The celebrity passport photo office: Errol Flynn just said, Yep! Its me!
From Uri Geller, who bent the shops only spoon, to the Beatles, Arnie and Joan Collins, a small London shop near the US embassy has been taking passport snaps for the famous since 1953
In a two-room, white-walled basement off Oxford Street in central London, behind the Dyson showroom, is a tiny portrait gallery, andif Philip Sharkey has afew minutes he will show you around.
Thats Alec Guinness, he says, pointing at a miniature print of the steely-eyed actor. Thats Peter O Toole Lena Horne. All four Beatles. Mia Farrow. Woody Allen is on a separate wall. Arnold Schwarzenegger. That was for his green card, in 1977.
Sharkey runs Passport Photo Service, purveyors of passport, green card, visa and ID portraits which, thanks to its convenient location (a quick dash from the American embassy) speedy genial service, and word-of-mouth (Where did you get your portraits done, darling?), has been snapping 2x3in passport pics of the famous, since 1953.
My father started the company, says Sharkey. He was anEast End boxer who did photography on the side. He found a way to develop photos in 10 minutes. Before Polaroids, before booths, nowhere did same-day service. He rented an office at 309Oxford Street. The American Embassy referred people to him. The first famous person through the door was Errol Flynn. He stood with his hands on his hips and said: Yep! Its me!
With his mum and dad both working at the studio, the young Sharkey began helping out during school holidays.
I remember once, in 1965, my father saying: Thats the richest man in the world. Take him his photos. He might give you a tip. He didnt. Maybe John Paul Getty didnt get to be the richest man in the world by giving little kids tips.
Since then, Sharkey has seen them all come come and go, rich and poor. Its like going to the dentist, he says. Theyre on their best behaviour, because they dont want you to mess it up. Richard Harris was a bit pissed though. Kenneth Williams was challenging. He wanted to be photographed with his chin in theair. Uri Geller bent a spoon. We didnt ask him to. It was our only spoon.
Despite moving from its prime location opposite Selfridges, in 2014, Passport Photo Service is still going strong, thanks to its Google-friendly name. Joan Collins is the most loyal, says Sharkey. Ringo Starr always comes back. Howard Jacobson is a regular.
Sharkeys favourite encounter was Muhammad Ali, who stopped by in 1974, on his way to fight George Foreman in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire). He said: Take all these pictures down and replace them with one big photo of me!
But, says Sharkey, their most important visitor was probably Paul Robeson, in 1958.
Hed just got his passport back from the US government, after being blacklisted. He sang my father Old Man River. There were tears in my fathers eyes when he told me that story.