To mark the centenary of his birth, Arena examines the glamorous life and exceptionally long career of pioneering photographer and eccentric English gentleman, Norman Parkinson.
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Norman really isn't my name, my name really is Ronald Smith.
The name is Parkinson.
The other photographers call me The Governor.
My life's work is a constant search for beautiful women.
And women, like Rome, are eternal.
He was a real patriarch.
And he loved women.
And he loved beauty.
He was charming. The man was total charm.
Parkinson was an amazing photographer.
He is still inspiring me.
He inspired me through my modelling period,
through my early days of being a fashion editor.
He taught me. He taught me everything I know. He really did.
I loved Norman Parkinson. He was, you know,
an old-style gentleman photographer.
He was very polite, very thoughtful.
Except he wanted his picture.
That's it. Now that's better. That way.
But you must push it into her waist first.
The whole coat. Yes, exactly. Exactly. You've got it.
Parkinson proved again and again, you know,
when you look at his photos, how timeless they are.
There's something different about them.
They seem alive.
Elegant, no matter what.
More movement than before.
More relaxed than before.
I don't think he was bound by the rules, you know, of how you pose
or what you do or what the editor thinks it should be.
And I don't think he was dictated to by the editors.
He just was Parkinson.
If they didn't want his photographs they'd have to go somewhere else.
But a lot more freedom, which gave us all more freedom.
How unusual is it for a photographer to have a 50-year career?
I think it was almost 60, actually.
But it's pretty unusual, most photographers have ten years
or less, a sort of five-year career.
And having done lots of exhibitions over the years,
it's extraordinary how few manage
to reinvent themselves, to keep going and adapt to the times.
And I think that's one of the outstanding things about Parkinson's life and career.
That's great. And I think a little more profile.
A little more. A little more. That's it. That's great.
And cross the left leg a bit more over the right.
The thing about Parkinson was the fantastic energy he had.
-He was just such a life force.
-Like this, look.
-That's the sort of thing. That's perfect. Right.
Here we go!
Whenever you were in his presence, you were energised by it.
You've had really had a good life in many ways, you know,
cosseted childhood with the good schools and so on.
You think that's so? I'll tell you about my cosseted childhood.
I was born... Well, I lived the first, oh, 20 years of my life
in a semi-detached house in Putney.
My father was a sort of barrister of law that never got a brief.
They did manage to send me to a good school, Westminster.
One had to run the gamut of a mile or so to Putney Bridge Station.
And in those days the top hat was a marvellous thing to throw tomatoes at.
Marvellous school. I really loved it.
I had some terrible reports there. I looked out of the window the whole time.
I couldn't see the point of this education,
but I could see things going on on the street.
You didn't think of taking up art?
Well, I did but I was too lazy.
I wanted to get there quicker.
I could only see that one would photograph debs
and hope that they'd buy the pictures.
My father, who was never a very ambitious man,
said that I'd taken leave of my senses. He said,
"If you want to be a photographer, you have to start, say, in High Street Putney
"and then work up! But you don't start at the top."
That whole Mayfair, West End, photography world is very cut-throat.
There are an awful lot of them and there are only so many debs per season
and they're all fighting for that sort of work.
Parkinson tends to succeed
because he's, you know, he's 21
when he opens his studio,
He's sort of their own age, he's sort of gallant,
he's good fun, he owns this rather fast sort of OM four-seater tourer sports car.
And he's allegedly the Junior Waltz Champion of England.
Girls love him.
Ronald Smith, when he becomes Norman Parkinson,
I think tries to escape his resolutely middle-class upbringing.
That's the great thing about photographers, they can reinvent themselves.
And I think Parkinson reinvented himself
as this sort of rather exotic figure.
But I've often thought it was interesting that one should change one's name TO Norman,
that's the kind of name you sort of change FROM.
Way back in the '30s, when I was a young aspiring snapper,
I used to see in magazines these wonderful women, untouchable,
with their knees bolted together.
