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John Claridge’s Soho Portraits

March 10, 2017
by the gentle author

There is a strange atmosphere in Soho these days with the destruction of Walker’s Court, the imminent demolition of Foyles and the desecration of Denmark St – which makes it a tonic to enjoy these portraits by Contributing Photographer John Claridge selected from his ongoing series of over five hundred.

“I started taking portraits of people at The French House in the seventies when I took a picture of Gaston Berlemont. Then, while taking Spike Milligan’s portrait, we got to talking about Soho. At the time, I was living in Frith St, so Ronnie Scott’s and The French were both very familiar to us and, even then, both of us voiced our sadness at changes we saw – lovely delicatessens, independent restaurants and specialists shops closing down, all of which had been there for years.

In 2004, I decided to document the customers at The French in earnest. For me, it was the one place in Soho that still held its Bohemian character, where people truly chose to share time and conversation, and I became aware that many I had once chinked glasses with were no longer around.

These portraits of the regulars are a cross-section of those who sat for me, but there is no rhyme or reason to my selection.”

- John Claridge

Spike Milligan, Comedian & Writer

Molly Parkin, Painter & Novelist

Gaz Mayall, Musician

Lisa Stansfield, Simger & Songwriter

Eddie Gray, Jazz Violinist

Lesley Lewis, Owner of The French House

Kenny Clayton, Jazz Pianist

Fergus Henderson, Chef & Restauranteur

Georgina Sutcliffe, Actor

John Phillips, Journalist

Norman Balon, Landlord of the Coach & Horses

Millie Laws, Reflexologist

George Baker, Actor

Oliver Bernard, Poet

Clare Shenstone, Artist

Peter Boizot, Founder of Pizza Express

Peter Owen, Publisher

Vanessa Fenton, Dancer at the Royal Ballet & Choreographer

Sebastian Horsley, Artist

Burt Kwouk, Actor

Kevin Petillo, Television Producer

Pinkietessa, Costume maker

James Birch, Art Dealer

Jay Landesman, Nightclub Owner, Writer & Publisher

Anna Lujan Sanchez, Dancer with Ballet Rambert

Freddie Jones, Actor

Paul Lawford, of The Rubbishmen of Soho

Alison Steadman, Actor

Gaston Berlemont, Former Publican at The French House

Paul Barlow, Cyclist

Photographs copyright © John Claridge

John Claridge’s exhibition PARIS IN THE SIXTIES & SEVENTIES will be at The French House, Dean St, Soho from Sunday 2nd April until Saturday 3rd June

You may also like to take a look at

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round One)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Two)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Three)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Four)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Five)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Six)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Seven)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Eight)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Nine)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Ten)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Eleven)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Twelve)

and

John Claridge’s Clowns (Act One)

John Claridge’s Clowns (Act Two)

John Claridge’s Clowns (The Final Act)

and

John Claridge’s Darker Side

John Claridge’s Lighter Side

and these other pictures by John Claridge

John Claridge’s East End

Along the Thames with John Claridge

At the Salvation Army with John Claridge

In a Lonely Place

A Few Diversions by John Claridge

This was my Landscape

John Claridge’s Spent Moments

Signs, Posters, Typography & Graphics

Working People & a Dog

Invasion of the Monoliths

Time Out with John Claridge

Views from a Dinghy by John Claridge

People on the Street & a Cat

In Another World with John Claridge

A Few Pints with John Claridge

A Nation Of Shopkeepers

Some East End Portraits by John Claridge

Sunday Morning Stroll with John Claridge

John Claridge’s Cafe Society

Graphics & Graffiti

Just Another Day With John Claridge

At the Salvation Army in the Eighties

CLICK HERE TO ORDER A COPY OF EAST END FOR £25

79 Responses leave one →
  1. March 10, 2017

    I remember seeing some of these portraits in the ‘French House’ in Soho. All marvellous!

  2. March 10, 2017

    Great work as always John. Would love to see a big book of these faces. Oversized pages. Would be great.

