Researching for my first book written with Paolo Hewitt, namely ‘The Fashion of Football’ in 2003, I discovered that Mayfair tailor Dougie Hayward made suits for England World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore. ‘Right’ said PH ‘ We’ll go round to see him.’
And that’s what we did. We just walked in and asked to speak to Dougie. All this was brand new to me, but Paolo was an old hand at getting the first hand info. he needed. Upon entering Dougie’s shop on Mount Street in Mayfair, we were met by a charming lady called Audie who when we said we’d like to talk to Dougie, called him down from his office upstairs.
I think my broad South London accent tickled him, because despite the frightfully expensive address we now stood in, Dougie was in fact a working class boy made good, who over the years had made suits for everyone of note from Steve McQueen in the ‘Thomas Crown Affair’ to Michael Caine in ‘The Italian Job.’
Mr. Hayward was very kind to us, giving us some fine old stories and then Audie said ‘you should speak to Terry O’Neill, he’ll have some great photos.’ I explained we had shirt buttons for the photo budget so could never afford him. ‘Nonsense’ she replied ‘I’ll call him’ and she did. We arranged to meet back in the tailors a week later.
As we arrived racing driver Jackie Stewart was just leaving and Michael Parkinson was trying on some trousers. It was that kind of shop. Terry was sitting waiting for us and we were soon into a conversation about the book. ‘Tell you what’ he said ‘come round to the studio and take what you need. Give me a drink for any you use.’
I was frankly stunned, his work was world famous and worth a fortune, but here he was handing it to us on a plate. Of course, I had to go for it and after visiting his Audley Street basement I was in possession of ninety images of football related photos.
I related this story to a few people when I heard the news of Terry’s recent death. I then met my brother who too had met Terry in his line of work and had also found him a charming man. ‘Come in for a cuppa while you wait’ Terry said and Glen then spent a good hour talking to him whilst they both forget what they were supposed to be doing in the first place.
So, we have a Gent of the highest order here and one I take great delight in writing about today.
He was born Terence Patrick O’Neill in Romford in July 1938, the son of Leonard, who worked at the Ford car plant and Josephine, a housewife. He lived throughout the Second World War as a child near Heston Airfield, always interested in photography and the proud owner of a box brownie camera. He later toyed with becoming a priest and a drummer, with his love of jazz and blues to the fore, but the photography bug had bit him.
He left school at 14 and after his National Service began his photographic career as a BOAC airline snapper based at Heathrow Airport. There he waited and captured the famous the celebs as they arrived in or departed from, the UK, as well as studying at Ealing Art School on certain days of the week.
A reporter was impressed with a photo that Terry had taken of politician Rab Butler, and soon after he found work at The Daily Sketch newspaper, and became one of the youngest photographers working on Fleet Street by a good ten years.
‘They said ‘You’ve got an eye’, but I had no idea. I said ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ but they said ‘Just keep doing it, we’ll train you’ and they did. They turned me into a photographer.’
An influence on his early work was the photographer W. Eugene Smith. O’Neill’s first professional engagement was to photograph Sir Laurence Olivier. A nice easy start then…
Being young himself, only aged 20 when he snapped The Beatles, he was roughly the same age as the pop groups coming through who other photographers ignored. His style was quite low key and unconventional. Terry also struck up good relationships with them away from work and became part of the inner circle.
He married the actress ‘Blonde Bombshell’ Vera Day in 1963 and they had two children.
By 1965, he was highly in demand and worked for the top newspapers and magazines of the day. He met Ava Gardner who in turn introduced him to Frank Sinatra and well, he never looked back
Name any major star of the last 60 years and Terry O’Neill photographed them all, apart from Marilyn Monroe, and that was due to a jealous girlfriend who thought he’d get ‘too close.’ to her.
Terry’s main creative muse in the 1970s might surprise some when it is revealed to be David Bowie. ‘You never knew who was going to show up. He could look alien-like or female-like; it was always so exciting as everything he did was so unpredictable.’
O’Neill married actress Faye Dunaway in 1983 and they had a son Liam. His last wife was Laraine Ashton, founder of the IMG model Agency. For the last 20 years sadly, Terry suffered from ill health.
He underwent surgery for a triple bypass, and then bowel cancer in 2006, not that long after we had met him.
He was awarded the honorary fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society in 2004 and much of his work is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Terry was awarded a CBE for services to photography in 2019 and sadly died in November of the same year aged 81.
‘All the proper stars have gone. There’s nobody around now I’d want to photograph. Amy Winehouse was the last person – real talent.
The perfectionist in me always left me thinking I could have taken a better shot. But now when I look at photos of all the icons I’ve shot – like Mandela, Sir Winston Churchill and Sinatra – the memories come flooding back and I think, yeah, I did all right.’
You did mate, you did.
The Mumper of SE5