Now this is Pamela Minchin, 1939.
I had the most antique camera that cost me £15
and you used to pull through film packs, it was a quarter plate.
And the girl only did the jump about three times
and when at night I pulled that negative out of the soup,
I was hooked forever on photography.
All I did was I knew a few girls who'd sit in an open
Alfa Romeo with me and throw a stick for the dog,
so when they gave me a camera, I just photographed the girl
jumping over the haycocks and everybody said, "How brilliant!"
"What a difference!" There was no difference at all,
those were the girls I knew.
I'm really interested in the whole of England,
particularly the Thames Valley,
because in 1916 we were evacuated down to Bank Farm
in, I call it Piss Hill, but apparently that's not popular,
it's called Pishill.
And it was at Bank Farm that I used to get up into those wonderful woods
and we even, my sister and I, used to chip flints
and make them into arrow heads which we'd tie onto bits of stick.
And there's nothing nicer.
Even now I can remember the smell of flint cracked
is as good as a good Pouilly Fume.
He loved the British countryside,
and he was a gentleman farmer in the '40s.
He loved animals, he was great at taking photos of animals.
And he had pigs throughout his career.
Along with Cecil Beaton, Norman Parkinson put a uniquely
British fashion photography on the map.
By 1941, Parkinson's photographing for Vogue.
There's always this big question mark over the fact
he didn't take any role in the armed services during the war,
but I think it's fair to say that his war photographs
of the Home Front are invaluable to national morale.
Many magazines were forced to close during the war,
Vogue was one that was allowed to continue.
And, in fact, with an increased paper rationing,
it was perceived by the Ministry of Information that Vogue
would be an important boost to the morale of the Home Front.
Vogue takes its mission very much to heart
and hones in especially on the land,
we all have to stick together, we all have to make it through this.
It needed somebody to articulate that visually
and in Norman Parkinson they found that person.
-WINSTON CHURCHILL ARCHIVE:
-Hostilities will end officially
at one minute after midnight tonight, Tuesday the 8th of May.
If I think of Parkinson, that's the period I think of,
all those pictures of Parkinson's wife, Wenda,
the typical English girl. He photographed her so much.
She understood a photograph really well
and she was a very elegant woman,
she dressed in a really wonderful way herself.
You really feel when he photographs her, there's a look in her eye
that is not just ordinary, this is someone who really adored him.
You see it in the pictures,
there's such a joy in them.
And there's that little twinkle of humour too, wit,
that was between her and Parks.
I'd been invited to America to start working
and I used to be there for six months or three months of each year,
when there was football games and racoon coats
and large two-gallon shakers full of Martinis.
The American post-war Vogue is an absolutely beautiful production,
it's sumptuous and suddenly he's found the vibrancy of the city,
photographing in colour in the streets of Manhattan,
And makes it his own as much as he did the sort of calm,
natural elegance of the British countryside.
I was a little girl from the boroughs of Manhattan, very poor,
grew up in the Depression.
I lived in a cold-water flat with my mother alone.
So for me modelling was a way to make money.
I started with Vogue in 1946.
In the 1940s, we were still connected to
more puritanical values.
I was very romantic. And it's all full of imagination.
I was 17 years old.
And here I am all dressed up in the balcony of the Plaza Hotel.
I'm in the ideal strapless grey taffeta dress.
I felt I was in perfect condition, in the perfect setting.
This man must fall in love with me.
I mean that's the mentality of the time.
And what a staggering presence Mr Parkinson, nee Ronald Smith, had.
The shoot went perfectly.
It was an unspoken dance.
At the end of that shoot, when he said, "Well, I think we've got it!"
The doors of the Plaza Hotel opened.
A woman walked in who was one of the most beautiful women
I had ever seen at that time in my life.
The most elegant. And she had in one of her hands a little hand.
Parks turned around and said, "Oh, Wenda, come and meet Carmen."
"Carmen, this is my wife and my son, Simon."
