While thumbing through one of Cecil Beaton’s unpublished scrapbooks two years ago—enjoying a peek at a friend’s rarefied collection—I stumbled on a blurry black-and-white photograph of a tousle-haired youth. Beneath it Beaton had scribbled a caption: “Horrid Madboy.”
It was a thrilling discovery, as it offered a unique glimpse of the destructive animus between Beaton, the venerable photographer, and Robert Heber-Percy, the sly young man in the picture. Known for the spontaneous antics that earned him the nickname “Mad Boy,” Robert relished the shock value of riding naked on horseback at Faringdon House, the idyllic Oxfordshire estate of his three-decades-older lover, Lord Berners, an elegant, monocle–wearing novelist, painter, and composer who wrote music for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and was admired by Stravinsky.
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