Archive for the ‘grace robertson’ Tag

Back to Becontree (Thurston Hopkins)

This week I did another talk at a secondary school for Robert Peston’s charitySpeakers for Schools‘ – the subject was careers in TV/media, the school was Dagenham Park C of E School in East London (probably the politest school I’ve ever been to). This was off my manor and brought me out to Barking station and then three short tube stops to Dagenham Heath at the eastern end of the District line, where I’d never before ventured. The penultimate stop was Becontree which is where my maternal grandfather came from. A place I’d never visited or even travelled through.

I marked this connection with the locality by putting a photo of my grandfather as my first slide in the talk entitled ‘A Media Career in 21 Pictures’, delivered to 60 energetic and enthusiastic Year 7s (a tough prospect which turned out to be a delight – they particularly picked up on the video game I made, ‘MindGym’). I asked them if they knew what a typewriter was, that machine he’s leaning on – a bright boy with an ear stud near the back explained to his classmates “it’s a keyboard but the writing goes straight onto paper”.

Ian Harris at Picture Post by Thurston Hopkins photographer photograph

Ian Harris at Picture Post by Thurston Hopkins

I keep the photo by my desk (I can reach out and touch it now from where I sit). It was taken when my grandfather, Ian Harris, was working at ‘Picture Post’ magazine as a scientist specialising in printing technology. I decided to Post this Picture (above) because it is not yet on the internet.

1946_Picture_Post_Magazine 1946 Picture Post Magazine cover - April 27, 1946

27th April 1946

I’ve always liked the Hopkins picture because I never ever saw my grandfather smoke but in this the saucer is filled with fag-ends while he’s taking a deep drag. My old next-door-neighbour from childhood years, Michelle Haberl, noticed that the headline on the top newspaper in the pile includes the word “tobacco” and says he was just doing some research (which made me laugh). My younger brother posted this photo in response and captured the essence of the man by saying: “best person i ever knew”:

Ian Harris

Ian Harris

I hardly recognise him in this picture because of the hat which places him in a film noir – along with yet another cigarette. I don’t know who took this photograph, perhaps Hopkins or another Picture Post staffer.

‘Picture Post’ ran from just before the war (1938) to 1957 and was the equivalent of ‘Life’ magazine in the USA, a popular magazine centred on excellent photo-journalism and visually led. Its photographers included Bert Hardy, Thurston Hopkins, Grace Robertson, Kurt Hutton, Felix H. Man/Hans Baumann, Francis Reiss, Humphrey Spender, John Chillingworth and Leonard McCombe. Its editorial perspective was liberal and anti-Fascist, campaigning from its launch against the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany.

Thurston Hopkins passed away only four years ago. I regret now not having thought to look him up and go visit. He was born on 16th April 1913 (two years before my grandfather) and lived to 101.

He studied graphic art at Brighton College of Art and was a self-taught photographer. He started out by joining the PhotoPress Agency, reflecting the shift in newspapers from illustration to photography (the kind of printing technology advance which was at the heart of my grandfather’s scientific career).  During the Second World War he served in the RAF Photographic Unit in Italy and the Middle East (my grandfather by contrast served in the Navy, based in Portsmouth, in some kind of secret scientific capacity he never spoke of in any detail). That’s where Hopkins took up his trusty Leica which was his weapon of choice throughout his career (apart from the odd occasional use of a Rolleiflex). It’s also where he saw Picture Post, at military posts everywhere. After the war he worked for new London agency Camera Press.

Hopkins put together a dummy issue of Picture Post made up entirely of his own photos and features to get him the gig as a freelancer. He went onto the staff in 1950, working exclusively for PP.

One of his first stories was centred on stray cats living in London’s many bomb sites and alleys, ‘Cats of London’ (24th Feb 1951).

Thurston Hopkins La Dolce Vita, Knightsbridge, London, 1953 photograph

La Dolce Vita, Knightsbridge, London, 1953

This was one of his best known and most commercially successful photographs (the driver is a West End chauffeur).

Hopkins did stories about children playing on urban streets to highlight the need for playground provision. In 1956 he photographed a story on the slums of Liverpool which ended up being spiked when city officials complained to the magazine’s proprietor, Edward Hulton, about its negative portrayal of the city. Yesterday afternoon I was helping judge the Popular Factual category of the Broadcast Awards. I noticed that one of the programmes entered, ‘The £1 Houses’ (Channel 4/Topical), set in Liverpool drew similar flack (unconvincing) from the municipal authorities. Photographers as messengers at risk of being on the receiving end of the proverbial shooting.

Hopkins met his wife, a fellow photographer, at Picture Post, marrying in 1955. She was  Grace Robertson. She also published under the name Dick Muir in order to secure work at the Report agency at a time when prejudice against women photographers was still rife in the industry.

photographers Thurston Hopkins and Grace Robertson by harry borden

Thurston Hopkins and Grace Robertson by Harry Borden

After the closure of Picture Post in 1957 Hopkins went into advertising photography, based in his Chiswick studio. He taught on the highly reputed photography course at Guildford School of Art. In his later years he returned to an early love, painting.

thurston hopkins photographer picture post

thurston-hopkins-lipstick-check_thurston hopkins photographer picture post

thurston-hopkins-lipstick-check_thurston hopkins photographer picture post

 

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