At Ku, Ibiza 1984.

July 2018


Recently there has been some interest in a set of photographs I took on the Balearic Island of Ibiza in the summer of 1984.

As a photo-journalist, one obviously can't afford be late with a story but, in this case, I found out that one couldn't afford to be too early either.

Back in 1983, when my family and I holidayed in Ibiza, I was shocked, if that's not putting it too strongly, when I saw the colourful and extremely vibrant nightlife in the island’s capital.

Although much of the rest of the island was colonised by young British holiday makers, Ibiza Town and the beaches and bars in it's immediate vicinity were completely different. It seemed more upscale and more multi-European, and at night the streets and bars around the harbour transformed into a hot and heady version of what was happening in London at places like the Camden Palace, The Batcave, Heaven and The Wag .  It was all extremely photogenic.

A couple of miles out of the city itself was a huge nightclub called Ku, which stayed open until dawn. With it's central swimming pool and dragon's shaped waterslide, it was more like an elaborate Hollywood film set than a club (eventually the club became Manumission but I'm getting ahead of myself. In 1984 there were very few Brits going to Ku).

When my family went back to Ibiza the following year, I didn't think any of the many magazines I worked for at the time had picked up on what was going on and so I decided to take a camera and shoot some pictures.

When I got home, I printed the best of them and took them into The Face magazine.  I tried to persuade them that there was a decent story there.

They weren't convinced.

Paul Rambali, the features editor at that time, said to me "Why would our readers be interested in what's happening in Ibiza?"

Those were his exact words and I remember them clearly.

I was very disappointed that they couldn't see what I could see.  I was also convinced that it was perfect for The Face demographic.  In truth, I probably wasn't persuasive enough.  And, of course, my photographs should have done all the talking for me.  I guess they really needed to have been better.

At the time, The Face magazine had developed a worldwide reputation as trend spotters and style setters which was mostly deserved.  They weren't always the first to spot a trend but they were usually the most visible in doing so.

For instance, back in the early days of The Face magazine, in 1980, when it was still predominantly a music magazine, they famously ran six pages of my photographs of the Blitz Kids (they called it 'The Cult With No Name').

This was six months after a similar article, also using my photographs, had run in The Sunday Times Magazine. Even The Daily Mail had run an article which predated The Face.

But it's 'The Cult With No Name' article, written by Robert Elms, which everyone seems to remember.

But in 1984, my idea for The Face running an article on the scene in Ibiza was rejected and not one of the photographs I took back then was ever published - until today.

But there there certainly was a story there.  Eventually other Face contributors must, I suppose, have confirmed this because the following year The Face ran it as an eight page cover story (in the September 1985 issue).

In the article, Don Macpherson wrote "Ibiza is fast becoming the decadent playground of everybody's imagination..."

Unfortunately, for me, it wasn't quite fast enough.

Once people in the UK started to realise that Ibiza was cool - and had it confirmed by The Face magazine - everything changed.  In 1987, 4 top London club DJ's went out to work in Ibiza and when they returned, they imported the sounds and styles of Ibithan summer nights to the UK.

The rest is history.

The kind of after hours dance culture which first kicked off in Ibiza - balearic beats, ecstasy, superclubs and the rave scene -became just about the biggest youth culture story of the late eighties.

And it may well be that my photographs will also now get their day in the sun.  There's even talk of a show.

As soon as I hear anything, I'll post it here.

Reading Festival 1989.

June 28 2018


The above is a detail taken from a photograph of a bottle fight that took place at the Reading Festival in 1989.  Although I didn't see it at the time (I was too busy trying to duck the bottles), the guy in the front has the words "violence is their answer not ours" painted on the back of his jacket.  In my opinion what makes it an interesting photograph is the contrast between what the guy is doing (or appears to be doing) and the person he wants to present himself as.

This dichotomy might be ruined slightly if I were to tell you that the bottles were all plastic and the fight was mostly youthful exuberance, rather than anything approaching violence.  Of course, if it were not for this blog, I wouldn't.

People did get occasionally hurt though.

