The Falklands War 40 years on – April 1982-April 2022 A reflection

Although I never actually covered the war as a press photographer in the South Atlantic 40 years back…I did manage to get down there just after hostilities had ceased alongside reporter Tim Jones, both of us staffers for The Times of London.

It was cold, it was grey and miserable when we touched down in Port Stanley in the midst of a South Atlantic winter. The road in from the airport was a river of melting snow and mud with hundreds of thousands of Argentinian munitions, helmets and packs were dumped at the road side as the defeated army departed the Falklands for home.

Refueling over the South Atlantic 1982 Hercules C130 refuels from a C130 Tanker over the South Atlantic en route to The Falkland Islands after the war in July 1982

Within a couple of days of arriving Stanley Airport was closed and the runway ripped up to be replaced and extended by American supplied AM2 Matting enabling Phantom jets to land and takeoff relieving the military of having to keep two expensive to maintain Aircraft Carriers on station just over the horizon. Of course none of this could be reported until the new runway was in operation. So, for five weeks we were stuck on the Islands hunting for stories to tell…or at least stories that we would have liked to tell !

We were invited ‘down’ to the Falklands by the MOD-Ministry of Defence to document the clearing up operation about to be carried out by the Pioneer Corps and the Royal Engineers which included the brave and wonderful Bomb Disposal Unit known as the ‘Black Aces’ under the command of former headteacher Major John Quinn. I palled up with this unit as they had access to helicopters and decent four wheel drive vehicles which got me out of Stanley and into the ‘camp’ interior of East Falkland and over to to the west and Goose Green where the ‘Black Aces’ dug up unexploded ordnance to take care of and make safe. I was made a ‘Honorary’ member of the Black Aces after being allowed to ‘set off’ a major dump of explosives.

Brian Harris Private Archive Collection. Full credit must be given to the respective publication and or photographer mentioned in the text caption. Brian Harris and reporter Tim Jones on the Falkland Islands, a feature in the Time Newspaper House Journal.

The following is from Chapter 13 in my auto-biographical book, ‘…and then the Prime Minister hit me…’ …..its a long old chapter but tells how it was for me and Tim way back 40 years ago…but on reflection there is not enough remembrance for all those 255 British military personnel, 649 Argentine military personnel and three Falkland Islanders who died during this, the last of the British Imperial Wars.

 Here I dedicate this wordpress document to all who suffered back in 1982 and all those that are still suffering now with wounds or PTSD.

Chapter Thirteen – A Tale of a Steer’s Head, the Missing Beast, the Military Police, Hansard, Spying…and playing with some very Big Ships indeed.

I was sent 8000 miles to the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic by The Times with reporter Tim Jones to cover the aftermath of the Falklands war in July 1982.

The Falkland Islands, a group of mostly inhospitable rocky and boggy outcrops exposed to the harshest of elements in the South Atlantic, are a tough place to live and exist. The wind blows constantly and in the winter that is compounded by driving rain and stinging blizzards.

The islanders call the area outside the capital, Port Stanley, the Camp. I call it miserable.

For many years Argentina had laid claim to the sovereignty of Las Malvinas, as they call the Falklands. On 2nd of April 1982 Argentine forces commanded by military dictator General Galtieri invaded the Falkland Island group including South Georgia. Britain and Argentina were at war.

The British Government under the Iron Lady, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, promptly dispatched a vast naval task force  to the South Atlantic. This was made up of capital ships from the Royal Navy, converted cruise liners and container ships.

The nasty war lasted just 74 days ending with the Argentine surrender in Port Stanley on 14th of June. During the war 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel and 3 Falkland Islanders died.

We were to report on life getting back to normal as well as the  clearing up operation such as removing booby traps from peoples gardens, making safe the tens of thousands of rounds of unwanted Argentinean ammunition, detonating unexploded bombs and the rebuilding of the airport.

Brian Harris on left,with reporter Tim Jones on The Falkland Islands with Argentinian arms dump.

Tim and I were billeted on a woman who was sympathetic to the Argentine cause. The house was quite basic. The roof and walls were made from corrugated metal sheeting, a common form of construction in Port Stanley. Heating was provided by a peat burning stove which made everything in the house smell peaty and musty, even the food.

Our hostess had quite obviously done well during the short war as she was one of the few on the Falklands to have a television, given to her by the Argentine officers that had occupied her house during the conflict.

Our weekday breakfasts consisted of Argentinean labelled triangle shaped cheese and biscuits. On Sundays we were given bacon and sausage cooked on the peat fire, a very strange concoction of tastes and smells. Supper was slightly better, but we suspected that the beef, normally minced, originated on the Pampas rather than the British home counties. It was basic and sufficed, just.

On the first morning I left the house by the back door. I was just about to open the garden gate when I noticed some strange wires attached. It was a booby trap hand grenade bomb, possibly left by the suppliers of our breakfasts and suppers. I’m sure if it had gone off you would have been able to watch the story on the Argentine television in the sitting room. I, on the other hand, would be playing my golden harp. A Bomb Disposal unit from the Royal Engineers was called and defused the device within a few minutes. The ‘Black Aces’, as the bomb disposal lads were called, became good friends while I was on the Falklands.

The airport reconstruction was priority number one. To keep the Islands secure, effective air cover had to be in place. Aircraft carriers are expensive to operate and have to be supplied on a regular basis. The airport runway had to be extended and strengthened to take military attack fighter squadrons along with all the back up needed. Quite a formidable task but made all the more difficult as it was in the middle of the South Atlantic winter and the operation had to be carried out in secret away from prying Argentinean eyes. The existing runway was put out of action and the airport was closed for nearly three weeks while a new longer stronger airstrip was constructed over the top of the old using a form of interlocking metal panels called AM2 matting. We were marooned for what seemed an eternity. No one could get on or off the Islands by air, there was no way home.

After ‘scoff’, food, the most important needs of servicemen based overseas are letters from home. They can and do put up with the most invasive of privations while fighting in our name but mess with the post and you will have messed with the best.

Getting letters to and from the Falklands while the airport was closed was a logistical nightmare. The post would leave the UK in a Hercules Transport aircraft packed into mail bags. The plane landed on Ascension Island after a 10 hour flight way out into the North Atlantic so as to avoid flying over European airspace to refuel and possibly change crew. The ‘Herc’ C130 would then trundle slowly south on an 18 hour flight down to the Falklands, flying at 20,000 feet at about 230 mph. En route Victor fuel tankers would meet up and refuel the Hercules two or three times, an operation as hazardous as you would expect especially as the top speed of the lumbering transport plane was exactly the stalling speed of the Victor refuelling Tanker jet. To compensate, the whole refuelling operation had to take place with both aircraft heading in a low dive down towards the deep grey Atlantic swell finally levelling out at about 10,000 feet. Quite terrifying. The transport plane had to be constantly refuelled so that it could circle the Falklands make the mail drop and pickup and return to Ascension without landing, over 30 hours in the air.

I was more than just mildly interested in the post delivery system as it was the only way for me to get my exposed film off the islands and back to my picture desk in London. On the morning of the first pick up Tim Jones from The Times and a couple of correspondents from the Guardian and Telegraph duly assembled under the guidance of an RAF ground crew squaddie on a barren hillside high up on the camp. The wind was blowing from all directions and we all helped the RAF lad set up the rather complicated but very basic catching and delivery system. A few upright spars with lots of rope and some hooks plus a large white canvas cross to mark the drop and pick up point. As the wind was blowing so hard the white cross needed to be held down with anything available, a rock, some stones and the bleached skull of a long dead steer did the job.

After a while, just before frostbite set in, we heard the sound of a low flying aircraft. It made a couple of low passes to drop the incoming mail and then lined up to make the pick up. The tail ramp was open and at less than 100 feet we could see the aircrew engaging their hook system with our somewhat Heath Robison contraption on the ground. All of a sudden a whoosh and our mail bag had been snapped and lifted and the C130 was on it’s way home. My film, all the servicemen’s letters and a steer’s skull were on their way to blighty.

Yup, that’s right a ‘steer’s skull’.

Brian Harris on left seated in protective box with Tim Jone reporter, both from The Times with Charles Nevin a fellow reporter on left next to that bloody Steers skull

Our young RAF lad thought it was a bit of a hoot to send a memento to his pals back home……

A few days later I was sitting in four layers of clothing in the unheated Port Stanley library. I was watching a video of ‘The Life of Brian’ by the Monty Python team, wonderful stuff. It was late in the evening and Tim and I were quietly getting through a bottle of Remy Martin Cognac ( £3 in the NAAFI ) and a tin of Cadbury’s Brazil Nuts. We knew how to have a good time.

A young member of Her Majesty’s forces came in to use one of the only two photo-copiers available on the islands. He asked if we might be interested in seeing some documents marked ‘TOP SECRET’. All of a sudden the two of us woke from our frozen and slightly drunken stupor and became ace newshounds. We gave a quick glance at the material and made some extra copies to read in private later.

The essence of the TOP SECRET correspondence was a series of exchanges by cable between the various commanders of the Army, Navy and Air force based on the Falklands, Ascension Island and at South Atlantic HQ at Northolt in the UK.

The steer’s head had indeed made its way to Ascension Island to be on passed to the UK. Except, it was discovered by the Ascension base commander who wrote to the Commander in Chief Port Stanley that ‘he took a pretty dim view of wasting the time and cost of getting aircrew down to the South Atlantic at considerable risk to life and limb to pick up and deliver mail if it was thought acceptable to send the skull of a steer back in the mail sack. I don’t see the humour here at all’.

The C in C Port Stanley obviously had a funny bone and responded to C in C Ascension, ‘This is a perfect example of the petty pilfering going on within the RAF and must stop immediately as when we sent the steer northwards it was indeed a fully grown beast, someone at your end must have eaten the rest of the animal’.

Game on.

Both messages were of course seen by C in C South Atlantic at his base deep underground at the Northolt HQ.

His response was to both senior officers based on Ascension and Port Stanley. ‘On the subject of the steer’s head and missing beast

I can let you know that I prefer OXO and declare the game love all’.

Nice little tale, not earth shattering but a quiet sweet story.

The Times ran it as the quirky amusing basement piece on page 1.

By lunchtime questions had been asked in the House of Commons along the lines of why are we wasting tax payers money etc etc, Hansard duly reported the debate, and dark brown smelly stuff hit the spinning fan at the MOD.

Meanwhile, way down south in cold windy dispiriting Port Stanley an enquiry had been started to find out how the Times could have had access to this TOP SECRET information.

About 11pm there was a rat-a-tat-tat on the front door of the house we were living in. I opened the door in my long johns to find a 6’6” Red Cap fully paid up member of the Military Police standing there, snow billowing around him, silhouetting him as if he were a personal messenger from Hell. He demanded to see Tim’s note book, there were no niceties. I ran upstairs to wake Tim while quickly finding the original TOP SECRET photo-copies made in the library. Tim engaged the Red Cap in some protracted conversation possibly about syntactical errors in the piece and I went into the back garden, cleared of booby trap hand grenades and burnt the copies that we had made. My flaming Zippo made short work of our illicit paperwork and for once I was pleased that the wind had picked up and blew the evidence far out into the dark southern seas.

