George W. Warhurst 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 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.
PREPARE YOURSELF FOR LEAVING AT ONE HOURS NOTICE EQUIPPED PARACHUTE SELF AND TRANSMITTER FOR DROP STOP STANDBY AT HOTEL OR LEAVE ADEQUATE INSTRUCTIONS OF WHEREABOUTS FOR QUICK GETAWAY.
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.
CANCEL PARACHUTE JUMP SOONEST STOP WOOD STOP.
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.
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.
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.
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 with Hillary photographed by Stuart Heydinger©
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,
‘ TIMES OF LONDON HAVE PICTURES STOP WHERE ARE YOURS STOP ’
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?”
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.
….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.
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.
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.