In 1991 when Meatloaf appeared at the Reading Festival his first couple of numbers were met with a barrage of bottles, many of them full up.  Fairly understandably, Meatloaf was not prepared to put up with this and eventually he stormed off stage.  After about five minutes he came back and, looking really mad, grabbed the mike, pointed to the place where most of the bottles were coming from and said "If there's any more..."   At which point another bottle hit him squarely on the nose and he had to be taken to hospital.

Great comic timing but not very funny.

And if you'd been a Meatloaf fan that had waited at the front of that crowd all day to see your hero, you'd have rightly been irked.

But not everyone who forces their way through a crowd of 50,000 people will happily tolerate acts they haven't come specifically to see.  And if they've been drinking all day too, it may not always strike them as convenient to force their way back out again just to go to the bathroom.  There’s an obvious solution to both problems.

So the bottling of the bands became something of an disagreeable tradition at British Festivals in the '80s.  I never really understood exactly why but some of the most popular bands got bottled as much as the less popular ones.  In 1983 when Madness headlined a CND benefit at Brockwell Park, they were relentlessly bottled by a group of their own skinhead fans, right at the front.  Luckily for the rest of us, they ducked and swerved around and managed to endure it.

When Zodiac Mindwarp And The Love Reaction played Reading in 1987, I saw their drummer Slam Thunderhide catch a bottle right in front of his face and skilfully chuck it back without missing a beat.  It was very impressive.

And the bottle chucking had another downside.  Heavy drinking doesn't necessarily improve one's aim.  Often a bottle would come zooming out of the sky, burst against the stage or speakers and shower anyone standing in pit (either photographers or security) with something warm and not very fragrant.  It happened to me more than I care to remember. Okay, it wasn't exactly like being in 'Nam with Larry Burrows but it was unpleasant all the same.

The problem was cured overnight when some genius had the idea of banning the sale of drink in bottles at rock festivals.

I don’t know who it was but give that man a medal.

Camden Palace 1982.

News update for 2015.

From March 6th I’ll be having a small show at Galerie Koll and Friends in Berlin.

Called ‘Derek Ridgers London Youth’ you can find the gallery at Buchladen Eisenherz, Motzstraße 23 · Berlin-Schöneberg.

In the Spring I’m being included in a Photographers Gallery show of British Photography in China.

It kicks off at the OCT-Loft in Shenzen on April 25th.  (I don’t know China at all but apparently it’s a short ferry ride from Hong Kong).

It will be on for approximately 8 weeks.  They hope it will later go to Beijing and Shanghai.  I will try to keep you informed.

I also have a couple of new books in the early stages of production, both should be available in the Autumn.

One, called ‘The Dark Carnival,’ will be a large selection of my London nightclub portraits which now stretch across five decades.

The other one, is currently called ‘The Others. I can’t say too much more because I don’t know too much more myself.

There’s also a punk book planned (touch wood) for 2016.

I’d like to apologise for not having updated this blog for so long now but there have been issues with the hosting company.  Coupled with my own crippling laziness.

I hope to address both these factors in the next couple of weeks.

I’m not too sure if the photograph above will be in any of my new books.  It first featured in my Photographers Gallery show called ‘The Kiss’ in 1982 so seemed somewhat appropriate for this.

Jackie B, St Moritz Club, Soho 1980.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

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I guess, as usual, I’ve left it a bit late but this post is to inform any readers I may still have that I’ll be doing a talk at the V&A museum in London, next Friday, July the 18th.

The link is here -


Although the V&A have chosen to title the evening as ‘Talking Photography’ the theme will not be photography per se.  I’ll be focussing on my documentary portraiture of some of the incredible people and fashions from the decade after punk.  It’s no coincidence at all that this was also the theme of my last book ’78-87’.  My interrogator for the night will be the reknown journalist and ‘80s blogger David Johnson.

His blog is here -


One last thing, this blog will be changing over to Wordpress in a few days, mainly in order that I can start to get a bit of feedback and find out what people actually think about the subjects that I’ve chosen to write about.

You know what I think, now I’d love to hear from you.

Ronnie Biggs, Rio 1988.

Monday, 9 June 2014 Prior to the upcoming World Cup, Brazil and inparticular Rio have been in the news a lot recently.  Therefore I thought I would post the photograph above, taken there in 1988. I went to Rio several times in the ‘80s, with various English rock bands, and all were very keen to meet Ronnie whilst they were there. He always seemed happy to meet them too.

