Page 11 - Photography


                    Powers in the Land

While working as a BBC political reporter Roger came in contact with numerous politicians, including the big beasts of the Labour Party. 'For a time it looked as if the Left might take over the country. I photographed prominent politicians whenever opportunities arose. Most were journalistic shots rather than portraits, but nonetheless interesting character studies. They included the Labour leader Michael Foot and former cabinet ministers such as Dennis Healey and his arch rival Tony Benn, the enfant terrible of British politics. They were a fractious lot in the Labour Party. Things became so bad that four former cabinet ministers - Roy Jenkins, Dr David Owen, Shirley Williams and William Rogers - the Gang of Four - walked out and formed a new party, the SDP. I added them to my photo collection, but they fizzled out politically.'

Roger trained his cameras on other controversial figures. He pictured Greater London Council leader Ken Livingstone in his spacious office at County Hall and leading mass demonstrations (left). 'It was like the storming of the Winter Palace,' declared Ken on one occasion when a huge crowd swarmed around London's parliament, County Hall, and surged up the steps.


Albert Speer adopted poses similar to Adolf Hitler's, while the Communist spy Alger Hiss sat sadly in a chair talking about his life. The Watergate conspirator John Dean III, whose testimony helped bring down President Nixon, ended up in prison. But when Roger photographed him he looked happy having just published a book on the affair. John Dean wore an immaculate herringbone suit and looked as if he'd just stepped out of the White House. 
 
Roger caught four prime ministers on film - Harold Wilson smoking his pipe, Edward Heath on a yacht, James Callaghan at an agricultural show, and Margaret Thatcher presenting keys to a family who'd bought their council home (left). 'I was broadcasting from London's Ideal Home Exhibition that day and heard Margaret Thatcher was going to attend so I went along with my cameras,' Roger recalls. 'It was quite a scrum sandwiched between battling TV crews and press photographers. And I had the wrong equipment for a job like this - my old-fashioned Rolleis. The light level was low and I had to rely on the TV lights for illumination. Nonetheless, I persevered and secured some good likenesses. I had more success, however, when photographing the former Labour prime minister, Sir Harold Wilson. He came to BBC Radio London in the summer of 1981 to make a record programme.

'Sir Harold arrived at 10.30 one morning wearing a blue suit and even louder blue socks. While prime minister Sir Harold had a series of blazing rows with the BBC and there was bad blood between him and the corporation. He appeared bumptious in public and had a grating Yorkshire voice. Critics complained about his vanity and arrogance. Should a Labour prime minister, they asked, ride around in a motorcade with police outriders and wailing sirens? Many people loathed Sir Harold. How would he behave when he came to a BBC local radio station?

'Seldom has a public figure appeared more different in private. The Sir Harold I met was quiet, modest and charming. Apart from a private detective he arrived at our studios alone. Sir Harold was courteous to everyone. Settling down happily amongst the clutter of the Arts office, he puffed away on his pipe amid clouds of smoke (left) and agreed to my photographing him.


'My photos revealed a more sensitive and vulnerable Harold Wilson than the one normally on display in public. He was fluent in front of the microphone as he'd always been. But once of twice he lost the thread of what he was saying. "My memory is not as good as it once was," he mumbled apologetically. At the end of the recording I took a few posed close-ups. Enveloped in clouds of tobacco smoke Sir Harold chatted amiably about photography and Japanese cameras. He told me how much he admired the portrait Yousef Karsh took of Winston Churchill during World War II. The photographer had caught a tremendous expression.

'As we came out of the studio we ran into the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir David McNee. He'd come to take part in a phone-in hosted by Tony Blackburn. Sir Harold and Sir David greeted each other like long-lost friends and gossipped for a couple of minutes. Sir David expressed irritation at an article published in that morning's Guardian newspaper. The writer claimed he was failing to do enough to help race relations. Sir Harold consoled him, saying he was never able to please the really radical. "There are more Trots on The Guardian than there are in the BBC," he observed. While the two men talked I took pictures (above) and was able to capture one of the best shots in the morning.'

A few weeks later Roger photographed the former Conservative leader, Edward Heath, at Cowes in the Isle of Wight (below). As prime minister Mr Heath had taken Britain into the European Common Market. But he had interests outside politics - music and yachting - and had gone down  to Cowes to watch the Fastnet Race.