  3. March 10, 2017

    Wonderful portraits of many great characters frozen in time for posterity ! …..

  4. March 10, 2017

    A wonderful collection of well known faces beautifully captured by John, these are important photographs for two reasons, firstly the people involved and secondly the outstanding photography by a master of the art. Each photograph although photographed in a similar trademark style by John has a unique personality just like the subject.

  5. Helen Breen permalink
    March 10, 2017

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, again great pics! Some remind me of Karsh photos from mid century.

  6. simon meyrick-jones permalink
    March 10, 2017

    Excellent John! Perfect example of how it’s the lines in people’s faces that tell the story of their lives.I’ll get my coat…

  7. Paul Fairweather permalink
    March 10, 2017

    Another great set of photographs from the legendary John Claridge,I’ve seen some of these in The French House,fabulous

  8. Linda Sutton permalink
    March 10, 2017

    Without wishing to sound too ancient, these shots capture and convey the Soho that I remember and wish were still with us. It has of course – and rightly – moved on to another generation to make their own. Put me down for the book.

    Next up, John, the millennials’ Soho folk?

  9. March 10, 2017

    John Claridge is one of the UKs greatest photographers and we need a book of these amazing photos!

  10. March 10, 2017

    Fabulous photos of the men. I love the realism. I wish the photos of the women had been treated similarly. Apart from the one of Millie Laws, they seem to be in the publicity shot style which is more about pretence than truth.

  11. March 10, 2017

    French House…favourite pub in Soho…to know all these amazing faces have enjoyed a drink there…a rich history beautifully portrayed by the amazing John Claridge…Thank you John I look forward to the exhibition

  12. March 10, 2017

    How wonderful to make “eye contact” with this vibrant, diverse, and fantastic group. If indeed the eyes are the window to the soul, I feel that we have just been given a revealing tour of the inner workings of this unique cast of characters. Thanks to John Claridge for the reminder — Each
    person counts, every soul matters, and the world is inflamed, awakened and informed by the arts.
    An amazing series!
    Thanks as ever, GA.

  13. Gwen Thomas permalink
    March 10, 2017

    Amazing portraits from an amazing photographer – the characters of the individuals shine through! Would love to own a book showing these and all the other colourful characters from a Soho which has changed so much over the years. They, and the history of this colourful area, needs to be immortalised in a book!

  14. Dee Robinson permalink
    March 10, 2017

    Such wonderful portraits, any chance that there may be a book of French House Portraits?

  15. Paul May permalink
    March 10, 2017

    Loved the Soho portraits – all Soho life is there. In fact all human life is there.

  16. Matt Johnson permalink
    March 10, 2017

    More wonderful portraits from the ageless John Claridge.

    I worked in Soho from the age of 15 as a tea boy / runner in a venerable music publishing house / recording studio. After a couple of years I knew this atmospheric quarter of London like the back of my own hand – every short cut and secret alleyway indelibly marked in my mind.

    I’ve been drawn back for much of my adult life but in recent years it has been almost too painful to walk those streets and watch it being dismembered, building by building, street by street.

    All that will be left will be a vague memory of the place I loved as a teenager. It puts me in mind of the last few lines of Philip Larkin’s Going, Going.

    “And that will be England gone,
    The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
    The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
    There’ll be books; it will linger on
    In galleries; but all that remains
    For us will be concrete and tyres.

    Most things are never meant.
    This won’t be, most likely; but greeds
    And garbage are too thick-strewn
    To be swept up now, or invent
    Excuses that make them all needs.
    I just think it will happen, soon.”

  17. March 10, 2017

    Marvelous photos. I was thrown out of the French House by Gaston Berlemont , for being too friendly with my girlfriend. Ah happy days!