My recollection is of a friendly, humorous and intelligent man who was enormously welcoming. I went to his house, met his Brazilian family, swam in his pool and drank his beer.

I played him at pool once too. He easily beat me but then I suppose he had plenty of time on his hands to practice.

He seemed happy, keen even, to talk about his past but he certainly wasn’t a braggart. He didn’t seem particularly regretful but I think he accepted that he’d messed up and he certainly missed England badly.

I’m not one of those who lionizes gangsters and thugs but I do believe anyone is capable of achieving redemption. Whether Ronnie Biggs ever managed this it would obviously not be up to me to say.  He certainly had enough time to contempt the errors of his youth.  RIP Ronnie.

My photograph shows him happy and still in full health.  After the series of strokes he had in 2009, the photographs that appeared of him in the British press did not show him at his best.

I loved Rio.  It’s a huge city but one full of very friendly people and there is so much more to it than just the beaches, the favelas and the crime.

(For anyone who doesn’t know - Ronnie Biggs was a member of a large gang that robbed a mail train in 1963.  They got away with £2.8 million, most of which was never recovered.  The robbery was known as 'The Great Train Robbery' because, at that time, it was the most money that had ever been stolen in the UK in one go. He escaped from prison in 1965, went on the run and was a fugitive from British justice for 36 years.  He died in December 2013.)

Yasmin, Golden Square 2014.

Friday, 25 April 2014

I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything on here for so long.  Since my ’78 - 87’ book came out I’ve been incredibly busy.  Which is, obviously, all good.

And I’ve done quite a lot of interviews.

I really enjoy doing interviews because almost always people will ask me either a question I haven’t been asked before or, if English isn’t their first language, they’ll ask me an old question but phrase it in an interesting and thought provoking way.

One of the questions I often get asked is - where does a photographer get their inspiration from?

This is a question that somebody like me really ought not to be asked.  Anyone who needs instruction on how to find inspiration is probably not equipped to handle it, even if they had it.

But… I do realise that one can’t say that in an interview because you have to try to be helpful and remain positive.

And in reality, if you are the sort of person to whom inspiration is a useful and appropriate commodity, then it can come from absolutely anywhere.

As a photographer, I’m often inspired by looking at other people’s work but the work itself doesn’t always have to be good work, it just has to sow the seeds of an idea.

The David Bailey show was, to me, inspirational.  As I have written before, in David Bailey you have the UK’s greatest living photographer but he doesn’t always succeed in what he does.  Looking at some of his less successful works helps a photographer like me to refine what I think I should be trying to do as well.  So it’s inspirational in that sense as well.

Watching  other photographers work and hearing them talk about their working methods can be inspiring.  You’d need to be a very hard hearted and disengaged sort of photographer not to be inspired by the film ‘Everybody Street’.  And BBC4 has done a couple of recent films about the photographers William Klein and Vivian Maier that were equally brilliant and just made one want to grab a camera and rush out straight away.

Prior to becoming a photographer myself, as an art director, I was able to watch professional photographers at work for years before it dawned on me that I could become a photographer myself.  And all professional photographers seem to work in a different way.  At that point, I don’t really know whether I was ever really inspired by any of them.  Possibly not, mostly they weren’t of the David Bailey class.  I was probably more inspired as a teenager by watching the film 'Blow-Up'.

At that time, I did work with a couple of other art directors who were inspiring. Inspiring because they were so incredibly meticulous and they were both utterly relentless in their pursuit of perfection.

I’m not a perfectionist myself, it’s very hard to be in the real world, but I do know the difference between what I’m prepared to accept and what a real perfectionist will put themselves through to get things to 100%.

In the ten years I worked in the advertising business I worked with hundreds of people but only those two were real perfectionists and neither of them was ultimately very successful. Everyone thinks they are a perfectionist (over things they really care about) and it’s very instructive to know the difference.  One also has to know when to stop.

Last week I did an Instagram Takeover in Soho for the Photographers Gallery.  It meant me walking the streets for anything up to about 4 hours a day looking for interesting Soho faces to document.

Whilst doing this, late one afternoon I saw a girl with big hair crossing Golden Square and, when the sun caught and lit it up her hair, that was enough inspiration for me.  In fact, enough inspiration for a month.

