Page 9 - Photography

                                                    Celebrity Photos

'Much as I enjoyed broadcasting you can have too much of good thing,' says Roger. 'I needed a break from the daily grind - the endless reporting, news bulletins and production work - something I could call my own. It's better to have a theme, than taking random images. So I photographed public figures who dominated the landscape when I was young - royalty, broadcasters, writers, artists, actors, politicians etc. Some were arranged sittings, others I sought out at public events where I took candid shots.

'I started at the top - the Queen - and worked downwards. Granted, I never met Elizabeth II. Yet I was able to take her portrait, as opposed to a journalistic shot, during an early visit to the Mall. A small miracle occurred one year while I was photographing the Queen returning from Trooping the Colour. As she approached on horseback the Queen stared straight at me with her steel-blue eyes. It was only a glance and I doubt if she noticed me. But for a fraction of a second she looked into the lens of my camera - a wonderful proud gaze (left). That was enough. It transformed a documentary photo into a portrait. By a stroke of luck I'd taken a regal picture and a candid character study.

'Luck's all very well, but it's seldom occurred in my life. I was reluctant to rely on it too often. To produce properly composed pictures and revealing portraits I needed to take charge of a sitting and control the graphics.'

So Roger got in touch with well-known people and asked to take their portraits. Among those who came before his cameras were the actor Sir Ralph Richardson and the man who changed the face of British theatre, John Osborne. His Look Back in Anger caused a sensation when first staged in 1956. The art historian Lord Clark, whose television series Civilisation gained worldwide acclaim, used one of Roger's portraits on a book jacket (left). Sculptor Henry Moore was pictured at work in his studio. And artists Graham Sutherland, John Piper, Feliks Topolski, and the President of the Royal Academy Sir Hugh Casson, agreed.   

Roger photographed the Queen's couturier, Sir Norman Hartnell, a few weeks before he died (below). Roger had gone along to his Mayfair salon to record an edition of John Snagge's London. 'John and I were shown into a large, white-painted room lined with mirrors,' says Roger. 'This was where Sir Norman first met the Queen when she was a young princess. The couturier designed the fabulous gowns worn on state occasions, including the Coronation. Sir Norman told us the press were keen to find out what was happening. So he whitewashed the windows to stop cameras peering in.

'During the recording a disturbing incident occurred. Sir Norman suddenly stopped talking and clutched his chest. "It's my angina!" he gasped. Red-faced, he told us he suffered from a heart complaint.

We paused while Sir Norman mentioned some pills he had to take.

Putting his hand in his pocket John Snagge pulled out a small cardboard box containing the same tablets and offered them to Sir Norman. He, too, had heart trouble. Sir Norman washed down a couple with a glass of water and an assistant brought in more pills. Sir Norman told us he had to be cautious and had a rule, "Always walk away from an argument."

'After a lull Sir Norman recovered and insisted on going on with the recording. When the programme was over he sat on a window seat and I took some snapshots). A few days later John told me Sir Norman had sent him a letter. He'd enjoyed the broadcast so much he'd invited John down to Royal Ascot for the racing. But Sir Norman never made it. Before Ascot took place he died of a heart attack. I'd recorded one of his last broadcasts and taken some of his last pictures. He was charming and easy to work with.' 

Roger approached J.B. Priestley, however, with trepidation (left). 'This bluff Yorkshireman was known for speaking his mind and saying what he thought. The photographer Bill Brandt told me he'd had a run-in with the author a few years before. Portraiture is a hazardous business. Priestley was moody and difficult. When he saw Bill Brandt's efforts he exploded. He wrote an angry letter. Brandt, he said, had made him look like "a Chinese murderer." Years later when I photographed him Priestley was still smarting. "Bill Brandt," he bellowed as I cowered behind my camera trying to make him look pleasant, "is a bad photographer. It was terrible - awful. When he came here he seemed more interested in Bill Brandt than me."

'"Here", was his beautiful country estate at Alverston, in Warwickshire. Although a socialist, Priestley liked the good things in life. He wore an expensive, but baggy, worsted jacket - the sort of shapeless clothing Englishmen favoured in the 1940s, with bulges all over the place. He looked as if he'd been stuffed into a sack full of potatoes. Nonetheless, I persevered and was able to secure some reasonable images. My favourite showed the author standing by a classical urn in the garden wearing his slippers and smoking a pipe. Judging by the letter I received when I sent him some prints Priestley liked the results.'

The session with the Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman (left) was less successful. 'Sir John had suffered a stroke,' says Roger, 'and I had difficulty making him look at his best. Photographers such as Richard Avedon and Diane Arbus gloated when they photographed the sick and aged. They claimed their ugly images were brutally honest. I thought them vulgar and exploitative and have never gone in for that kind of work. So photographing Sir John was alarming. I was hoping to catch a  happy, smiling figure - perhaps wearing a straw hat, with a cigarette holder sticking out of his mouth at a jaunty angle - the familiar television image loved by millions. Instead I was confronted with a dying poet. Sir John sat forlornly in his chair in his Chelsea home and never smiled.

'Later, when I read his biographies, I discovered he had a darker side. He must have realised I'd caught that aspect of his character because he sent me a touching letter written in his own hand saying he was "very pleased" with the results. They were "really very like and quite flattering ... You are an excellent photographer and a portrait artist." Alas, my pictures were less artistic than I wished. It was never my intention to make him look sad and lonely, but that's what my camera caught - lonely old age.

'On the other hand, the ballet dancer Dame Marie Rambert was on splendid form. "Madame will see you at 11," said the man at the end of the phone who made the arrangements. Then he added some words of warning. "Dame Marie is the most elusive person to photograph. She prefers to be photographed spontaneously, rather than pose." A photographer from The Times was recently given only five minutes and asked to leave, he told me.

'I'd long wanted to meet this legendary figure in the ballet world who had worked with Stravinsky and Diaghilev, as well as the dancer Alicia Markova. Sharp on 11 o'clock I arrived at her Notting Hill flat. Dame Marie swept into her sitting-room - a tiny woman of ninety, with a charming smile and silver hair. Some people called her petite, but she said she disliked the word. It was "too journalistic."

'We shook hands and walked over to the bay window (above). As we did so I asked whether she still taught ballet. No, said Dame Marie. Talking made her tired, but each morning she did her exercises. And there and then she rested one hand on the back of a settee, went up on her points, kicked her legs high in the air, put her hands above her head and finished the display by balancing on one leg.

'After that it seemed an anti-climax to ask her to sit in a chair, or stand by the window. But the room was too dark for action shots. As I took pictures we talked about her life and career and she asked me about mine. At one point she said, "You have a beautiful speaking voice - so clear and warm." We got on famously and I stayed 70 minutes.'