Cannon to the Left of them (Jokers to the Right)

As a bloke once said to me:

Half a league, half a league,
  Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death,
  Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
  Rode the six hundred.

01_1936 Charge of the Light Brigade LC

My regular reader, George in Cheltenham, will tell you that I’m no fan of war. Like Woody Allen in the event of war I’d be recruited as a hostage (that’s where the comparison between us ends). The army wouldn’t want me. I’m hopeless. I faint at the sight of blood, mine especially. Khaki is not my colour. I once soiled myself during a game of Paintball.

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldiers knew
  Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
  Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
  Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
  Rode the six hundred.

So let’s all hope it doesn’t come to this again. You can be sure of a few things: If and when The Crimea War II bursts into action, there will be a few more than 600 involved, and the Russians won’t be just to the right of them and to the left of them and in front of them , they’ll be over the top of them and not just lobbing shells at them. Me?  I’ll be digging a hole in my back garden, wearing my tin hat, inside a Chieftain Tank. I shall be singing selections from Running Songs and Surrendering Ballads by the Queen’s Own Cowards, and crying a lot.

Flash’d all their sabres bare,
Flash’d as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
  All the world wonder’d:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro’ the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel’d from the sabre-stroke
Shatter’d and sunder’d.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

1936 : The Chargeof the Light Brigade.  Errol Flynn flashes not only his Sabre but also his avocado collection.

1936 : The Charge of the Light Brigade. Future (alleged) Nazi Spy Errol Flynn flashes not only his ‘sabre bare’ but also other, favoured weapon. Like the murderer, Ruth Ellis, Flynn was famously well hung.

You see, there are a couple of things that worry me. Ok,ok, President Obama has said that there will be ‘Costs’ if Russia invades Ukraine (bit late on that one, methinks, O). But he also warned Syria’s Assad that he risked crossing a “red line” if he engaged in chemical attacks on his own people. That seems to have gone well, doesn’t it ? Shouldn’t someone tell POTUS that when warning someone not to do something, it’s always best to do it BEFORE they’ve done something, or it may come across as a bit of an empty threat.

 Not that I am against empty threats, you understand. Some of my largest threats have been absolutely bereft of any substance whatsoever. Only last week I threatened The Incumbent that if I didn’t start selling enough T-shirts to sustain us soon, then I would go and find some work back in journalism. Absolute bollocks. Never meant a word of it.  And she knew it. It was seventeenth-such threat since 2011.

No, I’m happy with Obama pretending he’s gonna do something about the pesky Russians, when really he knows (and they know. And what’s more they know he knows. And they know he knows that they kno…) that he’s gonna do no such thing. And I’m all in favour of that. We’ve had enough of mad wars for the time being, haven’t we? Yes, yes, I know the Crimea is very strategically important and all that; and “you can’t just let the bullies get away with it” argument; and that Putin is illegally invading a sovereign state (full of Nazi sympathisers, I might point out— if I hadn’t pointed that out before). But do we really want to go back down the David Hemmings’ route again ?

1968. David Hemmings tries to make a better stab of it than Errol Flynn. He failed too.

1968. David Hemmings tries to make a better stab of it than Errol Flynn had back in 1936. He failed miserably too.

If Obama goes to war, Cameron won’t be able to resist sending what’s left of the British Army (if Gideon hasn’t sacked them all by then). There’ll be months of slaughter, then we’ll pull out and let the inevitable civil war kick off. Then we’ll get weeks of graphic photographs in the papers, and footage on the news, up until the editors/public get bored and they concentrate on the new series of  X-Factor or Strictly.

Then Hollywood spots an opportunity for a remake or three. I don’t think the world needs another epic, sprawling, bloody awful movie about the Battle of Balaclava, Sevastopol or Crimean War, do you ? Haven’t we already had enough wars to write and make movies about without starting a new one ? It won’t be David Hemmings this time, it’ll be Brad Pitt. Cate Blanchett will play Florence Nightingale, Oprah Winfrey as Queen Victoria, and Matthew McConaughey in the old Trevor Howard role as Lord Cardigan.

Could McConnaughey possibly drink enough on set to do the role justice ?

Could McConaughey possibly drink enough on set to do the role justice ?

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
  All the world wonder’d.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
 Noble six hundred!