I asked her if I could take a photograph and she was compliant, charming and very friendly.

I ended up not posting this shot because, ultimately, I thought it looked too set up.  Almost like a fashion photograph.

Yasmin looks like a model (I have a sneaky feeling she is a model) and I felt the Photographers Gallery would think I was just setting all these photos up.

In fact, this was the one and only time we’d ever met.

So this photograph didn’t make the cut for that project. But I still love it. I may save it for my next book.

Bailey’s Stardust.


Bailey’s Stardust is the title for the enormous, lifetime retrospective of Britain’s greatest photographer. I was so incensed by reading the review in the Guardian (link included below) that, even though I know his work very, very well, I went down to the National Portrait Gallery the next day to check for myself.

Maybe this was the whole point of that review, to goad people into going?

Maybe that was why the Guardian purposely mismatched show and reviewer, in order motivate through abject irritation?

Even so, Jonathan Jones review was the daftest I’ve read for a long time.

I'll paraphrase to save you actually reading it -

Bailey’s work is not art and it’s not as good as Rembrandt or Caravaggio.  Furthermore, the work is superficial and bereft of any deeper meaning.

But surely, besides anything else, I’d have thought the clue was right up there in the show’s title - 'Bailey’s Stardust'?

Call me an old pedant but I’d have thought that a reviewer who considers themselves able to discern meaning might have noticed some significance to be read in that precise wording?

Meaning, one presumes, that quality which is ephemeral and glitters briefly and is then gone but which Bailey brings into the equation himself.

That interpretation, at the very least, would not seem to be rocket science.

But "bereft of any deeper meaning"?  Isn’t this rather the nature of fashion and celebrity photography anyway?  What should one expect, Proust?

He writes "Bailey's style is all move, jump, grin, gurn or pout for me, babe. But Stardust's ecstatically brainless glamorama is glib entertainment for those who can't be bothered with real art.”

"If this is mastery, give me incompetence.”

Jonathan Jones clearly doesn’t think that photography is art and, though he’s entitled to his opinion however ill-informed, it’s an argument that was first heard in the 19th Century and was pretty much over by the time of Stieglitz and Steichen a hundred years ago.

He also reveals what he really means in the later comments section - "It's the lack of anything more profound that personally makes me wonder why anyone would pay to see this when you can see Rembrandts and Caravaggios for free at the National Gallery around the corner."

And then later “…I prefer Rembrandt, Caravaggio and Van Gogh - there's more to think about and a deeper meaning.”

This is asinine.  It’s a bit like comparing ballet to rugby league.

It’s also very condescending.  What on earth is to stop one enjoying the work of David Bailey AND the paintings of Rembrandt, Caravaggio and Van Gogh? Since the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery are now umbilically joined, I’ll bet that’s exactly what many people will do.

The thing is, unless you know something about the works of Rembrandt, Caravaggio or Van Gogh there isn’t any deeper meaning to be discerned from the paintings themselves.  Zero.  It’s just paint and varnish on canvas.  It’s not intrinsic.  One has to know something about the subject, the painter, the period and the context in which the painting was produced.  Then the meaning you perceive in those paintings is a function of what you take into the gallery yourself.

On the other hand, a photographic portrait of someone, no matter how superficial or fleeting in its creation, will always have a meaning because it’s technically a record of what that person looked like at that particular moment.

One doesn’t have to know anything about the subject or the photographer (there doesn’t even have to be a photographer, the camera can be automated).  You only have to look at police mug shots, Photo Me booth self-portraits or iPhone selfies to see this.  They are sometimes as meaningful and poignant as photographs ever get.

All photographs have their meaning, you just have to have the ability to see it.

One of the first photographs one sees in Bailey’s Stardust, even before getting to the ticket collector, is a large headshot of the model Kate Moss with her hair ridiculously messed with, sprayed up and primped.  Her mouth is artfully open and she’s wearing as vacant an expression as only a really top model can quite manage.  It’s a very instructive photograph and, I think, shows Bailey at his most mischievous and contrary.  Even more so since he’s had it placed right at the beginning.

