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© John Grove
John Grove London UK
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Terence Donovan 1936 - 1996
Described by David Bailey as “The Orson Welles of Photography”...
Terence was an icon of the sixties, regarded by his close friend David Bailey as the "Orson Welles of Photography". The apprentice from London's East End who became a celebrated chronicler of cafe society and one of the Royal Family's favourite photographers tragically took his own life Friday afternoon 22nd November 1996, just weeks after celebrating his sixtieth birthday.
I had the fortune of knowing Terence personally, having worked on most of his commercials and pop promos in his last twelve years.
It was an utter pleasure working with Terence. He was a great strength in all we did together, treating the whole crew as an extended family. Nobody could ever forget the sound of Terence's stentorian growl echoing across the set - with a firm hand and a holler from the far corner of the studio! And yet, though the level of his voice did sometimes scare the hell out of you, it was always delivered with a reassuring sense of cockney humour.
Terence would involve everyone in the production. Even with crews upwards of 50, nobody was excluded from his continual banter on set. Whether you were a member of the "armchair mob" (the clients), or a biker delivering some proofs to the studio next door - he would always strike up a conversation.
On location, Terence was just as likely to talk to the delectable photographic model hot foot from the agency, as a man digging a hole in the road outside.
Terence had a very Buddhist approach to life in general, stemming from his great interest in the martial arts. It may surprise you to know that he was in fact a black belt in judo, and often members of his East End club would drop in on shoots for a chat. He will be remembered for having a very positive drive against anyone smoking on his sets, for - somewhat surprisingly for the "Rock and Roll" image he perpetuated - Terence didn't smoke, and gave up drinking when he was 25.
Terence was the only son of a lorry driver, and grew up in the Mile End Road in East London during the war. He left school at only 11 to attend a course in block making at Fleet Street's London School of Engraving and Lithography. At 15 he got a job as an apprentice in the photographic department of a Fleet Street blockmakers. He later went on to become assistant to top photographer John French.
When he eventually moved out on his own, apart from the usual photo assignments for magazines Terence joined contemporaries like David Bailey and Brian Duffy in the ranks of Paparazzi photography to the Fleet Street newspapers. In the sixties, however, Donovan, Bailey and Duffy began to find this area of work a little tedious, and turned the industry on it's head by developing a new dimension in fashion photography.
Donovan made his name with portraits of Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton and Julie Christie. He and Bailey did much to elevate glamour photography in the newspapers to a new found status among the glossy magazines of the time. Eventually of course his photos were to be found frequently in the likes of Vogue, Harper's & Queen, Elle and Marie Claire. As a fitting tribute to his achievements, in the spring after his death the UK edition of Vogue devoted no less than nine pages to Terence.
Although stills photography was always his main passion, he directed many commercials and pop promos. He even directed a feature film in 1972 - called Yellow Dog - about his great love, the martial arts .
In pop promos he'll always be best remembered for the Robert Palmer videos, in which Robert was accompanied by a backing band of leather-clad female models with slicked back hair - one of the Terence's many hall-marks.
Any anecdotes? Well yes, there are many. Like the time he was taking some pictures of a slightly pensive Princess Diana in his stills studio. She wouldn't smile enough for the kind of picture Terence was after - so he plunged his hand into his back pocket, and pulled out a bunch of ten pound notes. He held one above the camera lens, and shouted "recognise any of yer' rellies love?!".
And Terence would always listen to any comments from the crew. Sometimes the result was a little embarrassing! I was on a shoot for a credit card company involving a sweet Japanese lady, and I pointed out that I thought one of her ears appeared to stick out a little more than the other, and had he noticed...? Terence took note, and called for Mick the props guy to put an extra sticky wad of camera tape behind the ear that stuck out, to hold it down - I did feel sorry for her!
In a special exhibition of Terence's work at the Museum of London in 1999. "The eye that never sleeps" there was a collection of photos he took around London's streets, with around 150 images, including many of his family, and the very last photo he ever had published - taken in his South Molton Street studios, 7th November 1996. Amongst the photo exhibits, there was a very interesting little cabinet containing a few very significant items. The family actually managed to find Terence's membership card to the Bethnal Green Photography Club - which we always thought he referred to in jest. He often used to announce at the end of a shoot as "Well, that concludes this meeting of the Bethnal Green Photography Club...." - well now we know!
Another item that brought a lump to my throat, were the special magnifying glasses he had mounted on a headband - he'd often be seen using these on shoots, to view his photos from a previous day in the stills studio.!