Talking Pictures with Patrick Lichfield
In May 1971 Mick Jagger married Bianca Perez-Mora Macias in St Tropez.

In those pre-satellite TV days you didn’t see much of it but one photograph that popped up in every newspaper in the world was of Mick sitting in the back of his Bentley with Bianca at his side. It was taken just after the actual ceremony. An open bottle of Champagne sits between his legs sticking up like a phallus and what looks like a spliff wafts in his right hand.

The bride and groom are dressed up to the nines; Jagger in a three-piece suit and Bianca in a fetching white hat and veil. They look like exactly what they were at the time - rock royalty.

But it wasn’t just the sheer exuberance of the picture that impressed me; it was its spontaneity. It inspired me to want to become a photographer myself.

The snapper’s name? Patrick Lichfield.

Lichfield was a bit of an oddity. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth the size of Staffordshire, Patrick, The Fifth Earl of Lichfield was a cousin to the Queen and an ex Grenadier Guard.

Through sheer hard graft he became the top photographer in London during the early 70s. He was the man all the movers and shakers wanted to be photographed by. But it wasn’t as easy as you might imagine.

At first he wasn’t taken seriously and had to work hard to achieve his reputation. His subjects included Joanna Lumley, Britt Ekland, David Hockney and later of course the famous Unipart calendar girls as well as the official photographs of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s 1981 wedding.

With his trusty Olympus he chronicled swinging London as it swung from the late 60s into the 70s and beyond. An old Harrovian, Lichfield used his considerable charm to get on with everyone he met whether they be rock musicians, film runners or royalty (of which he obviously had access that few others could imagine).

As a 16 year old schoolboy who dreamed of being a photographer myself, Patrick Lichfield was my Kodak idol. He seemed to have everything. Talent, connections, beautiful women, a jet-set lifestyle and mates like Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones. Indeed, he had given Bianca away at that famous St Tropez wedding.

Patrick Lichfield was, as they say, the business and as someone wanting to become a photographer, I just had to meet him. But how?

Not that easy when you’re still at school in the West Country. Then I thought of a blag.

There was a national magazine in those days called Sixth Form Opinion, published by Fountain Press. Despite not actually being in my school’s sixth form, I wrote to the editor Peter Moran and asked if he could use me as a photographer. He asked to see some of my work so I quickly cobbled together a portfolio of pictures and mailed them off to him. He seemed reasonably impressed and invited me on board as the mag’s official snapper. The next editorial meeting was in two weeks time in London, could I make it?

I wrote and said I’d be there.

It was a usual set up for an editorial meeting. Twelve people sat around a large boardroom style table and pitched their ideas for the next issue of the magazine.

The only difference really between this meeting and any other editorial get-together was the age of the contributors. They were all sixth formers so the oldest barely looked eighteen. It resembled a gathering of Joe 90s all sharpening their pencils and preparing their notes.  

The editor went around the table asking everybody what they wanted to write about. Most people were keen to do features on politicians and academics. When he got to me, I said that I wanted to interview the photographer Patrick Lichfield.

There was much derision around the room from the Joe 90s. I think they thought I was being over-ambitious, after all I had been taken on to click the shutter not interview the clicker. But Peter Moran was far more optimistic. “Excellent idea. Write to him Miles. After all, what have you got to lose?”

I wrote to Patrick Lichfield the next day and asked him for an interview.

Within a few days I received a reply from Mary Burr, his private secretary, saying that he’d be delighted and to ring her to arrange a suitable time.

A few days later I took the train up to London and made my way to his studios in Aubrey Walk in Kensington. I spent about an hour with Lichfield.

First he showed me around his studio and then we sat down and I interviewed him. He was as charming as his reputation had led me to believe and later, after digging out some of his photographs to accompany the article, he wished me luck in my career as a photographer.

However, by the time I had typed up the interview and sent it to Fountain Press, the magazine Sixth Form Opinion had ceased publication. My interview with the blue-blooded lensman therefore never got published.

But I came across it the other day, in an old box covered in dust, and I thought I’d post it up on this site. It hasn’t dated at all and there are plenty of tips and encouraging words for young people who dream of becoming photographers.

Hopefully it’s an interesting look into the world of one of London’s greatest photographers, Patrick Lichfield, who sadly died in 2005.

Interview with Patrick Lichfield
Kensington, London. November 1971

Miles Tredinnick:   At what age did you become interested in photography?
Patrick Lichfield:    I was given a camera by my mother – it was a very small one – when I was eight. When I was at Harrow, I used to take photographs of school friends as it was the custom to give each other leaving photographs. I discovered that the school shop was selling them at 1/3d (6p) and I could produce them for 9d (4p).

MT:  Did it take you long to become established?
PL:    Well, after doing these photographs at school, I went into the Army for seven years and I had to leave the Army forgetting all the stuff I had learnt and basically start all over again in a new world that was much more Bohemian than the one I had been used to. My main difficulty was adapting myself to a world that was entirely different from the one that I had come from.

