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Leslie Henson

© estate of Angus McBean / National Portrait Gallery, London

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Leslie Henson

by Angus McBean
vintage bromide print, 1938
19 3/4 in. x 14 7/8 in. (503 mm x 378 mm)
Purchased, 2008
Primary Collection
NPG P1301

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Angus McBean (1904-1990), Photographer. Artist associated with 273 portraits, Sitter in 79 portraits.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Pepper, Terence, Angus McBean Portraits, 2006 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 July to 22 October 2006), p. 50 Read entry

    Born in Notting Hill, London, Henson was originally destined to follow in his father's footsteps in his tallow business in Smithfield. He escaped this fate when he was sent to study drama under Ernest D'Auban and Cairns James. Henson made his stage debut in 1910 and saw his theatrical career take off after World War I. In 1935 with Firth Shephard he took on the lease of the Gaiety Theatre, turning out the successful shows Seeing Stars, Swing Along, Going Greek and Running Riot. The Sketch caption writer observed of this picture, 'Running Riot at the Gaiety is firmly held down here - by a sort of strict waistcoat and a plaster robe.' The surreal series featured primarily female actresses as subjects and McBean later commented that when he applied surreal effects to men the results tended to make the subjects look camp and that his surreal study of Laurence Olivier as Coriolanus was therefore a failure, although it was subsequently reproduced on many occasions.

Events of 1938back to top

Current affairs

Britain pursues its policy of appeasement. At the Munich Agreement, Britain, France and Italy agreed to allow Hitler to seize the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia. The agreement was seen at the time as a triumph for peace, with Neville Chamberlain returning home brandishing the paper agreement and saying 'peace for our time.' Within six months Germany had occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia.

Art and science

Graham Greene publishes Brighton Rock. The novel follows the descent of Pinky, a teenage gang leader in Brighton's criminal underworld. The book examines the criminal mind and explores the themes of morality and sin - recurrent concerns for the Roman Catholic Author.
Glasgow hosts the Empire Exhibition; an £11 million celebration of the British Empire visited by 13 million people.

International

In its pursuit of 'Lebensraum' (living space), Germany annexes Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia with little opposition from the League of Nations. At home, the Nazis continued their escalating persecution of the Jews with 'Kristallnach' (the Night of Broken Glass), attacking Jewish homes, shops, businesses and synagogues, and taking Jewish men to concentration camps.

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