A couple of weeks later I was mooching around photographing the final reconstruction work at Port Stanley airport. I was having trouble making an image that said ‘Falklands’ rather than just a building site.

I noticed an RAF Hercules C130 Transport aircraft at the end of the nearly finished runway. There was nothing unusual about that except it didn’t have a refuelling nozzle sticking out above the cockpit. I asked the base commander how on earth that plane had arrived without being refuelled. He became evasive and I smelled a rat. He told me that the plane had been there since before the war and was hidden from the Argies. Now, I’m not a fool and don’t like to be taken for one, so I decided to investigate.

That evening Tim and I brought a few rounds of drinks for the RAF Hercules air crew who were all enjoying the delights of the Upland Goose, the only hotel and restaurant in Port Stanley. After further alcoholic lubrication we discovered that the crew and plane had been overnighting and refuelling on the South American mainland in Brazil, a country not over friendly with Argentina. That is why they didn’t have a refuelling nozzle.

This was quite a story as it was the first time since the start of the war that a South American country had sided with the UK.

Tim wrote up the piece with help from myself and once again questions were asked in the House of Commons, once again we were mentioned in Hansard, twice in a month, not bad, we must be doing something right.

This time we didn’t get a midnight call from a Red Cap but I was hauled over the coals by the Airport Commander and told that I was ‘persona non grata’, and would get absolutely no further help from the RAF while I was on station.

Hey ho, time to pal up with the Senior Service, the Royal Navy. I made some phone calls and asked if I could please come and play with some aircraft carriers, as you do.

The C in C South Atlantic Fleet was very happy to have the Times photograph his ships at sea and arrangements were made.

Tim and myself plus an MOD minder and a photographer from the British Government’s Central Office of Information ( COI ) did a quick safety course of how to escape from a crashed helicopter at sea.  Our instruction was: You wait until the rotor has stopped spinning as the helicopter sinks and turns upside down. You find a horizontal metal rail attached to the internal fuselage that has a triangle profile which will indicate that you are next to an escape window, here you pull your legs up to your chest and kick out which hopefully will dislodge the Plexiglas window, all this while holding your breath, not panicking and in the dark probably 50 feet down in the ice cold South Atlantic while wearing a padded blow up brightly coloured survival suit .

Brian Harris on right and unnamed COI photographer about to travel out to the fleet by Seaking Helicopter

Thankfully we were not tested.

Being winched down onto a British war ship travelling at 20 knots, bucking on the waves, from a helicopter is not for the faint hearted. The ship may be large but from a helicopter above the vast emptiness of the South Atlantic, it looks very small indeed. It’s all about timing. The ship has to rise and you have to time your descent to make a soft landing. Sitting in the open doorway of a Sea King chopper with not much more than a bit of webbing and some wire supporting you is when you start to pray. And then you are away, whoosh, you are flying through space, wind and salty spray in your face, more exhilarating than any fairground ride could possibly be. Before touching down on the deck you have to be earthed. The deck crew have to hook your legs as you are dangling in space to make the earth, then you are hauled on board, without the earth grounding  being made you would get a real electrical kick from the build up of static made by the helicopter blades.

We all landed safely on HMS Bristol a type 82 Destroyer and the Flag Ship of the South Atlantic Fleet and were taken to the wardroom for refreshments.

I asked over drinks if it was possible to muster up an aircraft carrier, or two plus anything else that was in the area for my photograph. I also wanted a Harrier Jump Jet somewhere in the frame.

It was decided to use a Lynx helicopter as our camera platform for its brilliant manoeuvrability but as they were based on one of the flat top aircraft carriers we had to make a further Helicopter transfer. Oh what fun !

Once more a briefing for the Lynx this time ( the same but a smaller space to panic in ). We went down to the crew quarters and kitted and up. HRH Prince Andrew was a Lynx pilot at the time and was certainly on board and around, certainly my cameras created a bit of a stir in the crew area as most of the guys were stripped off down to their basics. I never saw HRH and I often wonder if I would have snapped him in his all together, probably not, we were a long way off the coast of the Falklands and I’m not a good swimmer.

We took off and positioned ourselves a few hundred feet up…..and then for 20 glorious minutes I had complete control of the South Atlantic Fleet.

I asked over the RT for the two aircraft carriers HMS Illustrious and HMS Invincible, the least manoeuvrable of the fleet to position themselves and hold station at 20 knots running parallel with each other leaving a decent sized gap between them. I then arranged for a few Royal Fleet Auxiliary ( RFA ) ships to fill gaps in my Atlantic canvas. A lone Fleet Air Arm vertical take off Harrier Jet hovered over the scene before I asked Admiral Black C in C South Atlantic to make great speed in his flag ship, HMS Bristol, and dash between the two carriers to complete my composition.

HMS Illustrious and the South Atlantic Fleet ‘somewhere’ off the coast of the Falklands in 1982

Everything worked brilliantly and I said my thanks.

The chopper crew then asked if the COI photographer and myself were securely strapped in…ominous.

They wanted to play and show off exactly what the Lynx could do to the assembled sailors and VIP’s.

First we did a few ‘attack’ runs at the flat tops at maximum speed and dropped ‘bomb’ flares onto the decks, then our crew wanted to show how to throw a Lynx around in the air, standing on its tail and letting it free fall backwards, turning virtually upside down and then diving to sea level before attacking once again from wave height.

It was only after I mentioned, shouted, that I was about to throw up big time and they would have to clean out the chopper upon landing that the boys calmed down and we landed. Very shaken and very very stired, I think part of my stomach is still out there somewhere in the South Atlantic.

I’m still not sure if HRH was part of our two man crew but I have a sneaky suspicion that ‘Randy Andy’ was there and getting his own back on a representative of one of ‘Fleets Streets’ finest.

HMS Invincible and a Sea Harrier ‘Jump Jet’ from NAS-Naval Air Squadron 809 off the Falkland Islands

Flying back to Stanley was quite uneventful apart from getting lost. Our Sea King crew had never landed at the Helicopter landing zone ( LZ ) next to Government house in the centre of Port Stanley before. There was a thick pea souper of a fog that had closed in at ground level but leaving lamp post heads sticking out above the gloom in the town. The skipper asked if anyone knew where the LZ was and as I had spent the previous days photographing around Port Stanley I remembered that the modern lamp posts changed to a more Victorian design near to Government House. He asked me to go up onto the flight deck and take over the navigation for the final few hundred yards. I asked him to fly, blind, with the lamp posts either side of us as we flew at 20 feet along the main street in Port Stanley which was invisible of course. When the lamp posts became Victorian I said, ’Turn left here’, which he did and we landed spot on the LZ with cheers all around.

Something from my past playing with my model aircraft must have paid off somewhere….

I write the above in a mildly humorous way but I would like to pay tribute to the crews and men of the two Sea Kings that crashed during the Falklands war. While both crews were rescued the SAS lost 22 men in one of the incidents.

I managed to transmit my picture from a RFA (Royal Fleet Auxiliary) Ship moored in Stanley Harbour via ‘Marisat’ to Norway and then to Electra House in London where the Times picked up my image by messenger. Unfortunately the image quality broke up during the £700 very expensive and protracted transmission. The picture was unusable.

Meanwhile my COI photographer friend had shipped his film back to his office by air bridge and arrived a few days later. He had the same images as I had but perfectly printed from real negatives in London. His picture, art directed and organised by me looked very nice across half a page in ….The Daily Telegraph !!!

Some you lose and some you lose…learn and move on.

Brian Harris on the Falkland Islands with Whale bones after breaking an Army Air Corps Helicopter
Brian Harris in the Falklands. The next time I saw these shot up Argentinian Puccara planes found on Stanley airfield was at Duxford, Imperial War Museum near where I live and at the private air museum at Flixton near Bungay in Suffolk where my family now live..

Refueling over the South Atlantic 1982 Hercules C130 refuels from a C130 Tanker over the South Atlantic en route to The Falkland Islands after the war in July 1982
Brian Harris Private Archive Collection. Full credit must be given to the respective publication and or photographer mentioned in the text caption. Brian Harris and reporter Tim Jones on the Falkland Islands, a feature in the Time Newspaper House Journal.
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Are we the new history boys and gals ?

It seems to me that we merry band of photographers from the press, magazine, documentary or agency world are really the new history boys and gals…it is often said that ‘reporters’ draft the first version of history…but I maintain that it is us who have recorded up front and personal our view of history as it happened in the raw for future generations to enjoy and even maybe learn from.

I’ve been thinking this for some time and as publications and especially newspapers world wide cut back on their in house staff photographers and rely more and more on stock photo-agencies to supply illustrations to go with their stories. More and more of our ‘old’ pictures are coming to the fore on a daily basis in many newspapers. Images that we thought of as ‘just todays picture offering’ are now important visual history…and from our own very immediate past.

Photo by Alain Le Garsmeur / Getty Images in The Guardian review 8 Feb 2020 but made during the bad times of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland more than 40 years ago

Certainly this is not new. Newspapers have always had access to the ‘Morgue’, their own libraries to supply archive images for publication. But, with photographers being laid off and entire photo staffs including librarians who could often reference back to the beginning of time being tossed out with the garbage a new way of working for newspapers has had to be developed.

Photo by Philippe Achache/Gamma-Rapho/Getty shot in 1975 and published in the Guardian in February 2020

Step forward the stock photo agency. Never have there been so many images, so much history controlled by so few. Photo-agencies flourished in the austere post war period. Operating mainly out of Paris, London and New York but also running from bombed out Germany with agents flourishing in Munich and Hamburg. There were dozens, maybe hundreds in these five cities alone…but not anymore. Now there are but a few behemoths that hoover up the negatives and bromide prints from dusty shelves and damp basements across our industry…the latest being the biggest rodent on the block…the Disney Corporation who now have the entire National Geographic photo archive in their claws as part of the Disney / Murdoch / Fox Films sell off.

And as I write this on 11 February 2020, I have just heard that Alamy one of the largest stock photo agencies in the world with 192,141,550 images (yes, you read that correctly-nearly 200 million stock photos) in their collection has today been taken over by PA Media – to the uninitiated thats the Press Association Media operation. The PA was set up more than a century ago to supply images and copy to the regional and national press and is ‘owned’ by all the major newspaper groups up and down the land. So, another independent supplier has been swallowed whole. And as these media groups now own the entire Alamy cake it will surely be in their interest to reduce the amount they pay for each picture usage…further decreasing the share that the contributing photographer will make.

From the PA Media web site showing how quick they were to promote their acquisition of Alamy this afternoon…only a hour after informing contributors and customers

And so the world carries on turning and a thousand, a hundred thousand stock photos are supplied and used in the press world wide every day, every week. Far more now than ever before, after all, that newsprint has to be covered in something.

And this is my point…never before have so many stock archive images been used, been sold and reproduced…the ease now of electronic delivery makes things so very easy, a click of a mouse and your selection of maybe 100 or more images is before you on the computer screen.

