In 1949, the 22-year-old Ken Russell was working as an assistant in the Lefèvre Gallery in Cork Street. The exhibition that summer was of works by Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde, and the first time he saw them, both dressed in black – MacBryde like ‘a kind of mystic gypsy’ and Colquhoun looking like ‘a cold-blooded killer from a western’ – Russell thought, ‘Christ, these are real Bohemians’. Ten years later, as one of his first films for the BBC, Russell sought them out and made a wistful, gentle documentary about their painting jaunt to Suffolk, one of the few accounts of them that does not concentrate on the violent, drunken, quarrelsome and frequently sordid aspects of their lives that have become part of the legend of Soho in the Forties and Fifties.
The ‘Two Roberts’, as they quickly became known, met each other on their first day as new students at Glasgow School of Art in September 1933. MacBryde was the elder by a year and the more experienced, having left school at the age of fourteen, and determinedly worked