Beaton was the great inventor. Apart from inventing not only himself but his look, his voice, his persona and a glamorous family, he invented the a in photography, the Edwardian period for the stage and films, the most outré of costumes, the elaborate for his rooms, a cartoon-like simplicity for his drawings, and the dream of being a playwright and painter. What he didn’t need to invent was being a writer, at which, as his many books, and particularly this one prove, he was a natural.
His lifelong observance of the world around him gave him the power to describe on paper, always acutely and often superbly, landscapes, cities, colours, nature. And of course people. He was a snob but not snobbish. Alice B. Toklas (‘fatter and more hirsute’) noted that while the young Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, was wildly enamoured of him, Beaton preferred the distinctly distrait allure not only of Greta Garbo — ‘incapable of love’ and pictured sitting glumly on a sofa in wellingtons (surely a template for that recent Vogue cover of Posh Spice?) — but also, it has recently been suggested, a tougher tumble with ‘pallid as a mushroom’ Marlon Brando.