But….but, If publications are contenting themselves with using stock which is plentiful and cheap, who is producing new work, who is recording todays history for future generations.

Photo by Peter King/Getty Images: Miss World in 1970 but published this week in The Guardian 50 years after being taken-truly historic…and as an assistant in 1970 I worked alongside the photographer Peter King when we both worked for Fox Photos Press Agency…since sold to Getty Images

It would be good to think that newspapers and magazines are investing their immediate savings back into producing work of quality for the future but I don’t see this being shown in most of the press. A saving is a saving and the bean counters rule.

My thoughts above were woken as in the past week I have seen a number of stock-archive-historically interesting images being used to illustrate various piece at home in the UK and even a picture of mine appearing in the NYT Review of Books which I was alerted to by my good friend Steve Raymer in the States. All these images are of ‘Historic’ value and wonderful to see them getting an airing, some more than 50 years after being made…but what of the future…if publishing groups who are reaping the fiscal benefit of buying in cheap stock and are not investing in intelligent mature photo-journalism then our future is pretty much finished…apart from getting a few pennies from a 50% cut of a 40% sub agent share via yet another sub agent…and that will be on a good day with a following wind.

Photo by Brian Harris of Radavan Karadzic/The Independent/Rex-Shutterstock…I made this picture when the war criminal to be was in London in 1993…Published last week in the NYT Review of Books.

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The Velvet Revolution – 30 years on 1989 – 2019


A photograph of Lenin and the battleship Aurora in a Bata shoe shop window in Prague November 1989

My account here of photographing and reporting the fall of communism in what was Czechoslovakia back in the winter of 1989 is based on a chapter in my book, ‘…and then the Prime Minister hit me…’

News reports from Czechoslovakia only a few hundred kilometres to the south of Berlin indicated rumblings of discontent following the great rush of events in the north which I had been covering for the previous couple of weeks.

I managed to secure an entry visa from the Czech Embassy in  East Berlin and hot footed to Schonefeld Airport en route to Prague.

I arrived in the early evening as one of the first mass protests in Wenceslas Square was just finishing. There was a carnival like atmosphere with happy Czechs milling around and students from the university using birch brooms to sweep the square of rubbish after the demonstration.

There didn’t appear to be any threat or menace.

The following day the demonstrators started to arrive in the middle of the afternoon. The crowd grew in size and the protesters became more confident and vociferous. The protesters started to ask the controlling Russian backed government to go. The last time this had happened was in 1968 and the Russians responded by putting 7000 tanks and 300,000 troops on the streets. Alexander Dubcek who served as the First Secretary of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) from January 1968 to April 1969 was deposed and was sent into exile to work as a labourer for the Czech forestry commission after attempting to reform the communist government during the ‘Prague Spring’ of 1968.

As the rhetorical temperature rose so did the worry that ‘something’ would happen to stop this new popular uprising.

Rumours started to spread.

A small group of photographers including myself had heard that Russian troops on manoeuvre in the countryside around Prague had been called upon to show the flag or maybe the sickle. We were told that they would send troop carriers or light tanks along the road that runs alongside the Vistula River before turning into the old town centre.

We decided to investigate.

November in central Europe is cold. A November night while crawling across the world famous Charles Bridge above the freezing Vistula with your nose pressed down hard onto the pavement is even colder. I seem to remember there were half a dozen of us brave foolhardy souls crawling very slowly forwards and keeping our backsides well down. We could all see ’something’ moving in the shadows under the trees on the opposite river bank. Were the shadows troops or tanks ? Who would be brave enough to crawl over and take a closer look ? We had an editorial conference in the dark on the middle of the bridge and all decided that we would come back in daylight the next day, we may have been foolhardy but none of us was stupid.

We retired to the splendid art deco bar of the Hotel Adria just off Wenceslas Square and enjoyed coffee, slivovich and hot apple struddle with lashings of cream. The Adria became a popular hang out as it was one of the few places in town where you could get a phone call back to London or elsewhere in the west. The reception staff would take your requested phone number and page you when the call had been put through to a private phone booth. There were many slightly drunken calls made as sometimes it would take over an hour to get though, more than enough time to consume several glasses of the rather excellent slivovich on offer.

Tractor plant workers having just finished their night shift enjoy beer and bread for breakfast in a nearby bar in Prague
A worker in the snow leaves the Prague tractor factory after a night shift. The communist Red Stars soon disappeared

We never did find out if the ‘Russians’ were about to reprise the repression of the ‘Prague Spring of ’68’, but having been brought up on the spy novels of John LeCarre and Graham Green I believed anything was possible.

The protesting crowds grew in size as they assembled in Wenceslas Square night after night until more than 500,000 men women and children met and called for an end to the existing regime.

Crowds of protesters increased in size each evening in Wenceslas Square around the statue of King Wenceslas

Butterflies are free

A day of action was declared and workers across the country were encouraged to go on strike for one hour at midday. I travelled with Ed Lucas, an Independent news reporter who specialised in covering eastern Europe, to the industrial area at Usti nad Labem to the north of Prague up near the border with eastern Germany.

Workers walk out for a one hour token strike on the ‘Day of Action’ from factories in Usti nad Labem in northern Czechoslovakia.

The day of action was sub zero cold. The landscape was monochrome and the sky hung low, even the falling snow looked sad. This is the bit of Europe that time had forgotten, pure Stalinist dystopia.

Workers walk out for a one hour token strike from heavy industrial factories in Usti nad Labem in northern Czechoslovakia.

To add to the chill I noticed a sign to a small town off our main route.


Just reading the word on a road sign was an emotive trigger that reminded me of the horrors that had visited this area only a few short years before I was born.

We drove slowly and with respect through the town and past the barrack blocks that were the camp.

Terezin, also known as Theresienstadt was a Nazi Concentration Camp. The camp was presented as a  ‘model Jewish settlement’ to the Red Cross and therefore to the rest of the world by the Nazis in the second world war  in an attempt to disguise the evil that was happening within.

More than 80,000 Czech Jews died at Terezin, many being sent to the gas chambers and ovens at Auschwitz across the nearby Polish border.

The camp was intended to house the intellectual Jewish elite from Austria as well as the Czech lands and as a consequence a disproportionate number of artists, poets, musicians and writers perished here.  It was also from here that the Danish King managed to rescue over 400 Danish Jews and from where SS Chief Heinrich Himmler allowed over twelve hundred mainly Dutch Jews to be transported to Switzerland for $1.25 million in a deal struck with a pro-Nazi former Swiss President in February 1945.

As so often in warfare it was the children that left their lasting indelible mark on history and that mark can be seen to this day even though only 93 according to some sources of the 15,000 children in the camp survived the war.

Viennese artist and teacher Friedl Dicker-Brandels a prisoner in the camp started art classes for the children which resulted in over 4,000 children’s drawings being made. They were hidden from the Nazis in two suitcases when she in turn was murdered in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. The cases and the drawings were discovered in 1955 and are now housed in the Jewish Museum in Prague.

Some days after driving past Terezin I visited the Jewish Museum with photographer colleague Mike Abrahams.

Mike and I had the rare privilege of being shown the original drawings many depicting butterflies. A collection of the children’s writings and drawings was later published as ‘ I Never Saw Another Butterfly’.

A sobering experience.

A couple embrace outside the Jewish Cemetery in U Stareho Hrbitova, Prague, the location of the Jewish Museum

Vasclav Havel takes the lead and Alexander Dubcek returns

Vasclav Havel the eminent playwright and author was seen to be leading the intellectual argument against the communist authorities from the Green Lantern Theatre.

Vaclav Havel playwright and author and soon to be president in 1989 at political meeting before the fall of the Czech Government.

Within a week the deposed former leader of Czechoslovakia Alexander Dubcek appeared with Havel embracing his people from a balcony above Wenceslas Square after spending 18 years in exile in Slovakia.

Alexander Dubcek embraces all his subjects with Vaclav Havel behind him to the left on the balcony above Wenceslas Square when Dubcek returned.


Alexander Dubcek and Vaclav Havel on the balcony above Wenceslas Square when Dubcek returned, supporters give a ‘V’ for victory sign from a window opposite.

Dubcek was immediately elected as Chairman of the Federal Assembly and received the Sakharov Peace Prize for his book, ’The Soviet Invasion’. This was based on his experiences during the Prague Spring of 1968 followed by ‘Hope Dies Last’ (1992) where I would like to quote this rather telling paragraph of how it all could have been….

‘The main door flew open again and in walked some higher officers of the KGB, including a highly decorated, very short colonel and a Soviet interpreter I had met before somewhere; I think he had been in Prague a few weeks earlier with Marshal Yakubovsky. The little colonel quickly reeled off a list of all Czechoslovak Communist Party officials present and told us that he was taking us “under his protection.” Indeed we were protected, sitting around that table – each of us had a tommy gun pointed at the back of his head.

Alexander Dubcek died in a car accident in 1992. Conspiracy theories abound.

Jubilant Czechs cheer speakers and wave their national flag as they drive around Wenceslas Square in Prague.

Jubilant Czechs cheer and wave their national flag as they drive around Wenceslas Square in Prague.

I was probably just a little too young to fully understand the implications of what happened in ’68, just how close Europe and the World was to yet another war as the USSR flexed it’s muscles by offering ‘help’ to protect Czechoslovakia from invasion by the west from West Germany into Sudetenland. Warsaw Pact Armies invaded in August 1968 and stayed until November 1989.

During the Prague Spring of 1968 many brave unattributed photographers made profound and deeply moving images. The photograph of  flowers being given to the Russian soldiers and pushed down their rifle barrels, the anger in the face of the bare chested young man defying the barrel of a Russian tank are but two, but probably the most profound of all the photographs taken in that period of suppression in August 1968 was made by the Czechoslovakian photographer Josef Kouldelka, one of the greatest photographers of our generation…

The ‘Authorities’ had demanded that there be a mass meeting in Wenceslas Square at midday to show their support for the hard line communist regime.

To show their disdain the ‘people’ refused to show up, the empty square their ‘voice’.

Koudelka photographed the empty square with his watch on his wrist in the foreground indicating the midday time, a powerful and eloquent image that said more than any words could. I can’t show you this image as it is behind a Magnum exclusion wall, but i’m sure you can google Koudelka, Prague and watch to find the image.

My homage to Josef Koudelka and the people of Czechoslovakia, ‘that faraway country of whom we know little…’ (according to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain) was to replicate his image without the watch but with more than half a million of his fellow countrymen protesting as King Wenceslas looked out upon them as if he had come to life in their hour of need to raise his army of sleeping knights from the Blanik Hill.

The Independent ran my picture across the front page and to this day is one of the pictures that I am most proud of.

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Berlin – 30 years on…thoughts and recollections – November 1989 – 2019

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

Thirty years ago, 1989 really was a tumultuous year in geo politics maybe the most confused, exciting and historically important since the end of WWII in 1945, certainly for me as a working news photographer for The Independent 1989 was one of the busiest and most important years in my working life.

The European elections of late spring morphed into covering the post Tiananmen Square fall out in China which then became a story about the government in Budapest opening the border into Austria allowing East Germans to transit Hungary and flee to the west…which then became a story about the fall of communism, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall leading the reunification of Germany…and, in my opinion the real end of the second world war.

