Sir Cecil Walter Hardy Beaton, CBE (14 January 1904 – 18 January 1980) was an English fashion and portrait photographer, diarist, interior designer and an Academy Award-winning stage and costume designer for films and the theatre. He was named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1970.
Beaton was born on 14 January 1904 in Hampstead the son of Ernest Walter Hardy Beaton (1867–1936), a prosperous timber merchant, and his wife Etty Sissons (1872–1962). His grandfather, Walter Hardy Beaton (1841–1904) had founded the family business of Beaton Brothers Timber Merchants and Agents, and his father followed into the business. Ernest Beaton was also an amateur actor and had met his wife, Cecil's mother, when playing the lead in a play. She was the daughter of a Cumbrian blacksmith who had come to London to visit her married sister. They had four children - in addition to Cecil there were two daughters Nancy (1909–1999) and Baba (1912–1973), and another son Reggie (1905–1933). Cecil Beaton was educated at Heath Mount School (where he was bullied by Evelyn Waugh) and St Cyprian's School, Eastbourne, where his artistic talent was quickly recognised. Both Cyril Connolly and Henry Longhurst report in their autobiographies being overwhelmed by the beauty of Beaton's singing at the St Cyprian's school concerts. When Beaton was growing up his Nanny had a Kodak 3A Camera, a popular model which was renowned for being an ideal piece of equipment to learn on. Beaton's nanny began teaching him the basics of photography and developing film. He would often get his sisters and mother to sit for him. When he was sufficiently proficient, he would send the photos off to London society magazines, often writing under a pen name and ‘recommending’ the work of Beaton.
Beaton attended Harrow, and then, despite having little or no interest in academia, moved on to St John's College, Cambridge, and studied history, art and architecture. Beaton continued his photography, and through his university contacts managed to get a portrait sitting with the Duchess of Malfi — actually George "Dadie" Rylands, and as Beaton recalled years later: "It was a slightly out-of-focus snapshot of him as Webster's Duchess of Malfi standing in the sub-aqueous light outside the men's lavatory of the ADC Theatre at Cambridge." The resulting images gave Beaton his first ever piece of published work when Vogue magazine bought and printed the photos.