I had to go home alone.
I wouldn't be transported off into the sky to some magical place.
I couldn't even imagine what I was trying to imagine.
That's called naive.
Is it very difficult,
being a photographer
and being with women all the time and being married to one wife?
No, it's not really very difficult, being a photographer,
and I think I've said it before, is rather like working in a sweet shop,
but you just try not to mess around with the liquorice allsorts.
Or the whipped-cream walnuts?
I didn't think that I was giving you any cause for jealousy
although you did have occasional nasty pangs.
Of course you have. Always people are jealous, I think women
perhaps are jealous if other women are constantly with their husbands.
Yes, I suppose one does create a sort of fantasy
and an unreal world in these other women.
Do you think that any of it's come off on me?
Well, I think that when you've been on a trip you come home and you talk
a lot and you don't seem terribly like you. I do think that, yes.
I don't think the other women wear off on you,
I think what you've been doing sort of wears off on you.
He loved to explore.
Don't tell him there's somewhere you can't go because he'll just make it happen and he did.
And he used every trip that he went on, even if it was back to the same place,
to really feel like you were in the country.
He didn't rely on location books taken by somebody else,
that, you know, they'd take a picture here and say that's what this place looks like,
when maybe over here, there was something much more interesting.
And it's somebody else's point of view and he wanted everything to be his point of view.
In 1945, Parks, Vogue magazine starts to send you on assignments the world over.
Now, Wenda, you were the fashion model for one of the earliest of
those photo sessions at of all places a South African ostrich farm.
Yes, Eamonn, I might have suspected that my husband would be thinking
it was a good idea for me to ride one of the ostriches,
which I did.
They go about 60 miles an hour. And it immediately took off
with me trying to steer it by the wings right across the African veldt.
The last thing I remember Parks saying was, "More profile, Wenda. More profile."
Brave, he likes a girl that's brave, that will sort of do anything
and not always, "Oh, I can't do that cos I don't look pretty."
The models who Parkinson discovered,
people like Uma Thurman's mother, Nena von Schlebrugge,
were not your average just pretty face.
What happened was that Norman Parkinson was on a trip
to Stockholm, Sweden on a Vogue shoot,
he wanted to find a natural girl,
fresh and new.
And so he sent out different people to the schools
to stand outside and see who would be coming out of the schoolyard.
I was 14, and suddenly in front of me
was this very tall gentleman and he looked at me and he twirled
his moustache and he said, "I am a photographer from Vogue."
And I looked up at him bleary-eyed and I said, 'What is Blogue?'
And I think that was it, you know, he just fell in love with me.
At 14, I was nearly six feet tall, very skinny,
so I actually didn't think about myself as beautiful.
Parkinson used to say that I was a natural,
he said I had natural elegance.
He brought out what was kind of there, you know,
which I didn't know about.
Like theatre, you know?
What I was wearing set the stage, it became part of it,
it was me acting with what I was wearing.
You see, when I photograph a girl in a garment,
I want her to look as if she owns it.
Most of the girls that I see around, if you put a mink coat on them,
you start to wonder how she earned it, you know?
Was it vertical or was it horizontal?
But my girls are the vertical earners of mink coats.
The models were very sophisticated in those days.
This is what I imagined life was like in the big open world.
You know, if you went apres skiing,
you had this special apres ski outfit, which in those days you did.
And when you went to this dinner you had to dress like that,
and that party you had to dress like that and if you went to Africa,
you had to dress like this and you had to be very proper.
As a young girl, you were dressed like a young woman.
He actually helped dress me when I arrived,
because I didn't really have any sense of dressing at all myself.
He said, "OK, now you have to have a grey suit
"because everyone needs a grey suit." And we got into his car
and we went and we went shopping in London.
He had a funny thing where he never carried any cash, OK?
So when we would be out on location
and had to make a phone call or you had to get something,
we would have to provide it, because he never ever carried cash.
He also was a little eccentric which was very nice.
