From the days when he provided musical accompaniment to the Monty Python team and had his own hysterically funny television show I had always been a Neil Innes fan. Being called Neil myself I guess that I have always paid special attention to other Neils anyway but Mr Innes didn’t need any of that.
When I got the call to go and shoot his portrait I was delighted – even if the person on the picture desk had no idea of who and what he was. His home, at the time, was in Suffolk and when I arrived he greeted me as if it was him who was getting to meet a long standing hero. We had coffee, talked about all sorts of stuff and when we finally got around to shooting portraits he simply asked me “do you want funny or not funny?” I answered that a bit of each would be cool and we started with some simple head shots.
Within ten minutes “not funny” had become boring and so he grabbed his wellingtons and stepped into a lovely ornamental Japanese style pond in the garden (I believe that his wife was a garden designer and the whole place looked great) where he proceeded to fish with a small net.
It was amusing enough to watch him but if this were a video you’d now be listening to silly squelching noises and a completely bizarre and impromptu song that made sure that I was actually unable to take pictures because of the tears of laughter streaming down my face.
Photographers often write about what a privilege it is to meet some of the people we meet and to go to some of the places we go and I absolutely agree. Every once-in-a-while you also get a little private performance from a truly talented artist that money couldn’t buy and this was one of those priceless days.
Geek stuff: Shot on a Kodak DCS520 digital camera with a Canon 28-70 f2.8L lens, available light, 1/60th of a second at f6.7 on 200ISO. Converted to black and white prior to publication in August 1999.