I write about my experiences about getting stuck in East Berlin in my book,’…and then the Prime Minister hit me…’. I write about how I delayed the actual breaking through of the wall by more than five minutes, all for the want of a set of AA batteries, on that cold damp Thursday night on the 9th of November 1989, so long ago but oh so fresh in my memory…and to perpetuate that well-worn cliché… I really was privileged to witness history in the making.

Here is an edit from my book.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall


I had been keeping a watching brief on the situation in Eastern Europe for a while after returning from China where I covered the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

I made a couple of trips to Hungary where I photographed the first of the Ossies-East Germans camping out in the grounds of the West German Embassy where they enjoyed a level of political protection and at a communist summer camp on the shores of Lake Balaton.

A trickle of families including some with very young children had escaped from the GDR ( The German Democratic Republic-East Germany ) through the porous border into northern Hungary, a fellow Warsaw pact country but with a slightly more enlightened government, in the early autumn of ’89.

Indy Page copy Hungary-Austria border 14 Sept 1989BH8_9596

The trickle became a flood and the West German Government stepped in and gave sanctuary in the grounds of their Embassy.

Indy Page copy Hungary Austria border 14 Sept 1989-2

 The Hungarians seemed to be in no mood to halt the exodus through their country and within a couple of weeks the border into neighbouring Austria in the west had been thrown open. Of course there was confusion and fear. Many Ossies were worried that they would never be allowed back, some were worried that the GDR secret police, the dreaded Stassi, would seek revenge against those family members left behind and those who had no family or friends in the west soon ran out of money.

 The flood of escapees slowed and stopped.


Back in the GDR news has spread that it was possible to get out to the west and protests started around the country principally in Berlin and Leipzig demanding that the wall, that hideous divide between east and west, come down.

I returned in late October and realised that something truly momentous was happening in East Germany.

I had a meeting with my Picture Editor Christopher McKane and the Independent’s Editor Andreas Whitham-Smith ( AWS ) and asked to be sent to East Berlin, just to sit tight and watch for any developments.

They agreed. 


Through the back of the wardrobe and into the dark….

 Entering East Berlin on that dark cold November evening was a chilling, sobering experience.

West Berlin was all bright lights, busy traffic and lots of bustle and noise.

East Berlin wasn’t.


Going through Check Point Charlie was like going back 50 years in time. Imagine going through the back of the wardrobe in the CS Lewis tales and emerging into another world of darkened sinister streets lit by 30watt light bulbs, the whole scene bathed in a yellow glow from the pollution in the air caused by burning brown lignite coal and all with armed trigger happy East German border guards who would shoot to kill.

Welcome to hard line Stalinist East Berlin, the Soviets show piece to the west.

 There was no banter with the border guards, you did as you were told. I was travelling ‘light’, no heavy duty transmitting machine or darkroom , just a small bag of camera gear, so there was no problem entering as a ‘businessman’.

You had to change up a set sum of West German currency into Ost marks at one to one, I think it was 50DM, about £20, each time you crossed from west to east. As I was staying in a west mark hotel where you couldn’t spend Ost marks I soon had quite a surplus of useless currency. You can only eat so many Bratwursts from the Vietnamese street vendors and even they preferred you to pay in West Marks albeit at a rate somewhat better than that received at the border.

Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of East German economics.

After passing through border control, the bright lights of the west behind me, I drove slowly, very slowly around the chicane of protective anti tank concrete blocks that took me onto Friedrichstrasse, a darkened cavern of a street with no people, no cars, no life.

A turn to the right took me onto Unter Den Linden and to the Pallast Hotel near Alexander Platz where I was booked in to stay.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

I noticed a small crowd gathering nearby and went to investigate. A demonstration had just finished and all the protest banners had been laid on the grass within a hundred metres of the Volkskammer, the Peoples Chamber, a real snub to the authorities.

This was the evening of Monday the 6th of November. The hated GDR leader Honecker had already been ousted in mid October, his successor Krenz wasn’t faring much better.

 The following day I spent wandering quietly around the streets of East Berlin. There was a strange quality to the light, soft and muted, similar to London in the ‘50’s and early ‘60’s before the clean air act. My images had an ethereal feel to them, even though they were made in 1989 they looked like they had been shot many years earlier.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

The street furniture, the cheap clothing, the grey light and the lack of western styled cars all helped to make instant nostalgia.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall


Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

I was kicked out of my hotel the next day as a ‘delegation’  had arrived unannounced and demanded all the rooms. I have no idea who they were but the bad suits gave them away as probably in from Moscow

I didn’t argue.

 The Indy’s West German correspondent Patricia Clough arrived from Bonn and we found another hotel nearby and booked in for two weeks.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

 Apart from a couple of Civic Forum meetings held in the suburbs things were quiet. We wandered down to the east side of the Brandenburg Gate to watch the armed border guards go about their business and found a ‘bierkeller’ that served half decent food and drink.

 I popped back to the west a couple of times to ship some film back to London. After a couple of trips back and forth the border guards recognised my big West German registered hire car. I wasn’t exactly waved through but the threatening demeanour had changed somewhat. I noticed that the rifles had disappeared to be replaced with side arms.

Thursday Evening 9th of November.

I was resting in my room when the ‘phone rang. It was AWS my Editor in London. ‘ ‘I’ve just seen an AP ( Associated Press ) news snap saying that the wall be come down tonight’. He even gave me the street name and time where this was to happen.

I had 20 minutes to get to the location.

I grabbed my cameras and dashed down to the lobby to get my car out of the secured hotel car park. The car park attendant had gone home for the night. Would sir return tomorrow morning asked the receptionist. No, sir wouldn’t.

Taxis were at a premium, i.e. there weren’t any unless you pre booked or engaged a driver for the day.

As I turned from the reception desk a taxi turned up with a Canadian journalist aboard. I rushed outside before the driver disappeared. I told the reporter that the wall was about to come down within 15 minutes. He looked at me incredulously as he had just arrived in from the airport.

The driver was obviously itching to get away so I just put a 100DM ( hard Western currency ) note in his hand and demanded he drive me to Bernauer Straße.

He drove.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

I arrived at the location of what was to be the very first breach in the wall. There was a small crowd of locals, a few journalists,  a couple of photographers and a  TV camera crew. I joined them as a road digger trundled down the darkened street to attack the wall.

I fired a frame with flash but nothing happened, I tried again, nothing. My flash had died. The batteries were exhausted.

Frantically I asked the waiting crowd if anyone had any spare AA batteries.

A radio reporter came to my aid with some spares but by this time the digger was about to attack. I jumped up onto the machine to indicate to the driver that I was about to dis-assemble my photographic equipment in the dark and in the rain and would he mind just waiting a few minutes while I sorted myself out.

He did, bless him.


The wall started to fall, delayed by me for only a few minutes, just before 10.30pm on the 9th of November 1989.

I had images of the first bite into the wall, locals holding their bits of fallen masonry and very confused East German border guards who were visible standing in the death strip zone between east and west.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

 Now, the difficult bit. Getting the material back to London.

 I had to get to the west to transmit my pictures via Reuters the international news agency. There was no transmitter in the east, although I found out later that Reuters had managed to get a transmitter into East Berlin.

My driver, couldn’t believe what he was seeing and quite frankly neither could I.

This was history in the raw.

We tried to get to West Berlin via Check Point Charlie. I could get through but not my driver, wrong piece of paper. We drove to another crossing point where the driver knew he could get through, this time I had the wrong documentation.

It was now well past midnight and I knew I was missing all my London late editions.

We went back to Charlie where there were thousands of Berliners from both sides just trying to cross over. The border was open but closed by the sheer weight of people.

I ditched the cab and pushed my way through the throng. I walked the route of the wall around to the west side of the Brandenburg Gate.

I arrived about two in the morning, far too late for that nights edition. There were dozens of West Berliners climbing onto the wall now, waving and cheering and giving ‘V’ for victory signs to the East German border guards.


This was too much. The guards started to use high pressure water hoses on those brave enough to stand their ground high upon the wall. I climbed a tree to get a vantage point and spotted two guys up on the wall using an umbrella as a shield against the water jet.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

 I made the picture.

 Wet, tired but elated I made my way out to the airport to arrange to get my overnight material on the first BA flight out in the morning.

The following day I was given the whole of the back page of the Saturday Independent to show off my coverage with the lead picture across 8 columns of the men being hosed off the Wall.

The next few days morphed into each other and Independent correspondent Pat Clough and myself raced around Berlin catching up with the fastest of moving stories. On Saturday the 11th of November, only two days after the wall was breached, the infamous Glienicker Bridge, scene of many a spy exchange during the height of the cold war was opened up to East and West Germans to cross at will. As there was no Sunday Independent back in November 1989 my pictures and story had to wait to be published on Monday.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

Indy Page Copy Glienicke Bridge 13 Nov 1989

Indy page copy Gleinicker Bridge 13 Nov 1989-2-BH8_9585

As both Pat and I were slightly ahead with our coverage we could afford to relax a little and spend Sunday watching various sections of the Berlin Wall crash to the ground as Berliners (and not a few journalists including myself) grabbed hold of precious pieces of the falling wall…the east facing white painted sections being the most prized.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

Tens of thousands of East Berliners queued patiently to cross to the west during the next few days, many to be re-united with family and friends not seen since the wall was built in the early 1960’s.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

… and then as quickly as the fall of the wall in Berlin had happened, the fickle hand of the news agenda took me to Prague in Czechoslovakia to cover The Velvet Revolution where Alexander Dubček returned from exile and Václav Havel became President…what amazing times…

Indy Page copy Wenceslas Square 24 Nov 1989

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Sally Soames Photographer, Journalist, Mother, Grandmother, Mentor to so many and Friend to many more… 21 January 1937 – 5 October 2019

I make no apology for re publishing my short obituary about Sally first published on the British Press Photographers Association-BPPA site last week. 

I have included photographs taken with permission from her son Trevor Soames at Sally’s funeral held at Golders Green Crematorium, north London on Sunday 13th of October 2019. There are also some page copies of her work published in ‘Manpower’ in 1987 by Andre Deutsch-ISBN 0-233-98111-X

Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019

Sally Soames who worked as a photographer for The Sunday Times for more than three decades died aged 82 at her home in north London on the 5th of October 2019.


Sally, like many of her generation had no formal training as a photographer, starting out by winning a photography competition run by a London evening paper. She was noticed by the Observer where she contributed work during the 1960’s before being taken onto the Sunday Times before the decade was out. She stayed on her beloved paper for more than 32 years working for esteemed editor Harry Evans and design maestro Edwin Taylor, reluctantly retiring due to problems with her knees and as black and white analogue film photography gave way to colour and subsequently digital image making.

Sally told me in the early 90’s that she was scouring London and buying up all the Nikon FM2 film cameras that she could find once she had been told that her favourite camera wasn’t going to be made anymore. I don’t think Sally and modern digital technology would have got on together, so a good time to call it a day.

