A new display of photographs by legendary Soho figure, Daniel Farson opened at the National Portrait Gallery
on 19 March. Famous in the Fifties: Photographs by Daniel Farson celebrates the multi-faceted career of Farson who worked as a Picture Post photographer, television presenter, and writer.
The sixteen portraits on display include artist Lucian Freud and writer Brendan Behan in Dublin, Cyril Connolly and Lady Caroline Blackwood on Old Compton Street in Soho, artist and illustrator Nina Hamnett, actress Barbara Windsor, artist Graham Sutherland and actor Richard Burton. Writer Anthony Carson, critic John Davenport, photographer John Deakin and poet David Wright are all photographed opposite the French pub in Soho where Farson was a regular. An unpublished photograph of Kingsley Amis and his family is included along with a copy of Panorama, the magazine established by Farson at the University of Cambridge. The jackets of five books written by Farson are displayed alongside his portraits of their subjects including Graham Sutherland and Gilbert and George. A portrait of Adam Faith inscribed by Farson, I put him on TV first, illustrates his impact as a pioneering television interviewer. The last exhibition of Farsons work was in 1997, the year of his death, organized by Robin Muir for Roy Miles. This is the first solo display of photographs by Farson at the National Portrait Gallery.
Born in Kensington in 1927, Farson was the only child of American-born journalist and adventurer, Negley Farson, and his wife, Enid Eveleen a niece of the author Bram Stoker. He became a political correspondent for the Central Press Agency in Fleet Street at the age of just seventeen and in 1947 he enlisted in the American Army Air Corps gaining experience on the armys Stars and Stripes magazine supplement. Whilst attending Cambridge University in 1949, Farson established the magazine Panorama which in turn helped him secure a job as a staff photographer for Picture Post in 1951. In the early 1950s he began his affiliation with Soho, where he found acceptance of his homosexuality and later struggled with alcoholism. In 1956 Farson joined commercial television in its infancy, presented his own series and became a television personality. He was under contract with Associated-Rediffusion for eight years, which he described as, one of the busiest and happiest times of my life. In 1962 Farson bought a pub, the Watermans Arms, on the Isle of Dogs where he successfully revived music hall acts. However, this did not prevent bankruptcy and in 1964 Farson moved to his parents former home in north Devon. It was here and later in Appledore, Devon, that Farson wrote twenty-seven books, including biographies of his great uncle, Bram Stoker, and his autobiography Never a Normal Man (1997), published in the year in which he died.