On my way to becoming a doctor I accidentally became a photojournalist. Here’s how it happened.

In school, arts and science interested me equally but, at the age of sixteen, I had to choose between them. In the sixth form, one could study either but not both. After some heart searching I chose science with the ambition of becoming a doctor in Africa. I ended up a photojournalist in Fleet Street. And all because of a book.

The medical school where I found a place a couple of years later, was located close to London’s Charing Cross Road. Then, as now, the Road was famous for it’s second hand bookshops. One afternoon, I was browsing the bargain box outside a shop, when a tattered volume caught my eye.

Entitled People I Have Shot, it was the autobiography of James Jarché, one of Fleet Street’s first press photographers. He described his life in newspapers, the assignments he had covered around the world, the famous people he had met and the adventures he had. I bought the book for a shilling (5p) and spent the rest of the afternoon and much of the night engrossed in it. By dawn I was hooked.

Next morning, I quit my medical studies. That afternoon, I applied to and was accepted by the Regent Street Polytechnic’s School of Photography. Lectures on photojournalism started in the second year and we were encouraged to find and cover our own assignments. I choose to produce a story on the lives of North Sea trawler men. A few weeks later I sailed from Lowestoft at the start of a three-week long fishing trip. I came home with around 400 photographs some of which are in my book.

On leaving photographic school, I wrote to all the national newspapers confidently expecting my Diploma would make them eager to find me a job on their then vast photographic staffs. At that time the Daily Express, for example, employed 64 photographers. Their responses left me in no doubt that their picture editors’ felt more than able to manage without my services.

Since no one wanted to employ me, I knew of only one person who would. Myself! For the next eighteen months, I supplied photographs on a freelance basis to local newspapers. For each published picture I received a guinea (£1  1s) and, on a typical Friday or Saturday night, might have to cover twenty events and drive over 60 miles within a three-hour time slot. I quickly became adept at grabbing a shot and being on my way again in as little time as possible.

Over time, more interesting assignments came my way.  For a French magazine, I scaled Nelson’s column to take pictures of the Trafalgar Square and the virtually empty surrounding streets. You will find this shot in my new book.  To expand my range of possible subjects, I trained in both SCUBA and sky-diving. I also learned to fly in order to take aerial pictures, especially of shipping disaster, such as the image of a cargo vessel shot twenty miles off the coast. After a couple of years, I moved first to London and then Paris where I supplied photographs to a number of agencies and also began to be commissioned by such major magazines as Paris Match, Oggi, Stern and Life.

In 1969 I was sent on my first assignment to Belfast where civil war, (euphemistically known as ‘the Troubles’), had broken out. Over the next few years I witnessed many horrific sights. Friends I had made and people I had met (on both sides of the sectarian divide) were shot dead, blown up, burnt out or forced to flee.  Towards the end of the 70’s I’d had enough. The world of media was changing fast and my type of photojournalism was no longer in such demand.

During my career, I photographed much that was good, much that was bad and a great deal that was ugly. Like the man who had started it all for me, James Jarché, I had rubbed shoulders with the famous and infamous. From Royalty to TV and film stars, Tom Jones and the Beatles, to the Kray brothers and John Profumo. I had covered events that were joyous, bizarre, funny, tragic, dangerous, terrifying and downright silly.

My book is a photographic record of some 200 of them. I do hope you enjoy it.