It really is an awful photograph and I'd defy anyone to find anything good about it - other than on a simply technical level. Kate Moss must have been photographed hundreds of thousands of times over the last twenty five years and I don’t once recall seeing a more uninteresting photograph of her. And why is that big lump of hair sticking out on the left, is it Bailey's nod to the 'Something About Mary' hair gel shot?

Since Bailey curated the show and positioned all the work himself, it's safe to say he's trying to tell us something.  I can't tell what.  Brainless glamorama possibly but it’s certainly not meaningless.

Maybe it’s very brainlessness is it’s meaning?  Did you consider that Jonathan Jones?

Once inside it becomes clear that ’Stardust’ is a huge show.  The blurb states that there are 250 works but it certainly seems like more.  I’ve never seen a show this big of one person’s photography before.  And, since he curated it himself, it’s quite clear what David Bailey thinks.  He thinks rather a lot of himself.

There are sections of the show devoted to the ‘60s (as one would expect), the East End of London, gangsters, artists, other photographers, fashion icons, his wife Catherine Bailey, the Rolling Stones and some of the World’s native peoples.  And there are also some very interesting vitrines containing books, magazines, contact sheets, an old Pentax and even a couple of his passports.

There are also a lot of photographs of Mick Jagger in the show.  Far too many.

Mick Jagger has been in the public eye now for over 50 years and what does anybody really know about him other than his music, the women he’s been with and the fact that he likes cricket?  What more is revealed by these portraits.  Very little.  Bailey and Jagger are a match made in Heaven.  All the portraits of Mick Jagger do seem superficial and unengaging but could this not be because Mick Jagger actually is superficial?  It’s certainly a question left hanging in the air for me.

The huge number of works (which in fact only scratches the surface of his enormous archive) and the wide scope of the show is a bit of a mistake IMHO because it reveals something that I don’t think Bailey would have wanted.

Which is that, in truth, he has never been quite as good in any one photographic genre as some of his peers.  He was great in the ‘60s when he was a pioneer of fashion shoots taken outside of studios and shot on SLR cameras.

But the works in this show starkly reveal that Bailey was never quite as good inside one as Richard Avedon.  Or nearly as good on location as was Herb Ritts.  Or as good at both as was Helmut Newton.

I also don’t think he stacks up well, as a photographer of the World’s native peoples, alongside Irving Penn or Sebastião Salgado.

Or as good at street photography as Bruce Davidson or Diane Arbus.  And to which group we should also now add the peerless or Vivian Maier.

Or, come to think of it, as good at photographing gangsters as Jocelyn Bain Hogg.  Not by a long chalk.

Here’s the thing.

To come second to any of the great Twentieth Century masters is not a bad thing.  And one must remember, Bailey did it all.  He still does.

He’s very good at it all.  Just not the absolute best at any of it.

But although Bailey hasn’t actually been at the cutting edge since the ‘60s, his most recent work is amongst his best ever.

The Fashion Icons room, containing huge colour portraits of Zandra Rhodes, Vivienne Westwood and Molly Parkin, made as recently as 2012 are, in my view, the best work in the whole show.  As a man in his mid-seventies himself, he has the ability to make all those women, none of whom is particularly young themselves, look dynamic and youthful.  He photographs them with genuine warmth and affection.

And his photograph of ceramicist Grayson Perry is the best of the lot.

I don’t think there is anything superficial about these portraits. They are all rather unusual looking characters but they look good very good here.  One might almost say beautiful.

I love Bailey's portrait of Don McCullin too.  He looks so very evil here, Bailey has caught the real darkness of the man. Not quite like Eisenstaedt’s famous photograph of Goebbels but going on that way.  Don McCullin may be a photographic icon himself but his experiences as a war photographer have, in later life, made him into a (shall we say) person who is very hard to warm to.  Baileys portrait catches that quality exactly.

Other than the Kate Moss shot, I really have only one criticism of the work itself.  Some of the black and white printing is awful.

The photograph of I.M. Pei taken in 2002 is a case in point.  There is only highlight and mid-tone detail in the print.  There is no detail in the shadows whatsoever.  Another shot of Bill Brandt from 1982 is like this as well.  In fact many of the smaller black and white photographs have been printed in this way.  The detail must be there but Bailey has chosen to hide it from us. I find it hard to believe but the NPG blurb says that Bailey printed the entire show “himself".  Is this really true or do they just mean he supervised the printing himself?