'Today I'm wearing the brown hat.
'Now the brown hat is not as lucky as the green hat,
'but I must give the brown hat a chance.' Stay, baby. Stay.
Here's your hat, Parks.
'It's rather like training sheep dogs,
'I know that the original old dirty hat is the good one
'and then you have to keep training them so that they get the fluency.'
His magic hat was very important to him,
he actually did believe it had some power.
He just would not take a photograph without the hat.
I can remember we were going up to Connecticut,
probably about an hour and a half, two hours out of Manhattan and we
had all of the equipment in the car
and I said, "You got everything? Yeah. OK, fine."
And we drove up to Connecticut and as we pulled into the person's driveway,
he said, "My hat! I forgot my hat!"
And he said to the driver, "Turn around, we have to go back to Manhattan!"
'So much depends on luck,
'you've got to create a situation where anything can happen.'
Put the camera on.
'While I'm working with Marissa, we're surrounded by the BBC,
'but it won't really matter if they're my shot or not.'
-Ring somebody up that you really like.
-Yeah, well, I have an appointment. What time is it?
No, you don't have an appointment.
He had fun taking his pictures, it wasn't a stress.
It was always a pleasure.
I wish people had that kind of looseness now.
Does anybody get the number of the Hotel de la Ville?
Hotel de la Ville? I have it on a napkin. She's great down there, do I have film?
'You have an assistant and he has the cameras,
'and then we have this jargon, I say,
'"I want the Hasselblad with the Fat Man." And we never talked numbers.
'"I want the Nikon with the zoom."'
-I'm doing pictures for Vogue.
-That's it, chin up, darling, do that again for me.
Come in again.
'I've heard some photographers when they go to photograph people,
'they talk nothing but photography, you know, 5.6, 30th, and you see people dying on the vine.'
Good. OK, we're done!
-Can we have a little hand?
'There were just a few seconds there
'when things really began to happen, about the middle of the last roll.
'If it hadn't we would have come all the way to Rome for nothing.'
There's an awful lot of guff talked about photography, isn't there?
I mean you consciously downplay it all the time, is it an art or a craft or a trade?
It's a trade. I mean, you know, a carpenter,
you've got this gadget with a sort of, bit of a beer bottle in the front
and a piece of sensitised material at the back and a sort of black hole in the middle.
And I've got some very kind gremlins in that black hole, that's simply it.
-It has what's needed.
-Yes, I think it has. Shall we look at it on the box?
Yeah. Yeah, I think maybe this is the one. But let's see the alternatives.
The only thing that worries me a little is the background. You know, I think it's a bit too busy.
I think it is busy. I think it in a way sets the scene,
I rather like that feeling, you know, it's got a stop press quality to it.
He's very modest about his abilities.
He spends a lot of time dissembling about how he has no idea
how his photographs happen, it's all to do with hobgoblins in the lens
and then suddenly this magical thing happens. "Oh, it's amazing!"
What that overlooks is the fact that he was absolutely skilled
and technically adept.
On this one, I'm a bit worried that you're not going to get that purple,
I mean I don't even think the transparency has got the purple.
You're putting this whole run of Paris and Italy on the line.
'A good acid bath... and for me it's back to work again.
'Girl seeking, new girl seeking.'
If he hadn't picked me out, I don't think that I would ever have
gone on to do anything, because I didn't fit the mould at all.
Parkinson adopted me, basically.
Right, you ready, girls? Parks is here. Cattle market's about to start next door.
-Could I have your name, please?
He did it all the time, he used to come two or three times a year
and have what he called his "cattle markets".
-What is it?!
-OK. Stand up.
Oh, yes. All right.
It was quite rare for him to find someone that he wanted.
He knew exactly what he was looking for
and it often wasn't what anybody would expect.
Oh, don't worry.
It's only because the photographers are getting little. If you get tall photographers, you get tall models.
