London Times, obituary, June 18, 2002
Horace Roye: Flamboyant photographer famous for his nudes and pictures of starlets – and for water-skiing into old age Horace Roye was one of the 20th century’s great pioneering photographers, whose familiarity with cinema and stage stars during the war years led to international fame — and some notoriety. As a noted photographer of nudes, he successfully contested the prudish obscenity laws of his day, paving the way for others to publish work that Roye himself considered to be pornographic.
His personal life was as unconventional as his professional milieu. He lived in South Africa, Paris, London, Ireland and Portugal before finally settling in the 12th-century kasbah of Rabat, Morocco.
He was born Horace Roye-Narbeth in Aylesbury in 1906, the son of a draper. On leaving Aylesbury Grammar School he wanted to become a solicitor, but his father, hoping that he would join the family business, insisted that he accepted a trainee’s job in Marshall & Snelgrove’s drapery department. He was dismissed, however, for going to work in his evening suit after a drunken night on the tiles, and his life’s odyssey began as he boarded a boat for South Africa.
After effectively being expelled from South Africa for diamond smuggling — although he proudly pointed out that the police found no stones because he had cut the lining in his jacket, allowing them to fall out before he was searched — the draper, pugilist, dancing instructor and sheep-shearer returned to London, where he worked in the silent movie industry and developed his love of photography.
Returning to London in 1935, he established a photographic studio in Chelsea, where he took conventional portraits of the likes of Cecil Beaton, James Mason, Arturo Toscanini and Sir Henry Wood. But he was back at his best in 1938, when George Routledge commissioned Perfect Womanhood, a collection of nudes.
Roye’s startling depiction of a nude model wearing a gas mask while pinned to a crucifix caused controversy during the Munich crisis of 1938; during the war, however, Roye’s imagination was used to full effect by the Ministry of Information, with whom he helped to compose a propaganda photograph of a Nazi officer caught in flagrante with two call girls. He also worked closely with Christopher Clayton Hutton in MI9, the department devoted to prisoner-of-war escape tactics.
Before the war Roye had become the first photographer to have a nude published in a national newspaper, the Daily Mirror, and afterwards he was quickly back into his stride, selling more than two million nude portraits worldwide by mail order. The Rank Organisation commissioned him to picture its “starlets”, and he worked on a new technique, the Roye-Vala 3-D stereoscopic process, which resulted in the booklet Diana Dors in 3-D.
Roye, who claimed to have seen more than 10,000 naked women through the lens, always helped the police when they were investigating obscene pictures, but he was himself prosecuted when he refused to airbrush out pubic hair — the convention of the time — from the image of a model called Desirée in his Unique Edition collection. He successfully defended himself in court, arguing that the representation of beauty should be untrammelled by prudery.
He lived briefly in Ireland to escape the furore, but claimed that he was forced out by the Roman Catholic priesthood, which objected to him introducing his maids to some of the racier magazines of the decade. After writing Nude Ego, his autobiography, Roye retired to Portugal in 1959 and, in the early 1960s, after sailing extensively along the Algarve coast, he bought a plot of land, Praia da Luz, where he built a series of luxury villas, which he later sold to friends, including Alan Ball, of Lonrho, and Lord Devlin. As the Algarve’s popularity grew, he moved north to the Alentejo, south of Lisbon, where he lived quietly until the revolution in 1974.
Known for his right-wing views and support for the dictatorship, Roye found himself under siege, and had to take his shotgun out on the causeway leading to his house. He was forced to sell up, and moved back briefly to England.
He had bought a holiday home in the kasbah at Rabat, and he and his wife decided to settle there in 1980. He had taken up water-skiing at the age of 60, and enjoyed a tow along the River Bouregreg each morning with the help of the local yacht club’s speedboat. The oldest British expatriate living in Morocco, Roye was murdered there in 2002. He is said to have been involved in a struggle with a painter who allegedly broke into his bedroom and stabbed him 14 times with the knife that Roye kept beneath his pillow.
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