Philip Ziegler

Work and sex

Philip Ziegler reviews Anne de Courcy's biography of Lord Snowdon

Ordinary mortals marrying into the upper reaches of the Royal Family are usually in for a rough ride. Their best chance seems to be to come from one of those families which privately consider that they are every bit as good as the House of Windsor: Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, Lady Alice Montagu-Douglas-Scott (though the formula proved a conspicuous failure in the case of Lady Diana Spencer). Otherwise they must decide whether they will opt for the deferential role, sidling through life perpetually two steps behind their royal spouse, or try to retain an independent career and existence. To do the latter successfully calls not merely for strength of character but a high degree of tact and patience and a capacity for unobtrusiveness. To judge from this book, these were qualities in which Lord Snowdon was notably deficient.

‘The twin motors that drove him throughout his life,’ Anne de Courcy tells us more than once, ‘were work and sex.’ The trouble about the work element is that photography — unless the author is going to indulge in a lot of technical detail, which de Courcy mercifully spares us — is not really suited to descriptive writing. Snowdon was undoubtedly an innovator who pioneered a new informality of approach far removed from the formal poses against stagey backgrounds beloved by his predecessors, but for the most part what this book offers is a roll call of celebrities whom Snowdon photographed, padded out with often trivial anecdotes. Of Peter Sellers, de Courcy tells us:

On good form, no one could be a more entertaining companion. One evening Sellers took Tony to a tiny one-room restaurant run by a young Italian couple, Lorenzo and Mara Berni, who would also become friends. Later their establishment, greatly expanded, would become known as the chic and sophisticated San Lorenzo, of Beauchamp Place in Knightsbridge.

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