He liked raw material, he liked to sort of see something in somebody that nobody else could see
and make something for himself, you know, and make something out of that person.
What do you look for in a girl anyway, you know, the raw material?
I looked so terrible when you first saw me.
Well, I just think people have to look a little bit different from the "in" people then
and you looked very different.
Downstairs they said, "Well, there they all are. It's not a very good bunch, is it?"
And I said, "What do you mean not a good bunch, there's a star upstairs."
They said, "Which one?" I said, "Well, Celia Hammond."
We had a very close relationship. really. I mean, I adored him
and he was very, very fond of me,
but it was a bit of a sort of Svengali-type relationship, really.
How long did it take you to make up when you first started, Celia?
-About an hour and a half. No, about an hour.
-And now it takes you?
Ten minutes, 15 minutes.
And it's probably better, is it?
'He made you do what he wanted'
and he didn't like you to ever have any ideas of your own.
If you would sort of try and think for him, he'd say, "Stop doing that!"
"Stop behaving like a model!"
He didn't like that, he would always tell you exactly what he wanted.
Can that leg go a little bit higher, baby, it was better before,
I don't want to see the whole shoe.
How old is he in 1960?
He must be 47, he's becoming a bit of a sort of elder statesman at Vogue
and when you've still got, you think, many more miles in the clock, you probably don't want to be an
elder statesman, you want to keep on working, and he jumps ship to Queen.
And very prescient, I think, because he's able to reinvent himself there.
Queen was remarkable in that time, it was the avant-garde place to work for,
it sort of left Vogue behind
and it lasted not very long, but while it was there it was ground-breaking.
Queen put me under contract for a year, so I couldn't do anything,
well, I didn't want to do anything else, actually. I was very happy
just to do that and I did masses of stuff with Parkinson in that year.
Parkinson, I mean his photographs in the '60s come alive when he meets Celia.
Of course she's everything that the 1950s models weren't,
she wasn't sort of full of austere and unapproachable,
she was you know, the hair, she can drive a sports car
and her hair flings back and it must have been very liberating
for a fashion photographer that started in Bond Street in 1934.
I was very much in love with her for sort of three or four years
and I used her like, you know, an artist might.
I got to the state when I could hardly take a picture without her.
Do you think you could shake your hair slightly.
Turn your head this way.
No, the other way.
There certainly is a school of English photographers.
I call them the Black Trinity of Duffy, Donovan and Bailey.
When my contract ended and I started doing things with Donovan,
he really didn't like it, he got quite upset and said, you know...
He just said I'd become a model and, you know, whatever we had,
you know, this magical thing we had was tarnished and gone.
I didn't like the fact that he had Porkinson's Bangers and made
sausages and had a pig farm, I didn't like that!
Did you know that? Porkinson's Bangers.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
This is Gladys, who's our tea lady here at the Television Theatre.
Why are these different from other bangers, these Porkinson's?
I'll tell you. Three things, first of all the pork in it
is the best pork and not the rubbish, old skin and stuff.
-The second thing is there's a little bit of Tobago in them.
And, finally, the skins are real pig.
Pigs thrive in the Caribbean, you know,
back to the days of the buccaneers.
They used to leave pigs on most barren islands,
so that they could always come in.
That's right, when they came in for water and to scrape the bottoms,
they released some pigs so that they knew there would be food there when they came back.
And having heard about this, I started to release a few pigs round my farm and I found they did thrive.
And then I started this cooperative and the people who work around,
come and make the sausages and bacon and so forth and we're now making
about 600 pounds of the famous Porkinson's - Porkinson, notice - Banger a week.
Yes, you're really in the banger business.
He always liked me to experience things in life and opened my eyes to a lot of things.
A great one was to let me watch these pigs getting slaughtered,
which was very graphic and horrendous, but I have this
one memory of him. He always used to put on a big parka coat with a big hood on it
and he'd come out of the freezer with a horror mask on and decide to terrify me,
absolutely to my wits end, where I'd be screaming,
jumped in the pool, trying to swim away from him and he'd chase me around the pool
in this big horror mask and this big jacket.
