Page 12 - Photography


Radio and TV Stars


Roger has photographed numerous broadcasters. They include veteran announcers John Snagge, Alvar Lidell, Stuart Hibberd and Frank Phillips - the official voices of the BBC during World War II. 'As I was going to do a lot of newsreading I thought I'd better find out how it was done,' says Roger. 'And who better to consult than the classic announcers? They had tremendous prestige. John and Stuart went back to the 1920s - the earliest days of broadcasting and the BBC. I made programmes with all of them and took their pictures.

'John Snagge (left) had what one critic called "a blue-faced military voice" - a voice that boomed out of loudspeakers like the chimes of Big Ben. Yet he was never a military man. In real life he was quiet and soft-spoken - his voice barely rising above a whisper. The micophone magnified the sound. He had a great sense of humour and a fund of stories about historic events and famous people that I recorded.   


'The BBC's Chief Announcer Stuart Hibberd was famous for the expression "This - is London." In 1936 he announced the death of King George V - "The king's life is moving peacefully to its close." Stuart once arrived at a station late at night to find the last train had gone. When he told the staff he was from the BBC the railway company laid on a special train to take him home. Long after he retired listeners still remembered him with affection. People raised their hats to him as he passed in the street when I went to see him in Devon in the 1970s.'


Alistair Cooke, who entertained millions of listeners across the globe for over half a century with his Letter from America, was as relaxed as one of his radio talks. 'I photographed Alistair in his suite at the Connaught Hotel when he came to London,' says Roger (left). 'I was met by a tall, slim figure, with swept-back silver hair, wearing a fox-coloured jacket. Alistair had just returned from his tailor and wore English clothes. He was  genial and easy to work with. "Take your time," he said as I set up my cameras. I suggested I might photograph him writing at the desk in the bay window. "I never use a pen'" he said with a smile. "I'll go and fetch my type writer." Moments later he returned, tidied up his papers and placed the machine on the desk. The trouble with television, he said as I began to take pictures, was they always overlit the subject. They had lights high up on the right and left. These cast ugly shadows - he pointed - under the nose. He preferred softer, gentler light. I followed his advice ever since when taking portraits. In this case window light and bounced flash. Alistair rolled a sheet of paper into his typewriter. "Gudd evening," he said, smiling again as he uttered the famous words he used when introducing Letter from America.

'We chatted as I worked. Had he ever felt nervous in front of a microphone, or on television, I wondered? Well, it was difficult to answer that one now, he said. But he was conscious when he listened to recordings of broadcasts he'd made during his first year - 40 years ago - that they lacked the naturalness he'd later acquired. "It took me about a year to find the right tune. I liked experimenting and making the writing sound as much like speech as possible - if necessary repeating a word, or phrase, as you would in real life. Back in the '30s the only natural broadcasters were gardeners like Mr Middleton." He had started broadcasting on radio in the 1930s and television in the 1950s, he told me. So which did he prefer? Radio, he said, as you were on your own and there was no-one between you and the listener. You could use your imagination, choose your words and conjure up pictures in listeners' minds. He'd been writing his Letter from America for 32 year. It would be a wrench if he had to stop.

'I secured a good crop of pictures, one of which ended up in the National Portrait Gallery's collection. When I met Alistair a few months later to record an interview about his latest book Six Men, I gave him three prints from our sitting. He seemed delighted and thanked me warmly. He told me
the journalist Philip Oakes, who worked for The Sunday Times, had recently visited him. With him was a photographer who had taken a vast number of pictures. These, he was assured, would enable an artist to produce a line drawing to illustrate the article. The picture was terrible. "Why, I could do better myself." To prove the point Alistair showed me a caricature he'd drawn in a notebook. We got on famously and after the interview he drew a similar picture of himself on the half-title of my copy of his book (left). I then got up to go, not wanting to outstay my welcome. But he said,  "No, stay bit longer." And we chatted happily for the next 20 minutes. It was good to meet someone who, in real life, resembled their image on air. It's not always so. Some of the most popular broadcasters, who charm millions of listeners and viewers, are devils to work with.'

That accusation, however, is never made about Sir Terry Wogan - a national treasure on radio and television. Roger photographed him mugging and pulling faces when he turned up at Hyde Park for the Veteran Car Rally (left). The artist and singer, Rolf Harris, also had a sense of fun. He got out his accordion and started playing when Roger appeared. The football guru Jimmy Hill, who ran Fulham Football Club and presented TV sports shows, looked dapper and relaxed at Henley Royal Regatta. The former war reporter, Godfrey Talbot, was also good-natured. He was at El Alamein, Monte Casino and witnessed Rome's liberation. Afterwards Godfrey became the BBC's first royal correspondent, a post he held for 20 years. And the TV journalist David Dimbleby, noted for his sharp political interviews, appeared in a  more genial guise when presenting prizes at the Richmond May Fair.

The TV astronomer, Sir Patrick Moore, invited Roger to visit his observatory at Selsey, in Sussex. Patrick began presenting his monthly astronomy programme, The Sky at Night, in 1957. He now holds the world record for the longest-running TV programme with the same presenter. 'I met him in the summer of 1977,' Roger recalls. 'Patrick was a huge man - almost spherical - and wore shambling, crumpled suits that never seemed to fit. We went out into his garden and I took dozens of photographs amongst his astronomical equipment (left) and later in his study. Over lunch Patrick offered me wine. Pouring out a golden liquid, he handed me a glass. "Do you know what that is?" he asked. "Banana. Made it myself. You get a bucket, half fill it with water, then stir and put in yeast. After the bubbling has stopped you drain the liquid and strain until it's clear. Our rose petal wine is even better."  Banana wine was new to me, but tasted delicious.'

Patrick built up a huge following over the years. So did that much-loved broadcaster Brian Johnston. Celebrated for his cricket commentaries and Down Your Way Johnners, as he was affectionately known, came before Roger's cameras many times:  'I met Brian covering the Boat Race (below), during various royal events and at Henley Royal Regatta. Brian was a real life-enhancer - as fun to meet in private as he was on the air. He treated everyone the same, whether high or low. Brian had no airs, or graces. He made broadcasting sound easy, but was always meticulously prepared. Curiously enough, in 1970, the BBC television sports department sacked him. They no longer wanted Brian for cricket commentaries. He was too jokey for some tastes. But Brian bounced back on radio and published numerous books. For the next 25 years his reputation grew until he became a national institution. When he died in 1994 millions mourned. "Summers will not be the same," declared the prime minister, John Major, who attended Brian's memorial service at Westminster Abbey.'

Max Robertson, renowned for his lightning tennis commentaries, was amenable as Brian while having his picture taken. Margaret Howard, who presented Pick of the Week and music programmes, asked to have her photo taken in a Broadcasting House studio. And television's grand inquisitor - Robin Day - who broke new ground with challenging interviews - was pictured in his children's play room (left). 'I'd gone along to his London home,' says Roger. 'The only quiet room in the house was a basement playroom at the back. There was a blue rocking horse in one corner and a teddy bear reclined on a chair. During the course of the interview I asked him why he left BBC TV's flagship current affairs programme Panorama in 1972? "I was sacked," he said simply. But like Brian Jonhston Robin Day rose again and became even more famous and popular when presenting the lunchtime radio news programme, the World at One, and Question Time on TV.'

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