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We spoke to David Bailey about being the inspiration for cult film 'Blow-up'

James Manning

From stunt doubles to costume designers, we talk to the people who've helped make some of London's most iconic films. Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni set his first English-language film in swinging London, where a fashion photographer accidentally captures a murder on film in 'Blow-up'. David Hemmings’s lead role was heavily inspired by London’s own David Bailey – in fact, producer Carlo Ponti initially wanted him to star in it. Here, Bailey recalls why that was never going to happen.

How did you feel about being the photographer in ‘Blow-Up’ being based on you?

‘They asked me to play him! Carlo Ponti [the producer] said, “Would you like to make a film?” I said yes, because I thought they were asking me to direct it – I had already made ads and a little feature. Then they started talking about how I dressed, and I said, “What’s that got to do with anything? I’m not an actor. I’m dyslexic – I can’t remember a fucking phone number, let alone a page of script.” So they went away.’ 

Did you find it weird seeing a version of yourself on screen?

‘[That scene in the junk shop] puzzled me for ages. I thought: How do they know I paid £8 for that propeller? I’d hardly told anybody that. But I did find out years later. I’d been making a book at the time [of the film] with a writer called Francis Wyndham, and ten years later he said, “Bailey, I’ve got something to confess. I wrote a 200-page synopsis for Antonioni for ‘Blow-Up’.” That answered my question.’ 

What did you think of the film when it came out?

‘I thought it was a bit silly. David Hemmings was wrong: he was like a middle-class twat. I wasn’t a Chelsea boy. I hardly ever went to Chelsea in the ’60s. Ponti got in touch with me afterwards and said, “Are you going to sue us? Because we’d quite like the publicity.”’

Want more film fun? Check out our guide to this year's London Film Festival


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