But that was him, he had a huge, you know, amazing sense of humour.
I was terrified at the time but he found it very funny.
So looking back on it I find it very funny and it's one of those sort of special moments
that I used to have with him.
The decision to come to Tobago wasn't a very difficult one to make.
I mean, just look around. It's like an English village with shades on.
And if you're fortunate enough in having a minimal talent with a camera,
you can work anywhere, you know?
You can sit here for a while and if you're lucky the cables come.
A little guy comes on a putt-putt and somebody says, "Get to Tokyo." And it makes a good base here.
I mean, the world is where I work.
I might just as well commute from Tobago as I should from Heathrow.
Could I have a reverse call to Long Island, New York, please?
I'm speaking from 6393575.
The number in New York is... 5166761237.
My number is 6395375.
Well, I've got to find out if anyone's going to meet me at the airport.
When we went to the Seychelles we went in on the inaugural flight,
no planes had landed there before.
He had heard about this island called Bird Island
and he was determined to go there.
Everyone said, "Oh, you know, there's no way of getting there'.
Bird Island was a very good name for it because there was nothing but birds.
There were like ten million fairy terns.
Wenda used to come on all our trips.
After she'd finished modelling,
she then started writing, she would be the travel writer on all the trips.
He would feed her for her article and she would feed him for the picture.
And when we were in the Seychelles, I think that's where I first started
falling in love with the idea of doing narratives in fashion.
And we had this idea of, you know, why was this girl in the Seychelles that was kind of hard to get to,
and she had all these clothes, because I had to show the clothes.
So we decided that she had been shipwrecked.
This was the story in our head, and by chance, all she was able to save
was a huge trunk full of all her clothes.
So we found this old trunk and we built a raft
and then we spent three days.
We wanted to have an island that had one palm tree on it.
So we literally drove around, round and round and round and round the island
looking for this island with one palm tree.
And Wenda found it.
Parkinson had a sense of big, you know, big spaces,
he would do pictures where, you know, there would be panoramic views.
We were the first fashion magazine
that had been invited to do photographs in Russia, this was in the early '70s.
Grace Coddington was the stylist. And she is a genius stylist,
she had such a wonderful eye.
In Russia, we had to be travelling around with Intourist guides
and, you know, they were sort of taking our film.
And Parks was worried that they might not develop the film right,
so he asked me to sort of stuff some down my pants, you know, which I did.
And then he said to me afterwards,
"Actually, the Russians developed the film even better than we did over here
and we needn't have bothered. SHE LAUGHS
He always liked what I was doing,
he just went with everything, you know, he was very open to suggestions.
And, you know, he was like a young person,
even though he was quite aged, you know, everything was new discovery for him.
I was so excited when I was working with him
that I would go to bed at night thinking, what will I do tomorrow?
He actually, I think, had the most profound effect on my modelling career,
and my life, you know, as far as photographs went, in that his photos
sort of launched me into becoming a big model in England and in America.
And, actually, I met my fiancee, Brian Ferry, because of those photos.
There is a great contact
with a photographer and the girl.
It's almost like a metronome because the good girls,
they give you something and even if you don't like it, you take it,
and then slowly she understands that you know what she's doing.
You say a couple of words and she will get
into where you want her to be.
And then, you know, it rises and falls like a metronome.
And you know exactly...
When you start to lift a film strip, you know all the way to that picture
that you remember focused on the eye.
When you're working with Parkinson it was that you were posing for him,
it was not for the magazine or for the public,
it was really a one-on-one relationship.
It's very important that you have this magical experience
that is just between the two of you and nobody else.
What a flirt he was, he was such a flirt.
We danced, he likes to move around you,
so he's not like just standing in front of you when he's taking a picture,
so you're aware of 360 degrees of your body.