  18. March 10, 2017

    Many thanks to the Gentle Author for featuring a selection from this great body of work by John Claridge. It has been a long time in the making and as Soho becomes Disney-fied it is now the right time to now bring it together for you as a book and a show. We will be doing a last call on the photography in September and are now actively looking for funding and a publisher to bring this labour of love to fruition. All suggestions gladly received, after all it is all about you…

  19. Roger Owen permalink
    March 10, 2017

    This is a truly amazing collection of some the most enigmatic portrait photographs I have ever seen. So full of life! I can view them over and over again – and see something fantastic in them each time. Love smiling Spike!

  20. March 10, 2017

    Absolutely stunning! They tell so much about the sitters, make me feel familiar with them. I see the gentleness in the images of female sitters that are softer and beautifully compliment the much more defined male characters. Looking forward to see the book.

  21. Ken Thomson permalink
    March 10, 2017

    Honoured to be included in great photos of habitués and sons-of-habitués of Soho’s finest pub!

  22. March 10, 2017

    Outstanding photographs that bring back to life so vividly the old Soho I loved so very much – there is no one better than John at capturing the true essence of his subjects whether they are people or the places they inhabit.

  23. Steve Webber permalink
    March 10, 2017

    A treasured glimpse of a monumental project. The photography is stunning enhanced still further by John’s love of chiaroscuro black and white imagery. The camera again allows us to share John’s passion for exposing new dimensions.
    If I had to choose…Spike M. Such a special moment.

  24. March 10, 2017

    As the face of Soho changes so radically, these wonderful photographs that John has taken of Soho’s faces would make a brilliant and important book.

  25. David Drakes permalink
    March 10, 2017

    What a legacy from one of the world’s greatest photographers to honour one of
    Soho’s greatest drinking institutions.

  26. March 10, 2017

    I was fortunate enough to work for John in the Frith Street days
    when Soho was an astonishing,wonderful place to be. So many amazing people
    filled the bars and restaurants especially the French and I agree with so many
    other people that a book of these wonderful portraits by John is essential so that the
    heady,amazing days of Soho are forever there for everyone to see, as for me like many others
    starting out in the world, it was the most amazing place to be to learn from the Masters and this book will be yet another wonderful piece of social history by a pioneer of social photography in this country and we should treasure it.

  27. March 10, 2017

    Fantastic! John Claridge is the king of reveal. He reveals everything in his portraits, whether you want that showing or not the spirit comes through the pores of the photograph. wonderful. Sx

  28. Jenny Sparidge permalink
    March 10, 2017

    Over five hundred portraits? Mmmm, so this is merely the tip of the iceberg.

    The eyes, so they say, are the windows to the soul. In these stunning images one sees the ‘souls’ of the men and the ‘spirits’ of the women. Young and old, male and female, all they give of themselves individually and proudly. Such beautiful portraits.

    It would be a very important body of work as a book, both artistically and historically.

    Thank you to John and The Gentle Author for today’s wonderful delight.

  29. Alice Neal permalink
    March 10, 2017

    What a beautiful collection of images. As John and other commentors have said, Soho in the 80′s was such an exciting place to be. The feeling of the Soho we knew then has changed, but thanks to people like John, there is still plenty of exciting work being produced. Truly stunning portraits.

  30. March 10, 2017

    Fantastic photos but have to say the female of the species definitely gets the soft focus treatment. A pity I don’t frequent such iconic haunts and be well known enough be captured at my best by John’s lense.

  31. Jenny Sparidge permalink
    March 10, 2017

    And I should have added that I have the most wonderful memories of Soho in the eighties … like Alice Neal, Jan Davis and Matt Johnson. It was such a vibrant, exciting and thriving ‘village’, for the use of a better word. Now there is only one place in Soho that I visit and it is The French. It is the only place left that still holds onto what it has always been and still is. And for that, homage must be laid at Lesley Lewis’s door, a remarkable woman.

  32. Bill Garnett permalink
    March 10, 2017

    I have no idea how John Claridge’s portraits convey such stunning emotional depth…but they certainly do, time after time. This Soho series is again astounding…if this is to become a book put me down for one immediately!