Sally was a pure image maker, the eyes were everything, get the eyes sharp and you will have your reader, she said to me once. She would talk her subject into submission if he or she proved to be reluctant to have their photograph taken. She charmed and cajoled, often writing to her subject in advance of the photography session as well as reading their work if an author, or watching their films or plays if an actor. She saw herself and her work as the equal of the writer and the written word when covering an interview, not for Sally the three minute photo-op session dictated by a hovering PR, which is now seen to be the norm, Sally demanded and got as much time as she needed to produce her work.

Although Sally did specialise in portrait work for the paper, producing some of the most eye catching imagery to grace the pages of any newspaper in the land she was also a dab hand on the political scene. I personally worked alongside her on many occasions, Sally on the ST and myself on The Times at many a political conference during the 70’s through the 80’s. I was always surprised to see her visual summation of the week in her paper, normally a quiet reflective moment caught with fuss, just a fine quality image that would make you think a while.

I also worked alongside Sally in Israel whilst covering a general election in June 1981 featuring Menachem Begin and Moshe Dyan, both of whom she had entré to with one phone call. Her portrait of General Dyan on the Golan Heights ranks, IMHO, as one of her finest images. She introduced me around to those that mattered and arranged passes and some access to this then relative green horn, but that was just so typical of Sally, she would help just about anyone but especially new guys and gals on the block…there is a long line of news photographers working now who all owe Sally a great debt of personal gratitude, myself included.

 She had a heart felt affinity with Israel, being born Jewish (born Winkleman), and when based there during the Yom Kippur War between Israel and a coalition of Arab States led by Egypt and Syria in October 1973 she was recalled by Kelvin Brodie her Sunday Times picture editor (and a former top flight news photographer) as it was deemed by the ST management as being too dangerous for Sally to stay after the death of ST correspondent Nick Tomalin. The group of Arab commandos who stormed the beach outside her Tel Aviv beach front hotel made the point more emphatically. She returned to Israel a week later to cover the km101 peace talks.

Sally may have been slight of frame and stature but she was strong and a fighter…Sally never ever gave up, she always found a way to achieve what she wanted, with a gushing smile, a hand hold, a squeeze and it must be said a fair bit of feminine schmoozing…Sally really was one of those unique individuals who was a friend to many, a mentor to many more and a bloody good photographer…oh, and a really nice woman. RIP Sally

Page copies from Sallys book ‘Manpower’


Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019

Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019

Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Ray Wells Picture Editor at The Sunday Times

Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019

A small group of photographers say their farewells to Sally at Carluccio’s, Sally’s favourite hang out near her home in north London. 

Posted in Photography,photo-journalism,The Independent,The Times | 1 Comment

The Impact-Pactin Photos Lunch May 2019

…and so, it came to pass that Impact Photos, the picture agency and photo library is no more…it has ceased to exist, it is a dead a defunct photo  agency…it is, as co founder Philippe Achache so succinctly put it – PACTIN !!

impact photos last day 19 jan 2019_l1007565

After many months of saving the library by sorting out more than half a million transparencies in the cold dark miserable garages of Queen Park and getting them back, if wanted, to fellow contributing photographers we decided to have a celebratory wake and lunch combined at The Coach Pub and Restaurant in the centre of uber trendy Clerkenwell, London where many of us either started in the photography business or studied here at the London College of Printing in Back Hill many many moons ago.

It should be noted that any photographs NOT claimed and not sent to landfill ( as several photographers requested ) have been sent to the Bishopsgate Institute near Liverpool Street for historical research purposes only, it must be STRESSED that the photographs can not be used for any commercial purpose including editorial unless the photographer has given express permission…here endith the legal stuff !!

And without further ado I present a set of pictures taken at our lunchtime gig….I was suitably impressed by the excellent carving and cutting skills shown by all when tackling the wonderful seven hour slow cooked lamb and the beautiful fish on the bone, obviously an indication of a lifetime of staying and eating in high end expense account hotels and restaurants around the world courtesy of our many masters over the past 50 years !!

Impact Photos Lunch 15 May 2019 names

My group shot made using my new Leica M10 balanced on a chair which in turn was balanced on a table…not for the faint-hearted…next time a tripod me thinks ! Pamela Morton Freelance Organiser from the NUJ, on the right foreground, deserves special recognition as it was her letter directed to the Impact Photos owners that stopped the collection going to landfill all those months ago.
Caption courtesy of David Reed
Early arrivals at The Coach enjoy the late spring sunshine and not a glass of wine to be seen…not very European ?

Top left: Homer Sykes, Pamla Toler and Philippe Achache. T-R: Roger Scruton, David Reed and Rick Colis. Mid right: Roger Scruton, Homer Sykes and David Reed. Bottom right: Peter Arkel, Rick Colis and Piers Cavendish. Bottow left: Ben Gibson and Lionel Derimais with middle left: David Reed, Christopher Cormack, Piers Cavendish and Caroline Penn.

Some excellent serving skills shown here, learned over the years at some of the worlds most exotic restaurants courtesy of our many masters as we travelled the globe on our wonderfully generous expense accounts…great days
Impact Photos Lunch 15 May 2019_L1009032Impact Photos Lunch 15 May 2019_L1009028IMPACT LUNCH 00105152019
Some fine group shot photography here from Homer Sykes and myself…if you can’t see the camera…then the camera can’t see you….

Happy snap time with Roger Scruton, Homer Sykes and bottom picture Petteri Kokkonen

Photographers always work on the principle that this could be their last food for hours, days or weeks if the phone starts to ring and you have to dash out of the door on assignment….so, lots of very clean plates here…also pudding was beckoning !!!

A cracking day spent with some of the best photographers in the business…maybe we can do it again sometime…well done Philippe, David and Lionel who organised the bash.

Posted in Photography,photo-journalism,The Independent,The Times | 2 Comments

Copying all those tens of thousands of transparencies and negatives

If like me you have been a working photographer for many years then you are bound to have thousands, maybe tens or even hundreds of thousands of colour transparencies or B&W negatives festering away in a filing cabinet, out in the garage, up in the loft or maybe under the bed.

If you have been a contributing photographer to a photo agency that has now folded and have been inundated with hundreds of sheets of returned trannies and have no idea where to start to make sense of your collection, your work, your pension….then look no further, I may have a solution and with a bit of effort you may even get a fiscal return for your time invested.

impact photos last day 19 jan 2019_l1007585

The Impact Photos photo library being disbanded January 2019

In the first instance forget scanning all this stuff with a desk top scanner…scanning using technology from two decades back is for the birds. I have an old Nikon 5000 Super Coolscan bit of kit tethered to an ancient Mac ibook as it will only work with an old Mac operating system dating from when Noah was a boy…it worked, it still works but boy, oh boy is it slow…chunter, chunter…about 5 minutes for each frame, after scanning  a dozen pictures you start to loose the will to live – I’m keeping it though,  just in case !

No, my new all singing and dancing wizz bang super fast way of scanning which uses the latest technology is……

Brian and slide copier small file L1004537

Brian with his ‘wizz bang’ copying set up

…I use my Nikon D810 camera body, an ancient circa 1985 manual focus 55mm Macro lens, a Nikon PK-13  extension ring (27.5mm) and a Nikon ES-1 Slide Copying Adaptor and an old lightbox for the light source seen above.

When I’m organised i can rattle through 50 slides or more in an hour. It helps to keep the picture sets together on the same subject for bulk editing, captioning and keywording later. Depending on how ‘dirty’ your precious images are will determine how much time you spend cleaning  at 200% magnification later using Photoshop. I have a policy that if the picture is really beyond the pale then it has to be quite unique for me to invest more than 10 minutes in cleaning it up and anything that can be re shot today using vastly superior optics and sensors and that isn’t up to scratch goes straight into the bin ( trash in the US ).Sudan Girba refugee camp Sudan, Africa during the famine of 1985Sudan Girba refugee camp Sudan, Africa during the famine of 1985

Girba refugee camp in Sudan 1986-raw scan and file after being cleaned up in Photoshop

I have found that I can make some really quite wonderful files from my B&W negatives using the same set up but with a black card homemade negative holder with the aperture cut 2-3mm over the negative size. This gives you an area of the blank clear film base from which to make your ‘black point’ after inverting the image back to a positive (Cmd-i ) and also allows you to have a fashionable ‘black’ border.


Midsummers Day in the village of Eklången, Sweden, 1990.
Midsummers Day in the village of Eklången, Sweden, 1990. The raw scan top and finished image below

I have to admit that I haven’t mastered copying colour negative material, the orange film base has defeated my photoshop skills but I understand that if you want to shell out the best part of £3.5k on a Nikon D850 then the camera will do the colour negative inversion for you using in camera software…for me, the little work i shot on colour neg stock that has any value will be scanned on my old Nikon scanner.

My method is faster by a million miles, deep colour depth is held and shadows and highlights can be retained. I can now see the end of the tunnel of sheets of trannies and hundreds of yellow Kodachome boxes…one day all my work with be scanned into digital binary … I just hope they will be readable in 50 years time, like some of my early negs and colour transparencies !!!


Posted in Photography,photo-journalism,The Independent,The Times | 5 Comments

The International Driving Permit

Gavia Pass in the Italian Alps. June 2018

Gavia Pass (Italian: Passo di Gavia) (el. 2621 m.) is a high mountain pass in the Italian Alps. It is the tenth highest paved road in the Alps. The pass lies in the Lombardy region and divides the province of Sondrio to the north and the province of Brescia to the south. The road over the pass (SS 300) connects Bormio to the northwest with Ponte di Legno to the south and is single track most on its southern section.

Planning to go off on a wonderful driving holiday or business trip to Europe this year…planning to hit the highways and byways of Europe…planning to cruise over some of the worlds most beautiful and challenging mountain passes…well then…start planning now and get your International Driving Permits-IDP sorted out soonest.

Brian's Saab makes it to Switzerland 0818Towards the summit of the Simplonpass connecting north west Italy and Switzerland

I got my International Driving Permit last week. The IDP is a legal entity unlike the heavily advertised ‘International Driving Licence’ which according to the RAC and the Department for Transport has no legal validity at all.

International Driving Permit Feb 2019

Two different IDP’s…the 1968 version on left and the 1949 version on the right

The bottom line is…if you are proposing to drive in Europe ( and beyond ) after March 29th and the British Government crashes out of the European Union without a Brexit deal there is NO guarantee that your existing UK issued driving licence on its own will be valid in Europe and beyond.

SAAB 9.5 IN TOSCANA_P1020353A little bit of ‘White Road’ driving in Tuscany…

To be sure of complying with what are sure to be draconian European driving laws then pop down to your local CROWN Post Office with your passport, current UK Driving License-both parts, a passport photograph for each licence required and a means of paying £5.50 for each license. Your small local post office won’t be able to do this for you.

When I turned up I had to wait for 10 minutes as only two member of staff had been trained up to issue the IDP and they were both at lunch. It takes about 10 minutes for each IDP to be issued as all your details have to be written in laboriously by legible hand onto a card document slightly larger than a standard passport. You get lots of stamps which makes it all very official looking and most importantly each IDP is published in several  European languages…enough even to appease a French ‘Flic‘ who wants to bring his numbers up at the end of a shift !!