Very few photographers can engage you like that, that's why
some photographers don't like to work on locations because they find that
everything else is distracting, but Parkinson was always, the location,
was the background and the backdrop of the story but it was a relationship,
what people saw in the eyes.
So what they see in the girl's eyes through that picture,
it was actually intended for him personally.
The house was in the shape of a W,
obviously my grandmother's name was Wenda, and one of his great
rituals was sunset. So that around six o'clock every evening,
no matter what you were doing, where you were, where you'd been that day,
if you'd just come off the beach or going for a shower or whatever,
you were summoned and it would be a loud call, "Sunset!"
And everybody would have to come and sit down and watch the beautiful sunset.
DESERT ISLAND DISCS THEME MUSIC
Now let's get onto music, what's the first record you've chosen?
Well, because of my association with Carnival and with Trinidad,
where you have a license to be drunk,
which is part of the joys of life,
it gets rid of all your inhibitions, here we go, Norman, Is That You?
# Norman was me good partner
# To me he was like a brother
# A jack of all trades, a very good sportsman... #
I became friends with him as did my husband, Mick.
And we went to Trinidad
and we danced at carnival.
We went on stage and we won, I think it was second place.
We were Seaweed, and we ended up getting blind drunk.
Actually, I did find myself lying in a gutter, you know.
I mean, really! That's never happened to me before or since, only with Parks.
# Norman, is that you? #
Parkinson was an amazingly stylish person, his look was unique.
Was it dandy?
I don't know, I can't put my finger on it,
but he used to wear these sort of huge belts slung low around his hip.
And his choice of fabrics were amazing.
I mean, he had his clothes made, these were not off the peg.
There were endless things that he had made in the Caribbean
or in India or Kashmir or somewhere on his travels.
He had a little sort of broachy thing
that he wore instead of a tie for those super-chic occasions.
He pushed the rules.
And he had this very elegant little silver box of snuff,
so he always took a pinch of snuff, all the time.
Over the 50 years we knew each other, the thing about Parks
was that he didn't stay in a rut.
And he decided the amount of travelling he did,
the way his body was changing,
as we all do as we age, he went for comfort.
He developed his own casual style.
To the point where once we came off a shoot,
then he was in a pea green,
terry cloth, short-sleeved, zip-up jumpsuit.
He had this funny habit of putting himself in his own pictures.
I mean, he was the ultimate prop and he knew it.
He enjoyed being recognised. You know, he didn't want to be a nobody.
"Dear Mr Parkinson, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother,
"has asked me to write and thank you so much for your Christmas presents.
"The Queen Mother greatly appreciated your kind and generous thoughts
"in sending such a magnificent consignment of Porkinson's sausages.
"Her Majesty will be taking them up to Sandringham
"and is much looking forward to tasting them.
"Queen Elizabeth sends you her best wishes for a very Happy New Year."
I have been very fortunate because that large house at the end of the Mall
have occasionally beckoned me to go in there and take some snaps, which I've enjoyed.
And it makes you work very fast
and it makes you work with a tremendous sort of cunning.
You know you may only have 20 minutes
and you've got to get your snaps and get out fast.
I have enjoyed those very much as a challenge.
You know you have become, by somebody sticking a pin in you,
you've become a moment of history.
August 4th, 1980, a very great day in celebration of a remarkable lady.
The National Portrait Gallery was doing
an exhibition in 1980 for the Queen Mother's 80th birthday.
We heard that Parkinson had got this commission to photograph
the Queen Mother with her two daughters.
The Queen Mother was one of his very best friends
and asked Parkinson to take all her official pictures
I wanted to think of a picture that would be historic.
Princess Margaret had fixed up that after church on Sunday,
the Queen also would be there.
I know when they turn up after church,
somebody will be in puce, somebody will be in polka dots and the
whole trouble with historic pictures is they're killed by the fashion.
I bought a lot of beautiful blue silk fabric in New York
and I went to Hardy Amis and I said, "Would Miss Lillian,"
she's the seamstress, "make me three capes which would button up at the back?"
