The Earl of Snowdon


Pho­tog­ra­pher and for­mer hus­band of Princess Mar­garet Born: March 7 1930; Died: Jan­uary 13, 2017 THE 1st Earl of Snowdon, who has died aged 86, was a pho­tog­ra­pher of the first rank with more than 100 por­traits in the Na­tional Gallery, an artis­tic ad­vi­sor to mag­a­zines and gal­leries, film-maker, cam­paigner for the dis­abled and a gifted de­signer, who was re­spon­si­ble for the aviary at London Zoo. In­evitably, how­ever, An­thony Arm­strong-Jones’s chief claim to fame came from his tur­bu­lent mar­riage to HRH Princess Mar­garet, the Queen’s sis­ter, from 1960 un­til their di­vorce in 1978.

The mar­riage was the first for many years by a se­nior mem­ber of the Royal Fam­ily to some­one who was not royal, or a mem­ber of the Bri­tish aris­toc­racy. It fol­lowed the con­tro­versy of Princess Mar­garet’s courtship, in the early 1950s, with Group-Cap­tain Peter Townsend. Though he pro­posed, the Princess had been ad­vised to refuse on the ba­sis that he was di­vorced.

As it turned out, her mar­riage to Tony Arm­strong-Jones was to pro­vide more, and steamier, gos­sip and scan­dal than that ear­lier li­ai­son ever threat­ened. Dur­ing the 1960s, when London re­turned to world at­ten­tion as a cen­tre of fash­ion and glam­our, the cou­ple were at the fore­front of the party scene; only Richard Bur­ton and Elizabeth Tay­lor pro­vided any­thing ap­prox­i­mat­ing the same in­ter­est.

The pair’s com­bi­na­tion of tra­di­tion, celebrity and bo­hemian glam­our was cat­nip to jour­nal­ists. Arm­strong-Jones, raised to the Earl­dom of Snowdon in 1961 – so that any chil­dren would have a ti­tle – was a dash­ing old Eto­nian (and Boat Race win­ner) whom the Queen ap­pointed Con­sta­ble of Caernar­fon Cas­tle and who helped to su­per­vise Prince Charles’s in­vesti­ture as Prince of Wales. (He later pointed out that most of the cer­e­mo­nial as­pects of the event were “com­pletely bo­gus” and had been in­vented for the oc­ca­sion.)

But he was also a fash­ion­able pho­tog­ra­pher – the archetyp­i­cally groovy 1960s pro­fes­sion – an artis­tic con­sul­tant on The Sun­day Times Mag­a­zine, the first colour sup­ple­ment, and an in­no­va­tive de­signer whose aviary for London Zoo was re­garded as a tri­umph of cut­ting-edge de­sign.

What was at first def­er­en­tially passed over or hinted at, but later came to dom­i­nate the sto­ries in the press, were the prob­lems that arose from the Princess’s love of late-night par­ties and Snowdon’s al­most patho­log­i­cal in­fi­delity. In the end, how­ever, it was re­ports of Princess Mar­garet’s li­ai­son with the play­boy Roddy Llewe­lyn on the Caribbean is­land of Mus­tique that pro­vided the ex­cuse­fortheirsep­a­ra­tionin1976and di­vorce two years later.

An­thony Charles Robert Arm­strongJones was born on March 7 1930 into the largely un­landed gen­try; his fa­ther Ron­ald was a bar­ris­ter and his mother Anne a noted so­ci­ety beauty from an artis­tic fam­ily; her brother was the the­atre de­signer Oliver Mes­sel. The pair di­vorced, and An­thony’s mother later be­came Count­ess of Rosse.

He was ed­u­cated at Eton, but spent al­most a year of his child­hood con­fined to bed (six months of it in Liver­pool Royal In­fir­mary, with­out ei­ther of his par­ents vis­it­ing) with po­lio, an ail­ment from which he re­cov­ered but which left him with a limp. He went on to Je­sus Col­lege, Cam­bridge, and coxed the win­ning team in the 1950 Boat Race. He did not, how­ever, com­plete his train­ing as an ar­chi­tect and in­stead, aged 21, set up as a free­lance pho­tog­ra­pher.

He was quickly a suc­cess. Snowdon’s pho­to­graphs were cer­tainly ac­com­plished, and his por­trait work in par­tic­u­lar put him in the same league as his con­tem­po­raries David Bailey and Ter­ence Dono­van; more than 100 of his pic­tures are now held by the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery.

His par­tic­u­lar tal­ent was to cap­ture in­for­mal mo­ments – some­thing he did, para­dox­i­cally enough, by dis­miss­ing all sug­ges­tions that the sub­ject should be put at ease. “I think there has to be an edgi­ness,” he ex­plained. It helped, too, that he was well-con­nected, and in 1956, he was com­mis­sioned to take the Duke of Kent’s of­fi­cial 21st birth­day pic­tures.

It led to fur­ther royal com­mis­sions and even­tu­ally, to the an­nounce­ment in 1960 of his en­gage­ment to Princess Mar­garet. They were mar­ried in May and, af­ter a hon­ey­moon on the Royal Yacht Bri­tan­nia, moved into Kens­ing­ton Palace. Their first child David, Vis­count Lin­ley, was born the fol­low­ing year.

Oddly, Arm­strong-Jones’s promis­cu­ity, which was al­ready a by­word amongst his cir­cle, and which was ru­moured not to have been con­fined to wom­an­is­ing, seems not to have been an is­sue be­fore the wed­ding.

