Birds of Britain, an acclaimed book of photographs by John d Green, was published almost 50 years ago, in September 1967.
The book featured John d Green’s strikingly individual, unconventional and witty portraits of 58 of the girls who made London swing – actresses, models, aristocrats, fashion designers, boutique owners and pop singers.
The cover featured a close-up colour portrait of Pattie Boyd, scrunching her nose to try and shake off a beetle painted with a union jack, while inside the covers, the spectacular portraits were all black and white. A contemporary review called it “one of the most exciting photographic picture-books in a time of picture-books.”
Birds of Britain was a huge mainstream success, selling 60,000 copies (at a time when most coffee table books would have a print run of 3,000 copies), prompting newspaper headlines and serializations, TV appearances, outrage from parents of some of the girls featured in the book, a lavish launch party at Sibylla’s nightclub, a high-profile promotional tour of the USA for John, his friend, art director David Tree, and some of the girls, and an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.
It had all started 18 months earlier, over a pint of beer in Kensington’s Adam and Eve pub with friends in early 1966. John d Green, then one of Britain’s top advertising photographers, had cut his teeth photographing every consumer product imaginable. He was at the top of his game, and highly regarded in the advertising industry, but little known outside it. It was time, he felt, to turn his attention to London’s female pacesetters.
The plan, conceived that night in the Adam and Eve by John and his friends and work colleagues David Tree, Terry Howard and Rowland Wells, was to create a fun coffee table book celebrating all the ladies who were key movers on the London scene. In the process, John would have the well-deserved opportunity to raise his profile outside the advertising industry.
The first shoot, with Lady Mary-Gaye Curzon, photographed covered in engine oil, took place on 29 April 1966. Just under twelve months later, in his final session for the book, John photographed Cetra Hearne in a haze of pipe smoke. Six months work on design and layouts and subsequent printing followed, with his close collaborator and art director on the project, David Tree.