Either way, the prints must be as Bailey wants them, so who am I to quibble?

He is famously rude.  In the promotional film for the show, he’s even shown insulting and swearing at the people producing it.  His old misery guts routine is just that, a routine, and he spouts a lot of nonsense about his own work and methods and one never knows when he’s being serious.  I think he simply enjoys winding everybody up.

Almost all the photographs one sees of Bailey himself these days show him sneering or scowling towards the camera.  And so it was with me the one time I met him and photographed him for The Face magazine back in 1985 (detail of which is shown above).   He couldn’t have been nicer and more friendly and yet, every time I aimed my camera his way, he had his game face on.

I admit to being a big fan of David Bailey.  More than anyone else, he inspired me to want to look at photographs at least ten years before I ever even thought about being a photographer myself.

Seeing a show like Bailey’s Stardust left me feeling the same sense of inspiration and wonder that I felt as a schoolboy, first seeing his photographs in the Sunday Times Colour Supplement.

This is a huge show, huge in scope, huge in conception and with some huge prints.  And some prints with grain the size of golf balls.

It’s really a celebration of a life spent consumed by the art of photography.  That’s why I find it, despite some of the not so great photos and questionable printing, so inspiring.  It made me rush home, reevaluate my own work and try to figure out how I could ever get to be as good (I’m still wondering).

And besides that David Bailey is, at heart, still just an East End kid who enjoys upsetting the toffs. I don’t know if he reads his reviews but, one never knows, maybe he’d have perversely enjoyed that the Guardian only gave him two stars out of five?

My verdict is, as someone once said back in Bailey's heyday, "I’ll give it foive”.


The Sayle Twins, Fulham 1984.


I first met Alexei Sayle in late 1980 on a college campus in Exeter. The previous month, my ‘Skinheads’ exhibition in London had proved to be very popular and it had transferred to the University there.  I went down for the opening night and afterwards got taken to see a stand up comedian playing in the Student Union bar. I’d never heard of Alexei Sayle before and I’d certainly never, ever seen a comedian with such a singular approach.

He was a large, slightly chubby man and that night he wore a very tight grey suit, a leather pork pie hat and Dr Marten boots.  He effected a pronounced East London accent which, from time to time, lapsed into what I later found out was his native Liverpudlian. His comedy persona was that of a jitterbugging, cockney wide boy.  But, significantly, a cockney wide boy with an aggressively left wing world-view.  In real life it turned out that Alexei was a committed Communist, as were his parents, and he exaggerated aspects of his somewhat untypical upbringing in his act.

His comedy was surreal, physical and undeniably political.

Prior to Alexei Sayle, stand up comedians just did not prance around in a tight suits and big boots in the manner that he did  (with the possible exception of Max Wall).  Before he became a comedian, Alexei had been a drama teacher and, once one learnt this fact, the physicality of his performance became understandable.

Before Alexei Sayle, UK comedians might have been satirical, sometimes heavily so, but they were never quite as overtly political.

And the strange thing was, unlike most other comedians I’d seen prior to that, he didn’t appear to need to be liked by his own audience.  This seemed distinctly odd back then.  Eventually comedians like Andrew Dice Clay and Jerry Sadowitz would turn abusing their own audience into an art from.  But this was 1980.

He didn’t go down well that night. Not at all.

Almost all his audience where white, middle class students and much of his material that night was specifically targeted at the desires and aspirations of their class. He derided the kind of people who slept on futons and ate yoghurt and lived in nice houses and gave dinner parties. It was at a time when most of the country had yet to appreciate the full horror of what Margaret Thatcher was trying to do to the social strata. The students mostly sat there in open mouthed silence.

And of course, it was also a little before the term ‘alternative comedy’ had been coined and Alexei Sayle hadn’t yet featured on TV.

Had Alexei appeared at Exeter even a year after he did, student self awareness invariably being what it is, he would have gone down a storm.

But... in 1980 they didn’t know what hit them.

Alexei was part of a comedy new wave that, within a couple of years, would make most of the rest of the British TV comics seem complacent, old fashioned, irrelevant, sexist and bitter.  With most there was really no “seem” about it. (Think Bernard Manning or Jim Davidson here rather than someone like Peter Cook.  Peter Cook was rightly revered by the new wave).