Somme WW1 Battlefield, July 1st-November 1916, France. Munich Tr

Using farmers dirt tracks to cross the Somme Battlefields in northern France

As far as I could work out, with the help of a wonderful Post Office clerk in Dunmow, Essex there are three versions of the IDP, all different and all valid for different periods of time…no one said this was going to be easy !

I opted for the 1949 validated version which allows me to drive in Spain, Malta, Cyprus and Iceland…AND the 1968 validated version which covers all EU countries plus Norway and Switzerland…there is another version dated from 1926 which allows you to drive in Lichtenstein. Now, just to confuse…it is possible that if the UK crashes out of Europe on the 29th of March 2019…then either none of the above will count….or, that the 1949 version will not count and only the 1968 will be of use. When the Prime Minister knows I’m sure she will tell us !!

Getting a Brexit deal may help to resolve all the above but i’m planning a belt and braces approach here by getting sorted now !

Interesting point here is that although the Government refuses to acknowledge that pre Brexit stockpiling is taking place throughout the land most Crown Post Offices have been issued with thousands of blank International Driving Permits to issue in the coming weeks…I was told ‘We are expecting a bit of a rush on in March’…don’t get caught out, go get it sorted now !!…and this will probably apply even if you are hiring a car in Europe rather than taking your own.

Here are some helpful links:

International Driving Permit Feb 2019

Both my 1968 and 1949 validated version of the IDP

Stelvio Pass, Italy,Winter, 2000

Stelvio Pass in Italy in the winter. The pass is located in the Ortler Alps in Italy between Stilfs (“Stelvio” in Italian) in South Tyrol and Bormio in the province of Sondrio. It is about 75 km (47 mi) from Bolzano and a mere 200 m from the Swiss border.


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Impact Photos Library is no more…

Impact Photos agency and library is no more…it is a dead library, it is finished. Impact, as co-founder Philippe Achache put it so succinctly is ‘Pactin’…and is now in hundreds of cardboard boxes in a lock up garage in Queens park NW London awaiting collection by the nearly 400 contributing photographers from over the past 40 years.

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The Queens Park garages where more then half a million transparencies were sorted out…

The agency started life in the early 1980’s as a co-operative of like minded photo-journalists who got together to cover the wedding of Charles and Diana. The founders were Philippe Achache, David Reed, Alain Le Garsmeur, Julian Calder, Sally Fear and Christopher Cormack. I Joined the collective as a contributor in the mid 1980’s after my years with The Times along with many other ‘news’ photographers of the day who joined our merry band including Jeremy Nicholl, Norman Lomax and Christopher Pillitz. Dozens of others contributed on an ad hoc basis, some with just a single story, others with stock and many story ideas

We were a small outfit that worked hard to produce high end original exclusive stories. Philippe was the great hustler on the phone. He would be overheard demanding a minimum of £1000 or $1500 for a first rights deal in Europe or the States and getting 3 or 4 page guarantee deals at £700 a page was the norm rather than the exception and this was in the mid 1980’s.

Impact Photos Wincanton storage Nov 2018

Philippe Achache starts the mammoth editing task in the Wincanton storage facility…

Impact Photos Wincanton storage Nov 2018

David Reed in the roof void in the Wincanton warehouse…

It was a great time to be a photographer working the international magazine market, shooting some great stories and getting well paid.

Sadly the commissioned work started to dry up and by the mid 1990’s Impact was more a stock photo library having to compete with the likes of Corbis and Getty, a very one sided contest.

By the early 2000’s Impact had almost ceased trading and was sold to Heritage Photo Library. The investment and digital support was sadly lacking and the library was in effect closed in 2017-8. The filing cabinets containing the carefully curated library of more than half a million transparencies was put into store in a warehouse in Wincanton in Somerset, SW England, similar to the giant warehouse where the Ark of the Covenant was stored at the end of that Indiana Jones film.

Impact Photos Wincanton storage Nov 2018

Philippe and Simon Shepheard start the edit in Wincanton…

All very sad to see.

Late in the autumn of 2018 it was discovered that Heritage had issued an ultimatum to the Impact contributors, via the Impact web page that no knew existed, that all work NOT collected by mid October would go to landfill.

Philippe Achache and David Reed alerted me to the potential disaster to the archives of hundreds of photographers so I asked Pamela Moreton, Photographers co-ordinator at the National Union of Journalists-NUJ to write a tough ‘don’t even think about it’ letter which was hand delivered to three London addresses for Heritage, including their offices and their registered address the following morning. Heritage backed down but insisted that ‘we’ accept all responsibility for the library, which we refused to do. In the end after a few days of a Mexican stand-off a small team of former contributors took control and spent several days humping hundred of boxes and files down a rickety staircase in the Wincanton store and onto a 2 ton truck to get to a more secure and accessible store in Queens Park NW London.

Impact-Pactin day 13 Nov 2018_BH8_1925.jpg

Looking like a still from a bad ‘B’ movie heist film…moving half a million transparencies in 100 plastic containers from Wincanton to London…

That was early November…

Then the real heavy lifting started. Every sheet of hanging transparencies had to be broken down from its ‘library’ into boxes with individual photographers names on it. More than 500,000 individual trannies, maybe more, no one actually counted, we just measured yardage and multiplied ! A mammoth task…but fortunately using social media the word leaked out that we needed help and many former contributors and some who had nothing to do with Impact Photos stepped up to the plate and knuckled down to the job in hand.

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Impact founders Christopher Cormack, Philippe Achache and David Reed start the initial edit at our lock up garages in Queens Park, NW London…

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David Reed in background and Brian Harris wearing protective gloves and wearing a T shirt, obviously early days when the temperature wasn’t just above zero…

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Homer Sykes basking in the warm autumn sunshine and Jamie Loriman who probably wasn’t even born when Impact started…check out the height of the boxes all filled with slides in the background…

The ‘new’ storage in Queens Park, a series of four garages knocked into one space, had no heating, no water supply and NO loo…toilet facilities were in a local park (no, not behind a tree ) and food was taken in a nearby cafe. You have to understand that most of us helping here are either pensioners or getting very close, some are in their 70’s, so lots of tough cold repetitive 8 hour days that played hell with all our backs !!

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Our final days at the Impact garages…Philippe Achache, Chris Joyce, Simon Shepheard, David Reed and Rick Colls putting on a last minute spurt to finish the edit before we all died of hypothermia…


Yesterday the 10th of January 2019 after more than two months of editing and sorting we finally came to the last box of hanging sheets of images…we worked a 9 hour day to finish the job and gave ourselves lots of back slaps for a job well done. Our backs had given out, our bladders were bursting and the cold had gotten into our old bones…but we had done it !

Impact photos last day 19 Jan 2019_L1007585.jpg

Organised chaos..when the pile of a contributors transparencies got high enough to fall over then the slides were put in sheets with a name on….


Now we have to contact the photographers or their estates to get them to come and COLLECT their work over the next 2-3 weeks…any work NOT collected by then will sadly go to landfill as no one else can assume not just responsibility but ‘rights’ over another persons work. Already several photographers have asked us to dispose of their archive, many have left the business, some are in that great darkroom in the sky, some have no contact details-although we are trying very hard to find them and many I suspect just don’t want the hassle of scanning, captioning and keywording 30 year old material…a view I personally think is very shortsighted as I have my old material digitised and out there for sale…most months I get some respectable sales from my past archive.

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…and if the photographer had enough sheets with slides then he / she was allocated a box all to themselves…nice wine boxes from Waitrose !!!….

Impact photos last day 19 Jan 2019_L1007583.jpg

Over the past few months many photographers have asked me why we are bothering to save this collection when there is nothing in it for us as individuals. I think my personal answer, as someone who got his stuff out some years back, is that we, we who have had a wonderful life out of photography and journalism just wanted to give something back…for our colleagues, many of whom we don’t know and for our business that is facing the toughest of times right now.

So, please don’t let all our efforts be in vain…come and collect your material…NOW!

The ‘Save the Impact library team’ would like to thank all the following for their wonderful help…without ALL of you this job could not have been completed…at least not this side of the second coming….

Piers Cavendish, Petteri Kokkonen, Roger Scruton, Homer Sykes, Caroline Penn, Chris Joyce, Rupert Conant, Pamela Toler, Anna Gordon, Peter Arkell, Simon Shepherd, Lionel Deramais (special Thanks for emailing), Mark Cator, Simon Grossett, Chris Cormack, Alex MacNaughton, Geraint Lewis, Ben Gibson, Zac Waters and students, Jeremy Nicholl, David Reed, Philippe Achache, Brian Harris, Jamie Loriman, Chris Moyse, Colin Marr and really extra special thanks to Rick Colls who had no involvement with Impact Photos, he being a life server at REX Features (another London agency)…and extra extra special thanks to Pamela Moreton at the NUJ for organising the tough letter that stopped all this stuff going into landfill 3 months back.

Author Brian Harris who along with every other helper here accepts NO responsibility for the Impact archive or individual photographers work. 11 January 2019

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Stuart Heydinger-the South Pole and Back

George W. Warhurst (Pictured below) was my mentor, sidekick and sometime saviour while I was at The Times from 1975-1984. George, or Bill as he was known to all, was a greatly undervalued photographer. His somewhat dishevelled appearance and kindly diffident manner belied his inner strengths and tenacious spirit. His hair seemed to go in all directions at the same time and he was never without a small cigar on the go, a habit I took up for many years. He always wore a tie and a suit, a crumpled corduroy suit, but a suit never the less. He used a couple of battered M3 Leicas for his work and specialised in working in low light without a flash, a style I have followed ever since.Bill Warhurst crop.jpg

Bill Warhurst at a Times function in the late 1970’s

He covered the 1968 student riots in Paris producing some stunning images that re defined, ‘Paris by Night’. He sat it out in Tierra del Feugo on the southernmost tip of South America for many weeks waiting for Francis Chichester to round Cape Horn to make a simply brilliant picture of Chichester and his tiny Gypsy Moth riding the giant storm tossed waves of the cold grey South Atlantic, produced at considerable risk to himself and his pilot after one of his empty film canisters became stuck in the wires controlling the aircraft wing flaps. He also saved me from being shot by an RUC Policeman in Northern Ireland. He pushed me to the ground as the officer took aim during a street riot at the time of the Bobby Sands hunger strike at the infamous Maze prison. I rolled over on the ground to see Bill jumping spread eagled in the air as a plastic baton round passed between his legs.

George was named Bill as his father who was named William was called George and he was also a photographer on the Times but in an earlier period. Bills father George was one of the first photographers to join The Times in the early 1920’s and became famous by being the official Times photographer on the Howard Carter excavations of the Tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt.

Both George and his son Bill were to die far too young and both in tragically sad circumstances. Maybe the curse of the Egyptian King really does exist.

Bill, my friend, will live on in this story he told me while on a long drive to Strasbourg to cover the opening of the European Parliament. It’s about yet another photographer called Stuart Heydinger who worked for The Times in the 1950’s. It’s a great tale of derring-do and management stupidity. The story may have grown a whisker or two over the years but I believe it to be essentially true.

