Girls on Film

26th May 2021

Ronald Falloon is the Sixties legend you’ve never heard of. Once mentioned in the same breath as David Bailey and Terence Donovan, he turned his back on fashion photography at the height of his success.

William Lansbury remembers the enigmatic man-about-town who left a dazzling body of work.

  • goodwood magazine

doc011-2.jpg

Jean Shrimpton, innocent-looking but sexy in a man’s denim shirt; Pattie Boyd, soon to become Mrs George Harrison, striking a dramatic pose; Cilla Black, about to debut at the London Palladium; Twiggy, photographed in her groovy flat in Ladbroke Grove; and a very young, not yet so groovy – in fact, rather prim-and-proper – Marianne Faithfull, wearing Norman Hartnell couture... whether fashion or portraiture, the photographs of Ronald Falloon capture that particular moment in the early-to-mid-1960s when London started to swing.

the-shrimp-pc-1.jpg
marianne-f-pc-2.jpg

Left - Right: A demure Marianne Faithfull, Jean Shrimpton, ready for her close-up

What Falloon, Bailey and Donovan all had in common is that they had learned their craft while working as assistants to John French, a leading photographer of the 1950s and early 1960s (whose archive is now in the permanent collection of the V&A). And we can see them all in their heyday, photographed with French and some of his other alumni, for a feature in The Telegraph headlined “French Polish”, which appeared at the time when all three of these young men were establishing themselves as big-name photographers in their own right. Falloon and Bailey are standing next to each other – young, handsome men-about-town, with more than a hint of swagger. But while David Bailey and the late Terence Donovan built enduring careers and remain famous, after abruptly quitting the London scene in 1968, Falloon was largely forgotten – but for a series of exhibitions that I curated after meeting Ron and seeing his work, which ran in the decade or so before his death in 2017.

french-polish.jpg

Ronald Falloon, second from left, and other John French alumni in The Telegraph’s “French Polish” feature. French is top right, with Terence Donovan and David Bailey to his right.

Ron wasn’t how you imagine a 1960s photographer from the Blow-up era. As artists go, he was modest and self-effacing – and the former model of the era Debbie Condon recalls, “a very dapper and courtly gentleman – I was always pleased when he booked me.” But nonetheless his story fascinated me. For a start, his route to becoming a photographer in swinging London was an unorthodox one. Although he looked and sounded like a white Englishman, Falloon had been born in 1937 into an Anglo-Indian family and had grown up in an apartment in Calcutta’s rambling Tagore Palace, a vast mansion that had seen better days as the very grand home of the Tagore mercantile dynasty. He had by all accounts an idyllic childhood, attending boarding school in Darjeeling and spending summers in leafy Bangalore.

Musically gifted, he first came to Europe when he was awarded a scholarship to Heidelberg University to study the piano. But he found Heidelberg and his studies stifling and when his roommate suggested that Falloon join him for the summer in Cannes, where his father was a leading supplier to many of the luxury hotels, he seized the opportunity. On being introduced to the hotel manager there, he promptly found himself hired as house photographer to shoot the many celebrities staying at the prestigious Carlton hotel.

Falloon’s eye for a picture and natural genius with a camera were soon apparent – and a new career lay before him. He headed to London and secured that life-changing assistant’s role at John French’s busy studio, where he learned the technical skills and rigour that characterised all of the photographers who trained under French. So just what were those skills? Philippe Garner is a leading curator and collector of photography who is “fascinated by the 1960s” – and who first came across Falloon’s work when he bought a mixed lot of photographs from the era.

doc011-2.jpg
pattie-boyd-a-2.jpg

Left - Right. Falloon’s photographs, which remained unseen for 45 years, of a young Cilla Black about to make her Royal Variety Show debut at the London Palladium, 1964, Pattie Boyd, Vogue model and Sixties icon,

“I’d never heard of Falloon when I bought the prints, but I was struck by the quality and consistency of the images. French set a high standard and Falloon learned fast. Put some Ronald Falloon photographs beside examples by John French and they could easily be mistaken for French’s work,” says Garner. “What his assistants learned from French was a responsibility to illustrate the garment – and lighting. My, did they learn about light – to work with natural light when that was possible, but for a photographer working in London, daylight isn’t always possible. When they had to work with studio lights, French and his apprentices produced an artificial lighting that somehow had that wraparound quality of diffused daylight. They had great technical insights, and John French alumni’s work is characterised by this clarity and luminosity.”