That first time I saw Alexei perform, I was certainly taken aback by his combative, in-your-face style.  But I thought he was very good.  It wasn’t so much laugh out loud comedy as much as extremely amusing and thought provoking.

After his performance, I was introduced to him in his dressing room.  He couldn’t have been more different from his stage persona.  He was intelligent, softly spoken and friendly.  And, for some odd reason, we hit it off immediately.

During the following couple of years the Comic Strip in Soho, which Alexei MC’ed, became big news.  The small group of comedians that performed there almost all became stars.  It was the biggest shake up to the UK comedy scene since Monty Python.  Or maybe The Goons.

I got commissioned to photograph him many times in the early ‘80s.  So we gradually became quite good friends.

The cover shot used for Alexei's first book ’Train To Hell’ was taken from a shoot I did for The Face magazine. I also photographed him pretending to exercise in a gym, also for The Face, and I shot some portraits for a NME interview in his Fulham flat.

Part of his act, at that point, was a surreal cockney rap called ‘Ullo John! Got a New Motor?’  It was as if a character from a Guy Ritchie film had been animated and set to music.  (The title itself was taken from the popular TV show  ‘Minder’).

Although on stage Alexei performed the rap acapella, whilst sort of leaping around the stage, such was his popularity at the time that a record company soon saw the potential of the piece.

Some trendy producers were wheeled in to add a backing track and hey presto ‘Ullo John! Got a New Motor?’ was released as a pop single.

And NME commissioned me to take some more photos.

After thinking about it for a while, my best idea for the shoot was to take Alexei to this big car breakers yard in North London and photograph him in front of a huge backdrop of piled up wrecked and rusting cars.  A sort of visual joke.

You might say that, as a photographic idea, this visual joke was rather literal and also possibly a bit obvious. You might be right.  At that point I was very much still learning my craft, I’d only been a full time professional for about a year, and often my ideas were a shade too literal.  It took me ten years, at least, to realise I didn’t need those sorts of ideas, literal or otherwise.

Nevertheless, one morning Alexei and I motored over to the car breakers yard and we went into the office to ask for the okay to do a few photos.

I remember it very clearly. The guy behind the counter didn’t even look up from what he was doing.  He said to me “whatever you want, the answer’s ‘ no’ ”.

Obviously if I’d had any sense, I would have rung up or, even better, got someone from NME to ring up and find out if we could do a shoot there beforehand.  If I’m honest, I didn’t have much sense then (and I don’t have all that much more now).  And I’ve always hated taking “no" for an answer.  The car breakers yard was huge.  There were thousands of cars there in a wide landscape of brown, rusty metal with hills of them as high as houses.  And all presided over by a few greasy, rough looking men and a dog or two - also quite greasy and rough looking.

We walked out of the guy’s office and, not to be deflected, I suggested we just drive around the perimeter fence, find a spot where we couldn’t be observed, climb over the fence and do the shoot anyway.  I reckoned that if we were quick, no one might be any the wiser.

Thinking back, it was not really the best plan and we could easily have been arrested or worse.  But, as I said, I didn’t have much sense.

Alexei was a little nervous.  In real life he doesn’t have any of the bravado he has on stage.  Off stage, he's extremely shy.  He also seemed worried about the dogs and climbing over the fence in his too tight mohair suit.

But I managed to persuade him and we did the photos, albeit rather hurriedly.

He need not have worried anyway.  For a big man, Alexei is very fit.  Besides all the cavorting around on stage he does, he’s a keen cyclist as well.  If we’d had to run for it, what with me carrying a big bag of cameras, I reckon the dogs would have got to me first.

‘Ullo John! Got a New Motor?’ got to number 15 in the charts and, for a while, Alexei became quite a big star.

Because I got on with him so well and he was such a pleasant and compliant subject, (plus I was still new and eager to practise), we arranged to do some more photos as well.  I took some press photos for him in his Fulham flat.  He wore a very sharp looking dark grey suit and, with his closely cropped hair, he looked particularly hard and aggressive.  Almost the visual personification of a professional East End Villain.