It’s 1957 and Dr Vivian Fuchs ( later to become Sir ) and Sir Edmund Hillary were jointly attempting the first Trans-Antarctic crossing via the South Pole. The Joint Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic team consisted of Fuchs who headed up the British team and Hillary who led the New Zealand group. Both men were attempting to put to rest the heroic failure of Shackelton many years earlier. Fuchs was to advance from the Weddle Sea in the west and Hillary from the Ross Sea in the east preparing a return trail of supplies.

The Times was of course more than just a little interested as they had the exclusive first reports of Hillary’s ascent of Everest by James Morris (now Jan Morris ) only 4 years earlier. The Times were helping to finance the South Pole expedition.

The editor of The Times, after seeing The Daily Mail’s Noel Barber scoop the world with an exclusive front page blast, ‘Mail Man reports from the South Pole’, (or ‘Barber’s Pole’ as some Fleet Street wag had it ) demanded that his newly appointed picture editor, Franklyn Wood, send his best photographer to the South Pole immediately and wait until Fuchs and Hillary met up. Simple.

Franklyn Wood was a recent high calibre scalp from the Daily Express and according to Heydinger, ’A great newspaperman’. He understood immediately the problems of getting pictures back from such a remote inhospitable location. Woods sent his communications manager, again poached from The Express and an ‘old hand’ down to Muirheads in Kent. Muirheads were developing a ‘transmitting machine’ but they only had a prototype to show. When they heard what The Times were proposing they willingly handed over the prototype against a firm order from a production model later. The transmitter needed to operate over a radio and had to hooked up to a converter-AM to FM which not only added to the expense but also to the bulk of this  priceless equipment.

Wood sent for his toughest operator, Stuart Heydinger, ex British Army parachutist in post WW2 Palestine. A tough cookie indeed.

The ‘boys’ in The Times darkroom organised his mobile darkroom kit for processing 120 roll films and making prints on the ice cap but didn’t supply any blackout material.

Stuart was sent to Christchurch New Zealand first class on a Quantas flight. The valuable valve driven transmitting equipment occupied it’s own seats in the cabin to avoid any possible damage in the hold.

Stuart travelled via Sydney where there was a cable from the US commander of  Operation Deepfreeze, Admiral Dufek, indicating he would be happy to help getting him to the Antarctic. Operation Deepfreeze was the US Navy support operation to the scientific research station on the ice and had a base at Christchurch NZ.

Stuart Heydinger writes.


‘When I arrived at my hotel, I rang  up. They sent a staff car and brought me to the Admiral. They gave me bad news: the ice runway at McMurdo had broken up due to an unusually mild Antarctic summer . They could not operate their long range wheeled aircraft. A US Navy ship was due to sail south in two weeks. It looked as though Franklyn had put his head on the chopping block for nothing. One good thing, the Admiral and his wife and daughter had  rented  a bungalow in the city, and that night he invited me home for a drink – and  some. Then the panic cables started to arrive – and one suggested I put my Para training to good use and jump in.


So Stuart went off to ‘Parachutes R Us’ or the local equivalent on South Island NZ to buy a parachute, one usable in Antarctic conditions presumably.

In the meantime back in London, Franklyn Wood was charged with procuring an airliner that could fly over the Antarctic Ice Cap and from which Stuart could make his heroic jump onto the South Pole. As you do.

Picture Editor Wood arranged that the Times late night driver take him and Eddie Price, The Times Chief Wireman on a secret mission to the fledgling London Airport out on Hounslow Heath to the west of London. He approached Air New Zealand first, an office copy of the Times Atlas of the World ( concise edition ) tucked under his arm and enquired if they flew anything that could get over to the Pole and back, unfortunately they had nothing but recommended he try Quantas, the national carrier for Australia.

Wood checked the distances involved with the Quantas Chief Pilot by using that well known measuring device, the ‘rule of thumb’. He literally measured his thumb across the pages of the Times Atlas of the World and pronounced that this was so many thousand miles and did they have anything that could do the job. ‘Sure we do, we can supply a four engine, three tail-fin Constellation airliner, no problem’. Costings which came to several thousand pounds were verbally agreed. Wood then asked if they could cut a hole in the floor so that his photographer could jump out over the South Pole. ‘Sure’ they said ( and at this point I can only conclude that the Quantas people were trying to amuse this deluded man until the people from the funny farm came to take him away ) ‘we can do that, insurance could be a problem though’. A somewhat dejected Norman left after being told that the insurance for plane and crew would be roughly equal to the entire turnover for The Times Newspaper for the past year.

SH writes…down in the Southern hemisphere

Admiral Dufek thought I was crazy. He took a real shine to me. He said,” Heydinger, why are you not afraid to die ” I told him I would rather that, than go back to London without a picture. I really meant it.

In the meantime a friend of London based photographer Bill Warhurst who was a Lieutenant in the NZ Airforce invited Stuart for dinner. It was he who procured the ‘chute.

Stuart, received a cable the following day.


Back in blighty The Times had got into bed with The Daily Express whereby the Express had cut a syndication deal to publish any photographs taken by Stuart at the same time as The Times, mainly I would think to get one over on their arch rival the Daily Mail. The great beasts of Fleet street always enjoyed playing these expensive games and none more so than the Beaverbrook Express and the Harmsworth Mail and now the slightly more refined Astor’s ( who owned The Times ) wanted to play.

SH writes.

During this frustrating period a US Navy type P2V Neptune (aircraft) came into our lives. We saw it circling low over Christchurch several times. Its tail fin was painted scarlet as were the wing tips. And it had skis!

 I rang at once Commander Merle McBain, the Admirals ‘Man Friday’. He knew what I was thinking. “No go,” he said. We learned the machine was desperately needed at McMurdo. The 2000 miles flight from Christchurch to McMurdo was beyond the plane’s normal maximum range, in consequence it had additional fuel tanks fitted, adding ten percent to its weight. To get it into the air it would be blasted off the runway with sixteen JATO canisters (jet assisted take off). The crew was made up entirely of volunteers, one, the navigator, was the only survivor of a similar attempt a few months earlier, to get a Neptune “down south”. It had crashed on landing.

 The machine was due to take off on Sunday morning. Bertram Jones The Daily Express Sydney correspondent and I invited Admiral Dufek, and his wife – and two US Navy Captains whose vessel were in harbour at Port Littleton to dinner at our hotel Saturday evening. It all went very well. At the end of the evening we said our farewells – two staff cars were waiting at the door of the hotel. Mrs Dufek took me to one side and whispered in my ear, “Don’t worry Mr Heydinger, Dufek is going to put both of you on that P2V.”

 Early Sunday morning we got a call from McBain, giving us the great news. A car would collect us in two hours. I wrote a farewell note to my wife, and placed it on top of my ‘civil’ clothes in a suitcase I left with the concierge. The Neptune (it had retractable wheels in the skis, of course) was flown from the NZ military airfield to Christchurch Airport to take advantage of a longer runway. The news had got around that a Neptune was going take off with JATO, and there were quite a number of Christchurch citizens gathered to watch the event. The crew, Jones, and I, posed for a group photo taken by a Navy photographer.  We roared along the runway under power of two piston engines and two auxiliary  jet engines, and then the JATO blasted us up into the sky. The Admiral called on the RT, and wished me a safe flight.

 The flight was noisy but smooth. One of the crew members grilled us giant steaks, and served us coffee. There were three US Navy vessels on station between Christchurch and McMurdo, and as we approached Antarctica, the navigator plotted the huge icebergs that were appearing below, on a chart, as a likely crash landing place, in an emergency. It took eleven hours to reach McMurdo. The pilot had not made a ski landing before, and he made five dummy descents before he put the machine down on the ice with a series of alarming thuds. Marking the start of the runway was the brilliant red tail section of the previously wrecked Neptune. I had finally made it to the Antarctic, exactly two weeks after I had  arrived in New Zealand. All I had to do now was get to the South Pole.

Heydinger and Jetto.jpg

Stuart Heydinger © with his trusty Rollieflex about to get aboard the US Navy type P2V Neptune (aircraft)…To get it into the air it would be blasted off the runway with sixteen JATO canisters (jet assisted take off). 


 Within a few days by using all his guile and cunning Stuart arrived at the McMurdo Sound US Naval Base on Antarctica to get organised for the historic moment when Fuchs and Hillary were to meet. He and Jones ‘commandeered’ a tracked vehicle to transport all the stuff brought out from the UK. The Muirhead wire machine, the converter, his precious cameras, the mobile darkroom and of course his overnight bag all contained in a wooden crate, made by The Times carpenters back in Printing House Square in London. Although Stuart was aware that the ‘competition’ had already arrived some days earlier  I can’t imagine how he felt when he discovered in the press room five other journalists also waiting for the main event already there and had bagged the best chairs. A United Press ( UP ) correspondent, Noel Barber from the Daily Mail in London, a couple of New Zealanders including a photographer and the ‘embedded’ Times reporter.

Stuart, not a man to hang about particularly after discovering that there was ‘competition’ moved all his kit two miles up the road and around the corner to the New Zealand base.

Hillary arrived at the South Pole first in early January 1958, much to the annoyance of Fuchs who was still some days way out in the white Antarctic wilderness. By the time Stuart had arrived Hillary was back at McMurdo Sound. Stu shook hands with Hillary and received a somewhat frosty reception that had nothing to do with the freezing conditions but had everything to do with all his amazing transmitting machines.

Stuart laid his plans quietly and away from the rest of the press pack with the local radio operator handing him the technical instruction manual for the Muirhead kit which Eddie Price had given him back in London. The radio-man was not enthused.

On the 20th of January 1958 the momentous meeting at the South Pole happened. I leave you for a moment in Stuart’s capable hands.

SH Writes.

Three days before the Fuchs’s party were expected to reach the South Pole, Admiral Dufek arrived at McMurdo by sea – he routinely divided his time between Christchurch and the US Navy’s main Antarctic base.  Next day, at “cocktail hour”, he invited the press corp for drinks in his quarters (officially, the US Navy was  “dry”, but the Admiral had a supply of bourbon whisky – for medicinal purposes). Commander Coley, the officer in charge of flying was present; and Ed Hillary turned up from Scott Base. After several drinks were downed,  the Admiral sent for food from the “chow house”. The party continued and he came and sat next to me. Helped by the alcohol, I launched in to an impassioned plea for a flight to the Pole. The fatherly Admiral said it was getting late in the flying season for flights up to the Polar plateau . My response was to ask why the hell had I risked my neck flying to McMurdo, when now, I  could not go on to  the Pole. That bourbon had some kick! The Admiral got up and took Commander Coley to one side; they were having an earnest discussion – Coley didn’t look at all pleased.

 Admiral Dufek took his seat again, and banged on the table with a glass. “.Gentlemen, a  P2V will be flying to the Pole tomorrow morning; you are all welcome to come along. And turning to Hillary, said  “You too, Ed”. Hillary sat poker faced. Later he was scathing about my plea to the Admiral: “You laid it on a bit thick,” he said. Perhaps so; I had had tears in my eyes, But they touched “old Dufek’s heart.