And in particular they learned to photograph their subjects in a way that worked on the relatively poor quality of newsprint in this era – with contrast and graphic shapes that somehow punched through all those pixels and that smudgy ink. It should also be said that as well as being instructive, working with John French also sounds rather fun. For Falloon regularly travelled with French on assignments to Paris, where he was introduced to Noël Coward and Marlene Dietrich and experienced hostess Helena Rubinstein’s legendary parties.

When Falloon set up shop on his own in 1962, he quickly enjoyed conspicuous success – along with a lifestyle that made Ron and his model-wife June glamorous figures on the London scene, partying with the other fashionable couples including John and Cynthia Lennon and Terence Stamp and Julie Christie. As The Times put it in his obituary, “A rite of passage for the most beautiful models of the Swinging Sixties was a shoot at the Drury Lane studio of fashion photographer Ronald Falloon. Twiggy, Pattie Boyd, Paulene Stone and Veruschka von Lehndorff, among others, made the pilgrimage to model Biba and Mary Quant.” Not to forget Shrimpton, aged just 19 when Falloon first photographed her, and whom he recalled as “a nice English country girl who was just very ordinary and sexy in a simple way”.

A rite of passage for the most beautiful models of the Swinging Sixties was a shoot at the Drury Lane studio of fashion photographer Ronald Falloon. Twiggy, Pattie Boyd, Paulene Stone and Veruschka von Lehndorff, among others, made the pilgrimage to model Biba and Mary Quant

Shooting fashion in London and Paris and portraits of pop stars such as Faithfull, Black and The Rolling Stones, Falloon helped forge the bold aesthetic of the era. But in 1968, he abruptly left London to work as a reportage photographer in Canada. His Times obituary ascribed the move to the fact that Falloon could no longer hide his homosexuality – something that still had stigma attached to it at this time, only a year after its decriminalisation – and this is a view endorsed to some extent by Colin Corbett, the man who would become Falloon’s partner on his return to London in the 1970s. “Yes, that could be true,” Corbett agrees, although the Falloon that Corbett knew and lived with was entirely at ease with his sexuality – and also not in the least bit regretful of his former glories.

For on his return to Britain, the photographic style had moved on, as had the mood. “It simply wasn’t fun any more,” was what Falloon told me. Instead, he used his artistic talents to become an artists’ agent, famously working with Karl Stoecker on early album covers for Roxy Music and Lou Reed, before becoming a fine art dealer, selling art deco silver at Grays Antiques, near Bond Street. He very much enjoyed his life, says Corbett, and that heady moment in the 1960s was simply a fund of great stories, until he was persuaded to open the boxes of negatives, prints and contacts stored under his bed for decades. The couple travelled extensively – often returning to India, where Corbett would eventually place Falloon’s ashes in the family plot in one of Calcutta’s vast, Raj-era cemeteries.

Perhaps Ron’s diffident, unassuming character – as well as that sudden exit from the London scene – contributed to his relative obscurity, compared with contemporaries such as Bailey and Donovan. Or as Garner puts it, “Falloon had an eye. He was young and curious, and he made some terrific pictures of a particular moment – pictures that capture the spirit of the mid-Sixties.” But Bailey and Donovan “had a particular quality of tenacity. Maybe he didn’t have that. You had to keep fighting and pushing, because this has always been an industry that uses people and discards them.”


But nonetheless the quality of Falloon’s pictures speaks for itself. There is no digital manipulation here. He was a master of composition and of light, capturing the essence of the moment and the period.


Ronald Falloon’s photographs will be on display at 54 Shepherd Market, London W1J 7QX from 19–25 April 2021. For more information visit theartofspeed.co.uk

This article was taken from the Spring 2021 edition of the Goodwood Magazine.

  • goodwood magazine

  • hen-party-goodwood-magazine-2.jpg

    Stories from the Estate

    Hen Party

  • goodwood__light-background_-101.jpg

    Stories from the Estate

    Interview: Sarah Ayton

  • canaletto-view-of-thames-from-richmond-house.jpg

    Stories from the Estate

    This Old House