It was a wonderful, wonderful picture to see them
all buttoning themselves up.
Princess Margaret was a good ally, and the Queen Mother enjoyed it.
I think the Queen, I think she's all right about it now,
but I think she felt outnumbered and a little bit embarrassed at the time.
Norman Parkinson was clever enough,
adept enough to reinvent himself for every decade.
In Manhattan in the '80s,
America rediscovers, not just his ability with the camera,
but this kind of exotic character who turns our lovely American ladies into Duchesses.
Town and Country is incredibly glossy.
Parkinson sees it as a fascinating new departure,
these people have so much money and here they are in this magazine wanting to show it off.
Yes, I forgot about all those,
we did a lot of things with Town and Country.
We went to amazing houses with people
who had the most wonderful art collections.
I remember asking at one house,
what did these people, how did they get all their money?
What do they do?!
And apparently, I think it was their grandfather or great grandfather
had invented the can opener and patented it.
That was a good one.
Parkinson plays his part to perfection,
this slightly eccentric Englishman, and they love him, of course,
he becomes as much a star as the people he's photographing.
I think he took a tack that was about vulgarity
and I was sort of sad.
And I can hear him, I can hear him saying, you know, "Bring it on!"
"Bring it on! More!" Put more trash on and more make-up
and make your hair bigger, you know.
I didn't see charm in his pictures in that period.
And, for me, charm and Parkinson, they're like a marriage.
The excess of the '80s, I think he described it well.
I think he described the society he was looking at.
I don't think he invented it, I think he understood it.
Fashion photographers are journalists.
We're making our statement about the time,
even if two people are sitting at a table,
what's on the table is reflecting what the times are,
if people are drinking beer,
it's a different time than people drinking champagne.
Fashion photographers become the recorders of celebrities of the time and of the clothes of the time.
And that's what journalists are, they record the times.
Women have really been the same for thousands of years,
my job is to point them up for here and now.
The most I can hope for is to see a woman flick through the pages of a magazine
and actually stop and turn back
when something of mine catches her eye.
One of the things, I think, that kept Parks working was the fact
that it masked some of the tragedies that were going on in his life.
Wenda died in 1987. In her sleep, but quite suddenly.
He lost his life partner and his first muse.
Four weeks later to the day,
their house in Tobago went up in flames and suddenly he's bereft.
And I think he really begins to have a crisis of identity towards the end of his life.
Ronald Smith had been playing Norman Parkinson for such a long time
without ever really letting the mask slip. And he says that very telling thing,
"If I didn't have a passport, I wouldn't know who I was."
I think a fate worse than death is to end up in Putney Vale
and since I've got permission from the government of Trinidad and Tobago
to have my private burial ground,
there I hope will be the best wake that Tobago's ever known
with steel bands, a line of tin baths,
you wear your best suit, boots and all, and you're covered in ice
and when you want your rum and water,
you just scoop the ice off the tin tub.
For me, he's certainly one of the great photographers, really.
Apart from a very deep love of him,
I think his pictures are very inspirational.
I don't know how he captures these extraordinary moments.
I remember one time I was doing a story on jodhpurs.
He wanted the girl to pull a little wooden horse on a string with wheels.
We were just going along and suddenly out of the restaurant
came this huge fat man. I mean, huge!
And he took one look at this girl wheeling her horse and he jumped on it.
And Parkinson caught it,
you know, he caught all those really funny moments.
Parkinson loved things that were silly.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
To mark the centenary of his birth, Arena examines the glamorous life and exceptionally long career of pioneering photographer Norman Parkinson, an eccentric English gentleman who also produced his own brand of sausages. Featuring an abundance of beautiful images and with previously unseen footage, the film explores Parkinson's work with contributions from his models and collaborators, including Iman, Jerry Hall, Carmen Dell'Orefice, creative director of Vogue Grace Coddington and his grandson Jake Parkinson-Smith.