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Unreasonable Behaviour by Don McCullin
published Jonathan Cape
Country Life magazine

Don McCullin is like Steve McQueen crossed with Michael Caine, so never go to a bar with him, unless you want to feel invisible, as he is babe magnet of the first order. But this works in reverse, for anyone in a police uniform. But what makes him remarkable is his restless quest for the perfection of his craft continuously sharpened by a vast capacity for work. He now stands beside Robert Capa and Henri Cartier Bresson as one of the great photographers of the 20th century, and is the British heir to Francis Frith and George Rodger. He can also affectionately mimick the mannerisms of the editors, war correspondents and travel writers of the golden age of Fleet Street. He worked with and knew them all: be it Bruce Chatwin, Eric Newby or Norman Lewis. And now aged eighty, he has updated his autobiography (written down by Lewis Chester) to embrace his wives, his children, departed friends (such as Mark Shand) as well as the series of photographic album projects that he engaged with once Fleet Street decayed into its current advertorial role, pimp to ms celebrity and master marketing.

What makes “Unreasonable Behaviour” such a classic memoir is the contrast of his lifelong achievement with his apparently doom-laden youth. McCullin grew up in one of the roughest parishes of North London. The bombed out, looted houses of the London Blitz were his natural playground; his home a series of damp, two-room basement flats. He was separated from his family for the first time (aged five) when evacuated to Somerset, repeated when he was sent north to shelter with a chicken farmer. His school days were dominated by the tough, anti-intellectual ethos of his working class school-friends amplified by undiagnosed dyslexia. His mother was fiery tempered, and his asthmatic father seldom in work - poisoned by the smog that killed him aged 40 when Don was just 14.

But that which doesn’t destroy can also make you strong. His mother taught him to fight and to work, his father inspired him as an artist, while the trauma of evacuation proved that he could stand up for himself. It was the murder of a policeman during a North London gang-brawl which provided McCullin with his first break, a photograph printed in the Observer - 15th February 1959 - of his gangster mates. It’s a great and compelling story and one which continues, for when I last talked to him he was off to Kurdistan with Charles Glass.

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