  33. March 10, 2017

    It’s a rarity in this so called modern world to find a finer and natural gifted
    Photographer like John Claridge, with his raw close up portraits of people who finds refuge in the shrinking world of Soho.
    In my view John Claridge is the most honest artist around and one to admire for his hunger of life.

  34. March 10, 2017

    Still wooing the girls you old smoothie?

  35. Louise Higgins permalink
    March 10, 2017

    John has an amazing ability to get to the truth of his subjects. Would love to see a book with these amazing photographs in it.

  36. Ivan Merrell permalink
    March 10, 2017

    An amazing exhibition. Had the fantastic pleasure of assisting John on some of these shots and the stories that accompany the portraits are amazing. John’s relationship with each subject is unique and the history that they all share, both at The French House and in Soho is beautiful. Thank you for the opportunity to view them all.

  37. March 10, 2017

    Bad form to post twice but think the photos of Burt Kwouk and George Baker are magnificent.

  38. Nigel Skelsey permalink
    March 11, 2017

    You’re still alive!! Greetings from darkest Sussex. What a joy to look at these images. You really are one of the greatest photographers of all time and that’s no bullshit. Penn, Atget, Sander, and our boy from the East End, Mr Claridge. I could meditate on the product of these lensmen until my last breath.

  39. David Cantwell permalink
    March 11, 2017

    Beautifully presented collection of amazing portraits capturing the soul of the subjects. Super work as always from this great photographer

  40. Martin Reed permalink
    March 11, 2017

    Brings back to me the terror of being one of John’s subjects in The French House some time around 2005. The picture hasn’t surfaced yet, & I’m still hoping it’s one that dropped down the back of the film drying cabinet!

  41. Jane Owen permalink
    March 11, 2017

    John’s photo’s of the French House regulars are always a joy. That place has been a sanctuary for me and many others over the years.

    His East End book is bloody marvellous.

    Please get on and do a Soho one before the bastards build us out of there.

  42. March 11, 2017

    John Claridge is not only one of the greatest photographers in the history of the still image but is one of the nicest chaps I’ve met.
    I was most honoured to have sat for one of his portrait shots at The French House a few years ago.
    A blessed man living in an era of abrupt change. His images will remain even if the places and people pass on by.

    DGS x

  43. March 11, 2017

    Marvellous work from a true gentleman.
    A unique collection of faces, documenting the famous and the not so.
    All life is here. Bravo JC.

  44. Oli Maxwell permalink
    March 11, 2017

    It is difficult to define quite what makes Claridge’s portraits so unique given that they can be quite diverse in character but once you see them as a body of work they become part of the whole. One of the great portrait photographers of our time

  45. March 11, 2017

    I an admirer of John’s exceptional works. Professional processing letting us see the characters or the sitters. This works its a celebration for professional photography. Can’t wait to see all in book “Soho Faces”. My warmest wishes.
    Nellie Vin

  46. March 11, 2017

    Just wonderful

  47. john edwards permalink
    March 11, 2017

    Yes I can hear it, smell it as it was, 1959 me and pals at art college Clerkenwell [ Ted's Cafe - Back Hill ] amid the printers and Italian banditti and there was little Italy throughout Soho. The majestic and kind Gaston with his antenna whiskers quivering aimed at either entrance of the smallest, most vibrant bar ever, cabaret version of a Terry Pratchett book cover. Just off centre, [ what wasn't ] the beautiful glass Pernod vitrine, in the left corner, ‘Chicago’ or ‘Ironfoot Jack’. Lucien Freud, forensic eyes, small revolver in overcoat pocket along with gamey Bacon. Raw theatre and roaring arena of engulfing magic of the York Minster where only Gaston’s stentorian roar of (((OUUTTT !!!))) could cut through the roiling surf and hubbub… Jimmy the Greek’s [ for us students ] and graduationby ’62 to the magic of Mario & Franco’s right next door ‘ The Trat’, with Elena Salvoni [ You darling ] at Bianchi’s just up the street. So JC if that’s my reaction to the amuse bouche of what’s to come from the old soak’s home rogues & roguettes gallery I may need to pause between this Galapagos serving up from Soup to Nuts. Cheers ol’ Bean – God Bless you Mnsr Berlemont & [most] all who sailed with you.

