George Douglas

George Douglas, was one of the key Picture Post photographers of the 1950s, his archive was almost lost after his death in 2010. Stored in rusting filing cabinets in the basement of his Brighton home, thousands of unsorted negatives, from picture essays on celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Vivien Leigh to photojournalism documenting everything from the Queen’s rat catcher to the work of one of the first speech therapy clinics, lay jumbled, dusty and forgotten.

Fortunately, another photographer, Roger Bamber and his wife Shan Lancaster, inherited the filing cabinets and were curious enough to investigate and discovered that he had left a remarkable legacy.

These previously unseen pictures of Audrey Hepburn in New York in 1952, are part of this remarkable legacy.  At the time she was the toast of Broadway for her role in Gigi but still had not had a leading role in a movie and was relatively unknown. Douglas firmly believed she was going to be a huge star. He risked his own savings on a freelance trip to America. Persuading her to work with him was essential – but there was no prior agreement in place.

Everything depended on her co-operation.His diaries include a memoir of a nerve-wrenching week, down to his last few dollars and fearing he would never even meet Hepburn, before he finally managed to arrange a brief interview in her dressing room as she made up for a performance. He wrote that he found her friendly and welcoming and told her he found New York frightening; the people were so cold and aggressive.”But of course,” Audrey said, ”so would you be if you were surrounded by concrete. When do you think they even see green hills or trees?”

“By the time I left her dressing room we had agreed to meet in two days’ time and to take pictures in Central Park and I had fallen in love with Audrey Hepburn.” The result was a triumph. Hepburn posed for him shopping, sightseeing, making up, chatting to local children, patting cab horses and escaping the hated concrete in Central Park.

Images from the shoot will be part of Audrey Hepburn: Portrait of an Icon at the National Portrait Gallery from 2 July.

George Douglas, photographer, born Sussex 8 March 1922; died Sussex 28 December 2010. His archive is now managed and licensed by Topfoto.