Celebrated photographer Cecil Beaton’s diaries to be brought to life at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

He was one of the leading fashion and high society photographers of his generation, whose portraits of the Royal Family helped shape their image for decades.

But now an Edinburgh Festival Festival show is set to portray what Cecil Beaton really thought of his famous subjects – and his bogus attempt to claim he had a historic family connection with Mary, Queen of Scots.

Stage and screen star Richard Stirling, who has appeared in The Crown and Bridgerton, will be stepping into the shoes of Beaton for the first ever dramatisation of his diaries, which he has adapted for the production.

It will recall encounters with the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor and Winston Churchill.

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    Beaton began to pursue photography at a very early age. As a teenager he spent many hours attempting to recreate the look of glamorous society portraits using his sisters, Nancy and Baba, as models.

    His career took off in the mid 1920s, when he began to contribute photographs and illustrations to Vogue magazine. His first solo exhibition in London in 1927 established him as one of the leading fashion photographers and portraitists of his generation.

    Beaton became sought-after on both sides of the Atlantic, photographing famous faces from Hollywood, the theatre world and society.

    He became court photographer to the Royal Family in 1937 and continued to photograph them for the next three generations, including taking the official portraits for the Queen’s coronation in 1953.

    Audrey Hepburn. Picture: Cecil Beaton

    From the 1950s, his set designs for theatre and films, such as My Fair Lady and Gigi, defined the glamorous look of the era.

    The Fringe show, part of Greenside’s programme, is billed as “a self-portrait of the 20th century's most compelling dandy.”

    It will recall Beaton’s visit to Edinburgh in 1941, while he was working as an official war photographer for Britain’s Ministry for Information.

    It will also feature a bizarre episode when he photographed his youngster sister Baba in costume for Tatler magazine and claimed she was dressed as “her ancestress Lady Mary Beaton”, a Scottish noblewoman and long-time lady-in-waiting to Mary, Queen of Scots.

    Cecil Beaton captured this image of Edinburgh Castle from the Caledonian Hotel in 1950.

    The magazine was forced to apologise after a complaint was lodged by one of her genuine ancestors.

    Beaton, who was in New York when he heard the magazine had published a correction of his “misstatement”, later wrote in his diaries: “I was rather upset and hoped people wouldn’t talk much about the correction. People can be so spiteful.

    “In a way, it was a good thing that I was so far away not to be worked up about it, although I felt caddish about being so unmoved.”

    Stirling said: “I’ve always been fascinated by Beaton’s reputation as a photographer and stage designer, but came slightly to the fact that he was an exceptional diarist.

    Actress Vivien Leigh backstage at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh in 1941. Picture: Cecil Beaton

    “There is a constant tension between his veneration for the beauty, talent and breeding of his subjects, and his eagle eye for their failings. The efforts he went to paint his subjects in a beautiful light was matched by the efforts he made to pinpoint their weakness.

    “That tension seemed to be very suitable for theatre, to show his images alongside his words, and let the audience discover some of the stories behind his iconic pictures.”

    An image captured by Cecil Beaton at the Turnhouse Aereodrome in Edinburgh during the Second World War.
    Photographer Cecil Beaton captured this image of his sister Baba in costume in 1927.
    Richard Stirling will portray Cecil Beaton at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
    Cecil Beaton captured this image of St Paul's Cathedral in London during the Second World War.
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