  48. Colin Nicholls permalink
    March 11, 2017

    Very impressed , all unique, love the style

  49. March 11, 2017

    These are simply wonderful portraits, faces to tell so many tales…..Excellent work.

  50. March 11, 2017

    These are great portraits, and it’s like looking across the bar and seeing those faces larger than life. They define the people , in a very empathetic way – I am sure each of Johns subjects like their picture.
    The book will be a timely reminder of what Doho used to be like- everything changes, everything is moving , so it’s a very good thing John Claridge has taken the time and trouble to bring these faces together. We are the richer fir it.

  51. Kathy Morrison Van Valen permalink
    March 11, 2017

    I have enormous respect for your great photography John,
    whatever the location.
    I also adore Soho.
    In the 70s I had an office in Frith Street . . and often frequented Ronnie Scott’s.
    in 1976 I had my wedding reception at Bianchi’s.
    For me, having a book of these portraits would be absolutely amazing.

  52. Ralph Young permalink
    March 11, 2017

    What stunning images these are, I would love to see them as a published
    Book,

  53. March 12, 2017

    Quite the most intense set of portraits that I’ve seen for a long time….absolutely wonderful, John….I singled out the portrait of Fergus Henderson and kept adding another one until I gave up.

  54. Len Weireich permalink
    March 12, 2017

    Freddy Jones gave a brilliant performance as the Russian vodka taster in my first Vladivar Vodka cinema commercial. Wonderful actor. Great shots, John. Hope the exhibition is a triumph.

  55. Ian Freeman permalink
    March 12, 2017

    Wonderful portraits by John as always. A book would be a great idea and a fine tribute to the institution that is the French House.

  56. Mike Reynolds permalink
    March 12, 2017

    What is great about John’s pictures is the he squeezes every ounce of character from his subjects, almost revealing their very souls, they also remind me of my time as a young art director …the war was no distant memory, the stirring and rebellion of the 60′s and tragically a Soho that has now disappeared …all captured in John’s photographs. Lovely

  57. Duane Wilson permalink
    March 12, 2017

    I was the first person John photographed for what became the Soho portraits.
    Looking back at the pictures he was a lot gentler to the women than the men and if I had known that I might have turned up in a dress and some lippy…!
    I didn’t really see myself as an artist’s model so I was a bit nervous but my fears that John was going to ply me with drink and get me to take my kit off were allayed by the glamorous Carla Borel. She was John’s assistant as well as my colleague at the French at the time . It was her job to take everyone upstairs and make sure it was a smooth ride – which she was very good at.
    I was lucky I was first – I got to trot out that line about being “ready for my close-up” before everyone else – John told me later that almost every Soho sitter did exactly the same. ……….love ya John . Xx

  58. March 13, 2017

    What wonderful, inspired and inspiring photos by a wonderful artist – staining the fabric of time with an authentic past. Absolutely marvelous and should be seen by everyone who remembers lives lived in genuine discovery.

  59. Peter Paul permalink
    March 13, 2017

    John if anyone can capture the faces and spirit of Soho its you. Its now more important than ever to capture this, as the places which are the heart of a real community are disappearing faster than ever.

  60. Bethea Jenner permalink
    March 13, 2017

    Wonderful atmospheric & evocative portraits from a great snapper!

  61. March 13, 2017

    What a great set of portraits.
    Their personalities really shine through, which is obviously the point of a portrait but it’s hard to do, it’s easier to put people in environments and arrange the whole thing like a still life.
    I particularly love Fergus Henderson and the landlord of the French House.
    Hope the exhibition goes well John.
    Best,
    Dx

  62. Sharon John permalink
    March 13, 2017

    Astonishing, compelling, haunting portraits, a tapestry of Soho, woven with the faces that have peopled it. John’s book will be a treasured record and a timely one, as the familiar fabric of our favoured place is being wantonly unpicked.