'Mr Heath  appeared on a pontoon in Cowes harbour where I was taking pictures,' Roger remembers. 'The pontoon heaved up and down in the swell and vibrated when people ran across it. Mr Heath arrived on his own, quietly making his way through the crowds. Emblazoned in white letters over his heart was the name of his yacht, Morning Cloud. His  hair was snow white. He wore sunglasses and looked bronzed and fit, although plump and double-chinned. Occasionally, he exchanged a few words with one of two yachtsmen. At other times he stood silent, lost in thought.

'Without warning, the pontoon on which we were standing tilted at an alarming angle. Heck, I thought, we're going to capsize! The angle increased. I struggled to retain my balance. For a moment I feared I might tumble into the water. Stepping back sharply I jumped onto a neighbouring pontoon. Meanwhile, the weighty Mr Heath calmly shifted himself to the rising side of the tilting pontoon, as did the people swirling round him. Slowly, the pontoon righted itself. People laughed nervously. But Mr Heath remained impassive, as if nothing had happened - not a flicker of an expression. The former prime minister then clambered on board a large white motor cruiser. He exchanged a few words with people near him, but otherwise remained absorbed by the yachts and his own thoughts - a lonely, isolated man. I could see him eying my camera suspiciously as I took my pictures. He looked ill at ease. But I was able to take a striking shot of him in profile.'

Another prominent visitor to the Isle of Wight was the British naval commander and statesman, Earl Mountbatten of Burma. 'He was an awesome figure,' Roger recalls. 'During World War II Mountbatten was Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia. Then First Sea Lord and Chief of the Defence Staff. As last Viceroy he negotiated India's independence and created the Muslim state of Pakistan. I photographed him shortly after he became Governor of the Isle of Wight in 1965. Mountbatten knew the island well having trained as a cadet at Osborne Royal Naval College. When he became the island's governor he toured the isle and attended Wootton church fête. There I was able to catch him signing autographs (left), making a speech and talking to guests. I was a student when I took the pictures and was able to work close to him. Lord Mountbatten took seriously his duties as governor. He visited the island regularly for the rest of his life until he was murdered by IRA terrorists in 1979.'

Within days of recording Lord Mountbatten on film Roger encountered the future Labour prime minister, James Callaghan, at an agricultural show on the Isle of Wight (left). But most of the opportunities to record major public figures occurred later in life when Roger became a broadcaster. Lord Hailsham obliged after Roger produced his camera following an interview. And the Methodist minister and Labour peer, Lord Soper, provided lively actions shots while addressing a crowd at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park one Sunday afternoon.


Besides photographing Queen Elizabeth II during her public appearances Roger photographed other royals as they went about their duties. He caught Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Michael of Kent at Henley Royal Regatta. When the Prince of Wales came to Richmond  (below) Roger was there with his cameras: 
'I photographed him in the early years of his marriage to Diana. He was on his own that day and looked self-conscious and embarrassed. Few of us knew what was going on behind the scenes and that the marriage would end in disaster and spark a constitutional crisis.

'There was something odd about Prince Charles's behaviour when he came to Richmond. It was just a local affair, not a national event, but nonetheless useful for getting known and earning popularity. His grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, took these things in her stride.  She knew how to handle crowds and appear to advantage when cameras were near. Prince Charles, on the other hand, didn't seem to care. He turned his back and made it difficult to take good pictures. This made him unpopular with the press and did him harm. The time to make friends is before you need them. When the storm broke he needed all  the help he could get. His good qualities were vitiated by a lack of media savvy. What happened in Richmond was an indication of troubles to come.'

In between broadcasts Roger found time to photograph the Polish pope. John Paul II was the first non-Italian to hold this high office for 450 years. He was more than a religious leader. Pope John Paul II played a key role in the Cold War and helped bring about the fall of Communism. A gunman had tried to assassinate him in Rome and he travelled everywhere in an armoured vehicle - the Popemobile. This made him difficult to photograph, but Roger was determined to try. When John Paul II came to London Roger joined the crowds who lined the streets. 'The pope zoomed by at quite a speed and was difficult to catch,' says Roger. 'One moment he was there, the next he was gone. He was surrounded by police mounted on motorcycles and followed by a huge motorcade. Security men clung to his vehicle and there was one in the cab behind him (above).  But it was worth trying.'

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