and in a panic I rang Patrick for help. He left his own studio session and roared up on his motorbike to fill in.

He helped me to set up the International Male Elegance Awards and sat on the judging committee, where he caused some dissension by insisting on voting for himself as the best-dressed royal.

Patrick often said that, if his studio caught fire, he'd prioritise saving his Levi jeans rather than his precious negs. Frankly, I never believed him, but it made a good media quote.

Comments