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We’ll take Manhattan: David Bailey and Jean Shrimpton in New York

At the weekend, we watched ‘We’ll take Manhattan’, the BBC programme about the trip David Bailey and Jean Shrimpton took to New York in 1962, which took both their careers mainstream and launched sixties youth culture in the proccess. (UK folk, it’s still on iPlayer til Friday*). What you see above are the original pictures from that trip.

I don’t think this was the aim of the programme, but it made me feel quite sad for Jean Shrimpton. Whenever I’ve read anything about David Bailey in the past it was working class hero sort of stuff, boy from the East End makes it big due to association with up and coming upper class model. This was also pretty much the narrative given in the documentary BBC4 were showing alongside the film.

But the way it was presented in WTM wasn’t quite like that. Yes, she was from a wealthy family and privately educated, but she was hardly a society girl. She was all akward glances and clumsiness and her dad actually chucks her out of the family home when she refuses to stop seeing Bailey, who is married. Then they go to New York and she gets caught in the power struggle between the Vogue editor Lady Clare Rendlesham, an upper class fashion establishment person who wants everything to be classic and ladylike and like the past and thinks Shrimpton is plain, and Bailey, who rejects everything that has gone before, gives oddly grand speeches and does his best to piss her (Lady Clare) off. He’s not exactly nice to Shrimpton either and keeps telling her to stop crying because it gives her rings under her yes. She’s all on her own and completely dependent on her modelling income, she’s gambled her life on him and he’s more interested in fighting some kind of generational and class battle.

But really, the thing that made me saddest was the resolution at the end, where everything is fine because she is seen as beautiful. There’s a scene where Bailey and Jean have been arguing about him being an arse and then he sort of apologises and says I think you’re amazing, and then goes on to recount lots of stuff about the way she looks, like her long legs. Nothing about her as an actual person**. And the big vindication at the end is that everyone back in London loved the pictures and Lady Clare is forced to say that Shrimpton is in actual fact beautiful.

And I get that if you’re a model that is what you are being judged on and it’s great for unusual looking people to be recognised and to broaden the definition of beauty, but if your boyfriend is your photographer and your livelihood and that is the best he can do, it’s just really, really sad. And I’m pretty sure that wasn’t what the programme’s makers wanted me to take away from that.

I think I must be in a funny mood. I got really quite emotional at Borgen (Watch it! all the episodes are still on iPlayer) at the weekend.

* I’m not saying you should. It was alright. Helen McRory was excellent, Karen Gillan was pretty good and the Bailey actor was lovely to look at but his accent was well into caricature territory. Not quite in Russel Crowe in Robin Hood territory, but far, far too Michael Caine to be taken seriously.

** He still does that now. In the documentary he went on and flipping on about his wife’s long neck and shrugged off any questions about being a father in the quickest time possible.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ariane 1 February 2012, 11:00 am

    Bonjour Franca!
    I have heard about this program and wanted to see it
    But i checked and it is not on my BBC Iplayer maybe it will be on later for us in North America

    Je te fais la bise


    • Franca 1 February 2012, 11:10 am

      Oh, I didn’t know you could even get iplayer outside the UK! My parents can’t get it (they are in Luxembourg) but then that may be to do with their insanely slow internet connection rather than a UK licence fee thing x

  • Carina 2 February 2012, 9:16 pm

    Hahaha das passiert mir nromal bei deinem Blog auch immer dass ich erst auf Englisch schreibe und ganz am Schluss fällt mir ein dass Deutsch es auch getan hätte ;D
    Naja wenn man in Schottland lebt ist das gerechtfertigt! Und wenn man Englisch studiert ja auch irgendwie 🙂
    Carina recently posted..one month shopping ban reportMy Profile

  • Audra36 3 February 2012, 5:44 pm

    These year i want to went in New York and experience such this things. I’m so excited.

  • Jenny11 15 February 2012, 8:34 am

    I can’t wait to watch these kind of movie figure, I am pretty sure this is really cool.

  • Ms.Thole 29 February 2012, 10:58 am

    Black and white photos collection is really beautiful… New York, what a lovely place.
    Ms.Thole recently posted..Oven repairs MelbourneMy Profile

  • Andi B. Goode 19 March 2012, 7:26 am

    I must admit, I wasn’t very familiar with this part of Bailey’s work but he did this amazing series called Box of Pin-Ups in 1964 which was essentially a box of poster-prints that reflected ‘swinging London’ at the time so Jean Shrimpton was in there along with The Beatles (my absolute favourite photo of John & Paul was taken by Bailey), The Rolling Stones, Michael Caine, the Kray twins…and Antonioni’s film Blowup is largely based on him! Sadly, all I know about Jean Shrimpton was the scandal she caused when she wore a mini skirt to the Melbourne Cup. =\

    (Unfortunately, I’d say about 90% of the best fashion photographers were/are probably assholes!)

    -Andi x
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  • Nathan Ferguson 29 January 2014, 2:59 pm

    Thanks for the post about David Bailey, I am using some of the info and Images for my Darkroom Research for college.