 The flight to the South Pole took four hours crossing over the awesome Beardmore Glacier, stairway to the Polar Plateau. First crossed by Amundsen, then Scott and now Heydinger.

The press party of six reporters and two photographers overnighted in a Jamesway hut part buried in the snow away from the main South Pole base.

Stuart takes up the tale….

Next day, high excitement -alternating with frustration after several false alarms – Fuchs’s SnoCats trundled into view. The “historic” meeting was at hand. Bunny Fuchs jumped down from the leading vehicle, and Hillary went forward, hand outstretched. I prepared to take a six “yarder” with my Rolleiflex. (On news shots, I never used the focusing screen. The front of the camera’s metal hood could be pushed down and the scene viewed through the opening.) All the reporters had cameras – and little idea – I said to them, “Stand here and we will all get a picture. What a hope! They ran hither and thither, like a bunch of idiots. None of them got a picture of the original handshake. They had the pair shake hands again. Breathless from the high altitude and the dreadful cold, I made my way slowly to the Pole Station darkroom. I missed the celebratory meal laid on for the explorers, and developed my film. The image of the meeting would prove  to be an “icon”. However, it would have been even better without a New Zealand reporter in the background, directly behind the outstretched hands of Hillary and Fuchs. I made radio prints for my Muirhead Transmitting Machine and waited for the return flight to McMurdo.

Stuart and the other photographers made their pictures, the handshake, close ups of grizzled faces, beards encrusted with ice. Good dramatic stuff. These iconic images could well have been the last Stuart or any of his reporter colleagues ever took.

Fuchs on the left meets with Hillary at the South Pole by Stuart Heydinger.jpg

Fuchs on the left with Hillary photographed by Stuart Heydinger©

Stuart again…..

Lying on the floor of the Neptune, everyone doing there best to look suitably brave, we waited for “blast off”. Lining the runway to watch were the newly arrived explorers. The Neptune started to move, gathered speed, and then the JATO kicked-in. The aircraft surged over the snowy wastes of the Polar Plateau, shuddering and leaping under the enormous thrust…….and didn’t become airborne! No longer on the prepared runway, one frozen snow-ridge in our path, and we would have cart wheeled to kingdome come . Our pilot was Commander Coley who had been against Pole flights that were not operationally necessary. I now understood why. His skill at the controls had undoubtedly saved our lives. He taxied back to the start point.

 Examination showed four of the JATO had not fired !                                                                                                                                                                                                                              There were insufficient reserves of JATO at the Pole base, it meant waiting for a second Neptune to bring in more. Hours later the cylinders arrived, and we climbed aboard our Neptune once again. I would rather have taken the train! This time there were no heart-stopping moments. At McMurdo, I managed to get a lift to Scott Base in a Weasel (a vehicle with tracks), where my picture transmitter was about to enable me to scoop the world.

London and the world knew what had happened because the BBC managed to get a radio signal out but what was really needed was photographic proof. All the photographers had essentially the same material and were all in the same boat together. On the ice cap there was no darkroom and certainly no transmission facility.

Or so everyone thought…

The radio operator at Scott Base, the same one who was schmoosed by Stuart a few days earlier, worked tirelessly to get three of Stuarts pictures ‘out’ that he had managed to develop and print in advance at the South Pole. After many delays caused by poor atmospheric weather conditions the word came back from Wellington NZ that the images were of ‘acceptable quality’ and would be passed on to Melbourne in Australia where they would be ‘boosted’ to Baldock in Hertfordshire in the UK before being sent by a GPO land line to Brent International Exchange. I ask the reader to consider all of the above when they ‘ping’ a picture from their camera-telephone in a matter of seconds to anywhere in the world at the press of one button.

It was two in the morning but full daylight under the ‘Big Eye’ of the Sun in the southern hemisphere when Stuart returned to the press billet euphoric with his world exclusive scoop. His colleagues were fast asleep…it had been a tiring day!

The first the opposition knew of this was when they started to receive cables screaming,


Now, although Stuart Heydinger was a tough cookie, ex Para in the British Army and hero of many different scraps around the world, He still took a couple of right handers from one of his so called ‘colleagues’ in particular the UP Correspondent who objected that Stuart, a Brit, was living off a friendship with the US Navy and furthermore that The Times had syndicated his pictures to Life Magazine in America basically scuppering his own UP South Pole coverage for all time.

Stuart relates what happened next…..

One evening I confronted him (the UP Man) about his bitter personal attacks. It resulted in a violent battle on the ice. I suffered a broken nose (a rather prominent feature, which made it an inevitable target for an aggressive fist), and he acquired, among other assorted blows, a boot in the groin. The Marquis of Queensbury rules didn’t apply in Antarctica! That night the Navy surgeon put some stitches in my nose, and promised to reset the bones at a later date. Which he did eventually, complete with plaster cast.. Prompting one tough Seabee (US Navy Construction Branch, CB), to enquire of me, “When is the next ‘Smoker”, Tiger?”

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Stuart with his broken nose © Stuart Heydinger archive

It would take Fuchs and his party six weeks or so to complete the crossing of Antarctica, and arrive at Scott Base. A trying period in the confines of the Press quarters, for my morose adversary and I. But, thankfully a US Navy vessel arrived at McMurdo in the meantime; on board were a bunch of journalists, some from Fleet Street. They could not have been more welcome.

Despite the angry words and the thrown punch Stuart was quietly admired by his colleagues and he became a good friend of the Mail’s Noel Barber who some years later helped to alert a Doctor when Stu went down with severe sandfly fever in Amman in Jordan.

Weeks passed and a bruised and exhausted Stuart returned to blighty. He was feted by his Picture Editor and the management of The Times even being honoured  with a reception hosted by the Chairman, The Honourable Gavin Astor in the Blue Room at Printing House Square. A £200 bonus was a welcome addition.

A few months later the newly appointed Franklyn Wood, who was after all only reacting to his masters requirement left the Times. Maybe he was seen as just too expensive.

Stuart continued to have a much lauded career on The Times where he travelled the world non stop covering stories in the Middle East, Algeria, Singapore, Corsica and the EOKA uprising in Cyprus before  joining the Observer as their ‘Top Man’. After being wounded in Kashmir he carried his cameras out of the country in a bucket of water after he fell into a river to stop the film drying out prior to developing them.

In 2009 he gave a set of original prints to his home town of Kingston upon Thames for their permanent archive.

Interesting fact. Stuart started off in newspapers as a cartoonist for a local paper in Folkestone.

Hey, that’s what I wanted to do.

I am indebted to Stuart Heydinger who as an 92 plus year old photographer now lives with his partner in Germany.

My first draft of this essay was written not knowing if Stuart was still alive. I tracked him down and he very generously offered to read my scribblings and amend and correct as necessary. I did say that the story that I had written may have grown a few whiskers over the years in the telling, his response was, ‘Whiskers, maybe a full grown Bernard Shaw beard would be more like’.

Over a period of a couple of months in 2010 Stuart travelled back in his memory bank and re wrote his history ….there are no whiskers here, no embellishments, no hyperbole, just the truth….which is so much stranger than any fiction.

You couldn’t make it up.

Thanks Stu.

….many years later I climbed Snowdon in Wales with Sir Edmund Hillary and the remains of his Everest team including Lord John Hunt and George Band. It was the 25th anniversary of the 1953 assault and Ed and the team had brought along their families including grandchildren. I was unceremoniously booted out of the Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel their old training base hotel at the foot of Llanberis Pass for attempting to photograph the gang leaving for a light early morning stroll up Snowdon by a pith hat wearing Christopher Briggs the slightly eccentric owner of the hotel.

Lord Hunt, the elder statesman of the team hung back and suggested I follow and do my pictures down the road.

I hung back and followed and watched as Hillary and the whole gang went way out of shot as they climbed up what seemed to me to be a vertical cliff face.

I was supposed to meet up with Ronnie Faux, the Times reporter who specialised in stories about mountain climbers but as Hillary et al disappeared I had no alternative but to follow. I had no provisions, no water, no chew bars and I was wearing a pair of shoes that I wore when I married  my new wife Val a few weeks earlier. I left her with about 80p sitting at a beautiful waterfall a few miles away, as I was only expected to be away for half an hour !

I climbed and fell and used my long telephoto zoom lens as a kind of rock axe to hold onto the crumbling scree face.

After about 4-5 hours I reached a ridge a few hundred feet below the summit where I caught up with the Everest team having a picnic ! Lord Hunt enquired as to where my food was and upon realising that I had nothing proceeded to break up his sandwiches and fruit cake so as to give me half, what a really nice man.

I made a group photograph on the ridge with a tarn in the background and asked where they were going next. ‘Down…that away’. The downward vertical path didn’t look inviting so I elected to climb to the top and take the train down.

By the time I arrived the last train had gone and only the staff train was waiting to take the summit workers down the mountain. I wasn’t allowed on board as it wasn’t allowed that ‘tourists’ could travel on the staff train. It was suggested that I walk back down the mountain, keeping to a prescribed path. I suggested, by sitting on the railway tracks in front of the train that nobody was going anywhere unless I was on board. The stand off lasted a few minutes and I was given a seat.

When I returned to my car I found a note from Ronnie Faux tucked under the wiper blade, he had arrived after me but still managed to walk to the top of Snowden and back before me.

I picked up Val about 8 hours after leaving her near the water falls….she had spent the 80p within  ten minutes of my departure on an ice cream and had eaten nothing else all day.

A couple of years ago I found an old print of my Snowdon group photograph faded and stained by chemicals over the years. I made a decent copy and posted it to; Sir Edmund Hillary, Wellington, New Zealand. That was it, no real address but I guessed everyone knew where the Bee Keeper lived. Within a week I received an email from Ed’s wife thanking me on Ed’s behalf for the print and explaining that Ed wasn’t very well.

Ed died a few months later.

EVEREST TEAM HILLARY IN 1978 PIC 2-203 copy.jpg

George Band, Charles Wylie, Lord John Hunt and Edmund Hillary just below the summit of Snowdon in 1978 on the 25th anniversary of the conquest of Everest in 1953 taken by Brian Harris for The Times © 1978

The cross over interest here is more than just one photographer relating another’s tales of yore. Both Stuart and I have had the most marvellous of lives travelling the world at someone else’s expense, we have both seen history in the raw and both had the ability to be able to communicate that back to our respective reading audience, we are privileged.

A final coda to this chapter….

I also photographed Sir Vivian Fuchs at the Royal Geographical Society in London.             I made a quite formal study of the man. The sort of image that befits a man of a certain generation.

CH13-Fuchs by Harris and Heydinger.jpg

Imagine my horror when the picture ran across the back page of The Times with the top left hand corner cut out….why ?…oh to accommodate an old file photograph of Fuchs meeting Hillary on the South Pole taken by …yup, the rather wonderful Stuart Heydinger.

END © text by Brian Harris and Stuart Heydinger. Photographs © Stuart Heydinger and Brian Harris at The Times.

Thaxted 2018

Posted in Photography,photo-journalism,The Independent,The Times | 6 Comments