At some point during this shoot, I got the idea to parody the famous David Bailey photograph of the Kray Twins but using Alexei in both roles.  I figured a sort of ersatz Kray Twins image would fit his hard nut stage persona like a glove.  And so it proved.  Alexei was keen to do it.

Unfortunately, at that time, my experience of shooting in a studio with studio strobes was virtually non existent   And the few studio shoots I had done up to that point had all been set up for me by friends.

See - http://www.derekridgers.com/homepage/Blog/Entries/2010/4/26_The_Slits%2C_Chelsea_1978..html

So I did what I always did.  I persuaded friend to lend me his studio and, whilst he was at it, set all the lights up for me as well.

I suppose being a photographer will always be easy if one has a seasoned professional on hand to lend you their studio, their equipment and show you how to do virtually everything bar pressing the button.

And I was cheeky in the extreme. I wouldn’t have got started if I hadn’t been.  I really don’t know how or why I ever got away with it. I even got the guy who owned the studio to stand in, so that the Alexei twin at the front would cast a shadow on the Alexei twin at the back.

Afterwards, since it was before the era of Photoshop, I composited the image in the darkroom using masks cut from black paper.

I was very pleased with the results. In 1984 the photograph got used as a picture disk for the the eventual follow up to ‘Ullo John…’ a record entitled ‘Didn’t you kill my Brother?’

Since Alexei, as far as I know, doesn’t have a twin brother, I always wondered whether the idea for that song, came from doing this photograph with me.  I suspect it did.

I also wonder whether the idea for his doing a film in 1985 with the same name emanated from that shoot.  In the film, Alexei plays the fictional gangster twins Carl and Sterling Moss.

I suspect it did also.  For the simple reason that the film company produced a poster advertising the film in which they got another photographer to almost exactly replicate my 'Sayle Twins' photograph.  Except it was done, if I may say, rather poorly.

I was a bit chagrined about this.  I wondered why they couldn’t have just used my original and why another photographer had the gall to simply copy what I’d already done.

But I guess I ripped off David Bailey and, in turn, someone else ripped me off.

Of course, mine was intended to be an affectionate parody.

Alexei didn’t mention anything about it.  And there’s nothing about either photograph on his website.

I haven’t seen him now for many years but I guess I could ask him if my recollection of the circumstances around the photo match his own.

If he responds I’ll post it on here.

Peter Cook, Hampstead 1994.


During his lifetime he was often described as the“greatest living Englishman” and it was certainly true that, as a comedian and satirist, Peter Cook had a special place in the hearts of most of my generation.

I'd been a big fan since I was a schoolboy.  In fact I can often remember standing around in the playground with my friends at school, re-enacting some of the Pete and Dud or E.L. Whisty sketches from the night before's TV show.

He first came to the fore in 1960 with the West End stage production ‘Beyond the Fringe’.  I was 10 and the time and didn't see it.

But I certainly did see all his early appearances on the ground breaking satirical TV show ‘That Was The Week That Was’.

Peter Cook was also well known to be a life long Spurs fan (his season ticket was situated about 12 feet away from mine) and I can vividly recall him sitting there, virtually anonymously and fairly quietly, amongst all the rest of us. Towards the end of his life he didn't get to every game but he was always there, in his  eccentrically patterned socks, when the Arsenal game came around.

It was a particular honour for me to be asked to photograph him.  Most people say that comedians are real miseries when one meets them off stage.  I've simply never found this to be true but, of course, when they meet the members of the Fourth Estate, I suppose they may still be performing to some extent.

All I can say is that he was tremendously entertaining to me and the writer (David Quantick) whilst we were in his home.  He pretty much kept us in stitches the whole time.  He looked pretty gloomy in all my photos though, especially the one above.

That's the great thing about the photographic process, it always tells it's own kind of truth, often irrespective of what you might intend.  I suppose I was so busy laughing and being charmed by Peter Cook that I couldn't see what it was I should have really been looking at.

Max Wall, London 1986.


In the fifties, the actor/comedian Max Wall was a huge star in Britain, until his career was ruined by an extra marital affair. It seems so strange nowadays that that sort of thing could ruin anyone's career, let alone a comedian.

I took this photograph, which was commissioned by London listings magazine  Time Out, on the stage of a theatre (I honestly can't remember which one) whilst he was appearing in his one man show 'An Evening With Max Wall'.