MT:  Did you find your title a help or a hindrance when you started out as a photographer?
PL:   Initially a hindrance, in that people did not take me seriously, as indeed in every different thing I’ve done since it has been a hindrance until people realise that you’re serious and professional. An art director who I might go and see as Lord Lichfield would not take me as seriously as he would if I just called myself Patrick Lichfield. This is why I dropped the title for photography. I find it just as difficult now when I’m breaking into new fields such as films and advertising to use the title.

MT:  What was your first commission?
PL:    My first commission was to photograph Suzanna Leigh who later went on to star with Elvis Presley in one of his films. I took some photographs of her in the park.

MT:  When was this?
PL:    Well, I left the Army on October 14th 1962 at half past two and it must have been two years later as I had been working as a darkroom assistant and as a studio technician.

MT:  Did you find working as a darkroom assistant helped you?
PL:    Vital, absolutely vital. Quite a sweat really but the only real way to get going.

MT:  In addition to your photography, do you make motion pictures?
PL:    I make television commercials and I am making my first documentary. It is only an extension of the still art. It still has the same visual awareness that you have to have. You have a great deal more help in movies because you have a moving figure, which means that you can be a little less exact about your visual points because you’ve got movement to help you. I think it is a very good discipline for movie people to have had some stills experience.

MT:  Do you have any preference to working in monochrome or colour?
PL:    I started in monochrome mainly because I could only afford black and white and then colour got used more in magazines and newspapers. More and more I began to visually think in colour. One is born with a sense of colour or not; mine was a sense of colour. I then had to reduce that to black and white and now because of so much colour, I am going back to colour.

MT:  Is there a particular theme that is dominant in your photography?
PL:  Yes, anything that is lyrical or romantic. This is better explained in films such as Ryan’s Daughter or Far From the Madding Crowd. These sorts of themes do attract me. Although I have spent time photographing down-and-out drunks in east London drinking meths. But given a choice I prefer to take romantic photographs.

MT:  What advice would you give to a young person wanting to take up photography as a career?
PL:    To read as much as he possibly can before he leaves school, in something like The Ilford Manual of Photography or any good acknowledged textbook. Read it two or three times as I did until you basically find that you understand what photography is about. Beyond the basic knowledge it is more or less common sense. Then, when you leave school, apply for a job however low it may be in a studio and talk photography, eat photography, sleep photography and meet photographers. If you are an assistant, talk to other assistants. If you are a photographer, talk to other photographers because this is the only way you generate your ideas and stimulate things.

MT:  Do you think there should be any particular training to become a photographer?
PL:   No. I think there should be a recognition in one’s own self as to whether or not one’s got an eye for photography and the ability to use a camera properly.

MT:  You are versatile in many fields. Is photography your major interest?
PL:    Yes it is. It takes up at least 90% of my day. All other work that I do comes after 5.30 and goes by the board anyway. You have to have a theme in life and I’ve chosen photography as mine. Until I am no longer required, I shall keep it that way.

MT:  What are your other interests?
PL:   I run a restaurant, have a clothing manufacturing business in America and necktie manufacturing in Scotland. I have started a property business and have an estate in Staffordshire, which I have to keep a careful eye on. I spend quite a lot of time lecturing to colleges, banks and even prisons.

All these things came from initial interest in ploughing back the money I made from photography into new ventures, not all of which are always successful but one must always keep playing hunches. For instance you don’t know every day that you are going to take a great photograph. You have just got to try new things. There is always a safe way of taking a photograph and it is very easy nowadays because of technical advantages that one can use.

MT:  What do you look for most before taking a photograph?
PL:    If it’s in a studio, I will look at the clothes and the model and see how she moves in them. And if it’s outdoors and involves location, I decide whether I want to show any background at all, and if I do, then I really search for something that balances and makes up a picture that is actually pleasing to look at.

MT:  Do you have any preference to working indoors or outdoors?
PL:    In May, it is difficult to keep me indoors as it is in early October, otherwise I don’t have any preference. Naturally it depends very much on the subject.

MT:  What transport do you use?
PL:    I use various types of transport. I have three tiny 50cc Honda motorbikes for getting around and delivering everything. I have a 750cc Honda, which I use for everything because it is incredibly fast to get from place to place. We have a studio van which we use for locations in which we often put the bikes in the back in case we have to zoom around and I have a Rolls-Royce which I use mainly in London because I am lucky enough to have a chauffeur who is part of the studio staff.

MT:  Do you have your own film company?
PL:    I started a film company in 1970 with the principal motive of making commercials and hopefully it will develop beyond that. Everybody thinks it’s very easy, I think it is very difficult.

MT:  Thank you for your time.
PL:     It’s been my pleasure...

And that was that. My own career as a photographer never really took off despite training as a press photographer but I’m still a keen amateur, even today.

But I’ll never forget the thrill of meeting Patrick Lichfield.