Page 5 - Life in the BBC                                               

 
            
                                               
New York
                                                               and
                                    the Royal Yacht Britannia


Besides Russia, Roger spent a week reporting life in New York city. 'On my first evening I walked down Fifth Avenue and headed for that Art Deco masterpiece, the Empire State Building. Lifts swept me up to the 86th floor - 1,050 feet above the street. New York was bathed in silvery-grey light from a cloudy sky, with occasional bursts of golden sunlight.

'After taking a few photos on the windy terrace I retreated inside to an observation platform. This was lined with huge mirrors reflecting the city. So I took a picture of myself reflected in the glass, with New York and a hazy Hudson River in the background (left). Then it was down to earth.

'For the next week my colleagues and I were engaged in grinding work. I toiled 14 hours a day reporting social conditions in New York. On one occasion I had to go to the British consulate on Lexington Avenue. Supporters of the IRA were demonstrating against the British. The police had cordoned off part of the road with blue fences, while American sympathisers with black armbands trooped round and round chanting abuse against the British government. This was a daily ritual. Next day they were at it again  at Madison Square Garden where the Coldstream Guards were performing. For years I'd reported the IRA bombing campaign in London. Here I was face-to-face with men who were sponsoring the random killing of innocent people in my own country. They were supposed to be our closest allies. Americans are less keen on terrorism now.

'Although I concentrated on serious issues - crime, race relations, education, business and finance, gun culture and public transport - I carried a camera everywhere I went. This was my first and only visit New York and I was fascinated by the city. While hurrying from one assignment to another I'd pause in the street to snap a picture - stopping just seconds to grab a photo before heading for my next appointment - everything from an early Calvin Klein advert five storeys high in Times Square (above) to a shop window in Greenwich Village, and graffiti in a subway car.

'What interested me photographically about New York had nothing to do with what I was reporting for the BBC. I caught one city with my camera and another with my microphone. I was working on two levels at once - mundane reality when broadcasting and the exciting city of my imagination when taking pictures. This was a city of soaring towers and fabulous glamour. I saw it through the eyes of the movies and Life magazine.

'During that hectic week I photographed hundreds of subjects, including the World Trade Centre which I twice visited (left). I remember thinking how flimsy the Twin Towers looked compared with the Empire State Building. Twenty years later they lay in rubble and the terror war began. I must have had a premonition  because I took more pictures of the Twin Towers than any other buildings in New York. I photographed them from many angles and at various times of day. Years later I shuddered when I looked at those pictures. Many of my photos were taken from the same points of view photographers chose when recording the towers crashing in flames.'

The highpoint of the trip was meeting two great photographers - André Kertész and Arnold Newman. Kertész had pioneered photojournalism. Roger went along to his Fifth Avenue flat overlooking Washington Square. 'I photographed Kertész indoors and on his balcony overlooking the square. From here he'd taken some of his most memorable photos using a telescopic lens. There was no other way, he told me. The square was now filled with students, hippies and drug dealers and he'd been attacked when he appeared with a camera.'

Next morning Roger visited Arnold Newman in his studio near Central Park. He spent two hours with the master of the environmental portrait. Arnold was just off to Washington to photograph President Reagan in the White House. 'My eighth president,' he said.

'I had a great time in New York,' Roger recalls. 'But ultimately it was a frustrating experience because I had to dash back to London as soon as the broadcasts were over. If only I could have stayed another week taking photos I could have produced a comprehensive essay on the city. As it was I have a disjointed series of images - good photos, but not enough for a book.'


New York is one of many places abroad Roger has visited during his broadcasting career. While reporting for a holiday programme he travelled to Greece, Crete, Rhodes, Lindos, Germany, Denmark, Luxembourg and Paris. These provided opportunities for more photography as well as making recordings. 'The holiday progammes were a welcome break from reporting news and social affairs,' says Roger. 'Given a choice between reporting housing and transport problems, or exploring the Minoan Palace of Knossos in Crete  (above), I'd chose the palace every time. But social issues paid my salary. Holiday programmes were a fun element in broadcasting - something I did on the side.'

Most enjoyable of all was flying to Lisbon, in Portugal. There Roger recorded documentaries about life on board the Royal Yacht Britannia while she was still in service - five hours of interviews with the admiral in charge, officers and men, plus the marine band and sound effects. Roger visited all parts of the ship from the bridge (left) to the royal apartments, engine room, laundry, galley and the officers' wardroom and crew's quarters. The material was broadcast on the BBC World Service and national radio. Like the Albert Speer interviews and the John Snagge programmes these royal yacht recordings are now preserved in the BBC Sound Archives.

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