Later, Snowdon was to fa­ther at least two chil­dren out of wed­lock, and the in­te­rior de­signer Nicky Haslam claimed to have had an af­fair with him be­fore his mar­riage. But at the time, the press’s def­er­en­tial at­ti­tude to­wards the Palace and the ten­dency of the up­per classes to keep such mat­ters within their own cir­cles seem to have been con­sid­ered safe­guard enough.

The chang­ing mores of the 1960s and early 1970s were to sweep that away, but Snowdon’s own in­dis­cre­tions re­ceived con­sid­er­ably less at­ten­tion than those of Princess Mar­garet. Whether this arose from a sex­ist dou­ble-stan­dard, the Princess be­ing bet­ter “copy”, or her be­hav­iour be­ing ob­jec­tively worse hardly mat­tered: Snowdon es­caped rel­a­tively lightly. Even the Palace tended to take his part, prob­a­bly be­cause he never spoke about his mar­riage to the press and was no­tice­ably less keen on the lime­light than his wife.

In any case, whilst the Princess was oc­cu­pied by royal du­ties, vis­it­ing schools and hos­pi­tals, and par­ties with film stars, pop groups and more du­bi­ous fig­ures from the fringes of London gang­land, Lord Snowdon had a ca­reer. Or rather sev­eral: as well as his pho­to­graphic com­mis­sions and work for news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines, he was on the staff of the Coun­cil of In­dus­trial De­sign and in 1972 de­signed the Chair­mo­bile, an early ex­am­ple of an elec­tri­cally-pow­ered wheel­chair.

He had also ven­tured into tele­vi­sion, mak­ing a film on age­ing, Don’t Count the Can­dles (1968), which won two Em­mys and an award at the Venice Film Fes­ti­val. Love of a Kind (1969) and Born to be Small (1971) were also well-re­garded, and in 1981 he was nom­i­nated for a Bafta for two pro­grammes on pho­tog­ra­phy which he pre­sented, en­ti­tled Snowdon on Cam­era.

Af­ter his di­vorce, Snowdon re­fused to dis­cuss his mar­riage and main­tained cor­dial re­la­tions with the Royal Fam­ily and his chil­dren (he and Princess Mar­garet also had a daugh­ter, now Lady Sarah Chatto, in 1964). He un­der­took a good deal of work for dis­abled char­i­ties, hav­ing chaired a work­ing group on in­te­gra­tion in 1976. He was pres­i­dent of the Com­mit­tee for the In­ter­na­tional Year of the Dis­abled in 1981, and also of the Na­tional Fund for Re­search into Crip­pling Dis­eases, as well as sup­port­ing the Guide Dogs move­ment.

In 1978, he mar­ried Lucy Lind­say-Hogg (nee Davies), a tele­vi­sion re­searcher, with whom he had a daugh­ter, Frances. But he kept up his dal­liances; he had af­fairs with the jour­nal­ists Ann Hills (who com­mit­ted sui­cide in 1996) and Me­lanie Ca­ble-Alexan­der.

By the lat­ter, he had a son, Jasper, in 1998; his wife then fi­nally di­vorced him. In 2008, hav­ing pre­vi­ously de­nied her claims, he fi­nally ad­mit­ted that he was also the fa­ther of Polly Fry, who had been born just af­ter his mar­riage to Princess Mar­garet.

Snowdon founded an award scheme for dis­abled stu­dents in 1980, and be­came a pa­tron or hon­orary fel­low of a num­ber of pho­to­graphic and de­sign in­sti­tu­tions. One of his long-run­ning cam­paigns was to im­prove dis­abled ac­cess: the Royal Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety, which had said that the Chelsea Flower Show was not suit­able for dis­abled visi­tors, in­curred his es­pe­cial ire. In the end, he won out.

In 1995, he be­came Provost of the Royal Col­lege of Art, of which he had been se­nior fel­low since 1986. In 2001, there was a ret­ro­spec­tive ex­hi­bi­tion of Snowdon’s pho­to­graphs at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery. He was a sup­porter of a large num­ber of char­i­ties and so­ci­eties based in Wales, from yachting to ar­chi­tec­ture, and from the­atre to art.

The re­forms of Tony Blair’s gov­ern­ment threat­ened to de­prive Snowdon of his seat in the House of Lords. But hered­i­tary peers of the first cre­ation were of­fered life peer­ages; there was some sur­prise when Snowdon chose to ac­cept one in 1999.

But though some thought a peer­age cre­ated to mark his mar­riage hardly qual­i­fied him for a leg­isla­tive po­si­tion, oth­ers de­fended Snowdon on the ba­sis of his distin­guished ca­reer, and his work for the dis­abled in the Up­per House. He re­tired from the Lords in 2016.

The Earl of Snowdon re­ceived nu­mer­ous awards for his pho­tog­ra­phy, of which he pre­sented nu­mer­ous ex­hi­bi­tions around the world; he also pub­lished more than a dozen books of his work. He be­came an hon­orary fel­low of the Royal Pho­to­graphic So­ci­ety in 1985. He held sev­eral hon­orary de­grees and was ap­pointed GCVO in 1969.

He is sur­vived by his chil­dren; his son David, Vis­count Lin­ley, a cel­e­brated cab­i­net­maker, suc­ceeds him in the Earl­dom.

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