Established in 1709, Tatler was a stalwart of the old guard, faithfully chronicling the comings and goings of the British upper classes. Its fate was closely tied to that of the nation, falling into decline after World War II – until Tina Brown took over the editorship in June 1979.
Recognising the enduring allure of wealth and its discontents, Brown restored Britain’s oldest magazine to its former glory by devising a glossy that was equal parts glamour, romance, decadence, and impudence. Determined to tell stories that reflected the cross currents of the ruling class during the Thatcher years, Brown searched high and low for the perfect photographer.
While paging through the Sunday Times magazine in 1981, she happened upon the work of Dafydd Jones, who was finely attuned to the nuances of privilege and youth. Struck by his intuitive understanding of Britain’s Bright Young Things, she commissioned Jones to photograph then-Lady Diana Spencer at Sandown Park.
He returned with an eerily prescient photo of a young woman alone, the target of paparazzi whose relentless hunger would hound her until death. The photograph ran as a double page spread and marked the start of a collaboration that would span eight years and some 9,000 rolls of black and white film.
“The Tatler was run on a shoestring but had a buzzing office with an air of excitement,” Jones remembers. “I liked Tina because she was very direct, but more importantly because she hired me as an unknown young photographer. I moved to London to work for the magazine. I found a sublet room in a rundown house in an insalubrious area and yet would be going out in evening dress to glamorous parties.”
Learning on the job, Jones developed his signature style, blending charm, mayhem, and wit into a whirlwind tour of balls, regattas, hunts, polo matches and weddings. Now, Jones looks back one that pivotal era in the new book, England: The Last Hurrah (ACC Art Books).
With Jones crafting indelible images of generational wealth run amok, Tatler became emblematic of the legendary excesses of 1980s Britain. “At the time it felt like a world that had always been there and hadn’t really changed. What was new was that through the pictures in the magazine it was being revealed,” he says.
Jones quickly became an essential fixture on the scene, his sparkling images of mischief and debauchery welcomed by all. “I would walk around, looking, and photograph whatever and whoever stood out – anything that was happening,” he says.
Long before Nigella Lawson and Hugh Grant rose to fame, Jones photographed them for the magazine, recognising in them an innate star power. This sixth sense applied across industries.
“I have wondered now why at a party for 500 people, out of the 30 or so people I photographed, why did I select the young men that would later become England’s prime ministers?” Jones wonders. “Maybe they had a kind of charisma. Perhaps it was just luck.”
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