Headington history: People

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Cyril Arapoff (1898–1976)

Cyril Arapoff had a photographic studio at his home in Headington, Oxford from 1933 to 1938.

Born Kyrill Semeonovitch Arapov in Russia on 21 October 1898, he fled with his mother for England in 1919 because of his family's Tsarist connections He spent time in Paris and Germany in the early 1930s and learnt photography at the studio of Annelise Kretschmer in Dortmund.

Arapoff’s mother took the post of governess to the Russian emigré family of Captain Vadim Alexandrovich Narishkin at 3 St Andrew’s Road in Headington. Cyril also lived here when he returned to England, and from 1933 had a photographic studio in their house.

Arapoff’s house in Osler Road


Mike Seabourne in his book Cyril Arapoff: London in the Thirties (1988) says that Arapoff was so successful in his Headington studio that by 1935 he was considered by many to be the leading portrait photographer in Oxford.

He then moved his studio at 41 Osler Road (right), whose address was then 19 Manor Road, where a Miss Chidlow was listed in Kelly's Directory. He remained here until 1939.


Either of the above two Headington addresses can be found stamped on the back of the photographs he took during his period in Oxford.

Arapoff took photographs of Headington in the 1930s, including the Black Boy pub. the Oxfordshire History Centre in Cowley has 5,000 copies of his pictures, including at least 36 taken in Headington. You can see them all listed if you search for “Arapoff” via Picture Oxon.

Sprague portrait by Arapoff
An Arapoff portrait of an American student boarding with the Narishkins.
The caption on the reverse reads:“Raymond A. Sprague—Taken Oxford,
England 1934 while living with a Russian family by a Russian émigré
professional photographer.” (Shared courtesy of the Sprague family)

In about 1939 the Narishkins moved to 90 Windmill Road, and Arapoff is listed there in the 1939 register, described as a photographer working on his own account.

By 1944 Arapoff had left Oxford and was working in the film industry, including the Crown Film Unit.

After the war Arapoff had nine studios in England, including this one at 119 High Street, Oxford:

Telephone directory 1941

Arapoff was granted British nationality on 11 June 1949.

He spent time in Brazil in the 1950s, and then returned to England. From 1961 until his death he worked for the National Coal Board Film Unit.

Cyril Arapoff died on 14 October 1976. His death notice in The Times read:

ARAPOFF — On 14th October 1976, suddenly, in London, Cyril. Service at Russian Orthodox Church in Exile, Emperors Gate, S.W.7, on Friday, 22 October, at 12 noon. Flowers to Kenyons, 9 Pond St., N.W.3.

He was buried in Hampstead Cemetery (Plot 2, section GL28), but has no grave memorial or headstone (photograph).

His obituary was published in The Times on 27 October 1976:

A correspondent writes:
    One laments the passing, albeit at a ripe age, of a photographer and film cameraman who left his imprint on the age he reflected. Arapoff's earlier years were spent on the Continent, and in particular in Paris, where he attached himself to Cocteau's coterie.
    In the 1930s, his studio in Oxford established a secure connexion in theatrical photography. Arapoff then moved his interests towards cinematography. He joined the Crown Film Unit during the Second World War, and was responsible for photographing several of their historically important films.
    He worked with Rotha (in particular on A City Speaks) and then, in the 1950s, travelled to Brazil in order to assist Cavalcanti in his effort to stimulate a new force in Brazilian film-making. His work during that period reflected his feeling for atmosphere and for people.
    Returned once more to Britain, Arapoff joined the film unit of the National Coal Board, where he served as senior cameraman for two decades. Apart from lending his talents to the recording of the changing scene in the mining industry, he still found time to record as a still photographer the times in which he lived and from which he drew enjoyment. He will be remembered by a wider public for his exhibitions of photographs.

The Narishkins

The Narishkins leased 3 St Andrew's Road in Old Headington from Salvador de Madariaga from 1933 to the early 1940s, when Madariaga returned to his house.

Kelly's Directory for 1938 has the following curious listing for 11A Old High Street (which appears to have been on the site of the present 45A):

San Marco (Capt. V. Narishkin, propr.), fancy goods

In 1939 the Varishkins had taken on the former house of John Mattock at 90 Windmill Road in All Saints' parish (now replaced by student accommodation), and Vadim Narishkin M.A. is listed there in Kelly's Directory for 1941, 1943, and 1945,

One of the children cared for by Arapoff's mother was Theodore Vadimovich Narishkin (born 1922). He was a pilot in the Second World War and was killed on active service in the Aylesbury district, aged 20, on 7 March 1943: he has a war grave in Headington Cemetery (Sec. L, Grave 16). They had five other children: Vadim Vadimovich Narishkin, Maria Vadimovna Narishkin (Mrs Dembicki), Vera Vadimovna Narishkina, and two more.

Theodore's mother Elizabeth Alexandrovna Timacheff Narishkin died in 1945 at the age of 59 and is buried in Headington Cemetery with her son Theodore.

The children's father Vadim Alexandrovich Narishkin was born in St Petersburg on 26 December 1891. He was a lecturer in French at Brasenose College, and served in the intelligence Corps during the war. He appears to have married a second wife, Ariadna, after his first wife's death and he died in Geneva at the age of 60 on 30 April 1952.

The eldest son Vadim Vadimovich Narishkin married Dawn Evans Thomas in Oxford on 31 January 1941 and died in 1966.

More on Narishkin and his children

Oxford Mail article by Malcolm Graham on Cyril Arapoff

National Portrait Gallery: 55 portraits taken by Arapoff

British Film Institute: List of Arapoff's films made between 1944 and 1974

© Stephanie Jenkins

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