  63. Kate Fawkes permalink
    March 13, 2017

    Such wonderful, insightful photographs. I very much hope to see them collected in book form soon. Love your work, John.

  64. Craig Easton permalink
    March 13, 2017

    Fabulous. What an extraordinary collection. It has to be a book….soon.

  65. Zinovy Zinik permalink
    March 13, 2017

    We live in the era of fleeting moments and instant messages. During the last thirty years that I have frequented the French House, I saw faces come and disappear as quickly as drinks they consume. People change, but something common to all the habitués – new an old – of this rare remaining island of London camaraderie could be detected in all of them. This hard-to-pin-down quality is immortalised in John Claridge’s portraiture – his photo engravings for posterity.

  66. Marie Franck permalink
    March 13, 2017

    I believe that there are things that nobody would see if John Claridge did not photograph them. Brilliant work !

  67. Ola Solanke permalink
    March 14, 2017

    Great portraits… Would love to see a Goat size
    Book of these images.

  68. Cindy Hacker permalink
    March 14, 2017

    These photos jolt the memory somewhat! How brilliant that you captured so many characters who enriched the ‘old Soho’. Now I know where the time went to…
    Good luck with the book. Put me down for one or three. x

  69. sebastian keep permalink
    March 14, 2017

    Looking at these wonderful pictures of the characters in the French is like looking at a flickbook of my last 50 years in and around Soho. But particularly drinking and chatting in the French.
    I really hope you publish these as a book. I would be the first to buy it.
    Thanks for the memories John,
    Sebastian.

  70. David Wharton permalink
    March 14, 2017

    These beautiful photographs are an important document to a time when the world wasn’t so homogenized.

    Thank you John.

  71. March 15, 2017

    No time like now for this book. Will do my best to bang the drum for it in publishing circles.

  72. emma Paolozzi permalink
    March 15, 2017

    Love the pictures, love the man.

  73. Deidre Wallace permalink
    March 15, 2017

    As Soho seems to be changing so dramatically, it is great that as a result of your atmospheric photographs, an important era has been captured for posterity. Thank you John.

    I especially like your photographs of Gaz Mayall and Pinkietessa. You captured their essence extremely well.

  74. March 15, 2017

    When writing about the creative brilliance of John Claridge, his enterprise and intellect ensured that I numbered him among the finest photographers in the twentieth century. Just like his earlier picture books, publication of his Soho portraits will convey, not only the character of his sitters and the importance of their subject, but John’s sense of timing and emotional connection with a way of life that will never be seen again.

  75. Paul Walton permalink
    March 15, 2017

    We’re losing Soho over time and also the characters that made it. John has invested years capturing the people that made Soho so unique. Fantastic.

  76. Marion Cairns permalink
    March 16, 2017

    These are incredible portraits by John and capture both the character and mood of the time. A slice of history at the French Pub a unique venue in Soho. Can’t wait to get my copy of the book. Thanks for recording these wonderful people and place.

  77. Jimmy Fitz permalink
    March 16, 2017

    Reflexologist:)

    Great Series. Great Photographer. Great Charactors.

  78. Marzena Pogorzaly permalink
    March 16, 2017

    These are quite extraordinary! Looking at your portraits always fills me with awe and admiration mingled with envy. I have no idea how you do it but I’m glad that you do…

  79. graham cornthwaite permalink
    March 27, 2017

    Wonderful work. All the ‘Usual Suspects’ here.

    Not since Hogarth or Dickens has anyone documented the face of Soho like John has, this is a historical document which deserves to be preserved in the Tate Modern archives.

    I can smell the coffee from Bar Italia taste the croissants from Pattiserie Valerie’s feel the beat from Ronnie Scott’s taste the Beaujolais from the French and feel the warmth of every doorway smile “Allo Darlin”

    As I have said before John is the original Cockney Sparra’ with the eye of an Eagle.

    Sadly I don’t see much of the man now but he inspired my own humble photographs and I have my kodak memories him. God Bless you J C x

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