It’ll just be a matter of time before EA Games gets involved and produces Medal of Hono(u)r CRIMEA edition— when a team of crack Hussars (hussar !!) will slaughter thousands of commies (humour them) to knock out the guns at Sevastopol/Navarone/Moscow (pronounced Moscouw)* (delete where applicable). There will be bigger body count than in an average Hospital in Stafford. Don’t believe me ? There’s already been an attempt at it. Good old Atari back in 1991.


“From the producers of Rorke’s Drift” ????? Do they mean that other crap Atari game or the actual battle? Perhaps Obama could bill the Presidency as : “POTUS : From The Producers of Operation Iraqi Freedom(ish); The Directors of Shock, Awe & We’ll Leave You to Clear Up all the Mess  After We’ve Left; and the writers of Somalian Disaster.”?

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

The Charge of the Light Brigade


So please, Mr President, enough with the threats. We don’t want no war, we don’t want no movies about war, we don’t want no games about movies about war. You blokes in charge of things sort it out between you without sending us lot over the top again. Please.

This post was bought to you by the makers of “I Told You So” and “I’ll Sign up for the Military Right After Politicians Send Their Sons to War.” and by the letters F and O.

Time of the Month

Had enough of Calender Girls ? Sexy Vatican Priest Calenders ? Kent Fire Brigade’s hunks, spread across each month, in various stages of undress ? Me too. For some reason, I took several wrong turnings in life and never became a producer of calenders showing dogs/babies/naked women/Cliff Richard* (delete where applicable). Walk down any high street or through any shopping mall and there is always a calender shop or stall doing a roaring trade.

Back in the day when newspapers paid me a goodly wage to find interesting things to stick in the linen, if I’d happen upon the latest illustrated offering from a rugby team, the women’s guild (including the Goole & District Catholic River Wideners’ Club) the Back Bench would love it and the sexiest photos would doubtless be included in the paper the following morning. Sighs all round. After the 138th of these you begin to get a tad jaded.

However, news reaches me of this one from our friends in Germany, and a bloody good one it is too. Now, as we all know, no-one enjoys a good laugh more than the Germans, and as if to prove it a retirement home in Essen has put together a calender showing inmates residents re-enacting scenes from famous movies. Now how much fun is that ? I tried to get in on the shoot and pose myself, but I was told that a) I am too grumpy to pass as a German; and b) I look too old for this publication (I can’t write calender any more. Apart from just then).

Gershcmittenhemmenzvitz !


“I don’t expect you to talk, Mr Bond, I expect you to …er…sorry”


“Can we stop for a pee at the next gas station please ? Again.”


“Saturday Afternoon Nap”


“Cor! missus. Those support tights are doing overtime”


“What did I come up here for ?”


“I’m afraid Black Forest Gateau always gives me wind”


“I’ve decided against sketching you naked”


“It’s 106 miles to Essen, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, we’re wearing sunglasses and I will need a pee before we leave.”


“Some Like it Fat” (rejected)

Announcing the Losers in Reverse Order


For the first time in a while I seem to have seen a few of the movies which all the fuss is about. As you know, I have never been one to fully embrace the full movie “experience” (see And The Winner Isn’t (Original Screenplay)) so it’s usually been the case of waiting til it comes out on DVD or Virgin (and no, I don’t have NETFLIX) before I get to see what everyone else has seen before me (which usually means I know the storyline. I haven’t yet seen Skyfall , for example, but thanks to those around me, I already know the surprises and twists and unexpected deaths).

This year,however, things are a little different. I have managed to see American Hustle, Gravity, and 12 Years a Slave. I will be seeing very soon Wolf of Wall Street, and there is this bloke who knows a bloke who knows a bloke who can get me a copy of Texas Buyers Club, Nabraska and Captain Phillips, should I fancy them and don’t mind breaking the law (heaven forfend). All this means that I will have the opportunity to see the bulk of the Oscar-nominated movies before the ceremony actually begins (not that I’m ever likely to see the ceremony, unless I pay Messrs Branson & Murdoch a lot of money. Which I won’t ever again).


So without giving away the plot to anyone who hasn’t see any of the above, I shall give you my considered and informed opinion and verdict on Hustle, Gravity and Slave.

They’re ok.

Gravity is a bit of fun and effects — but I hate 3D movies: all that playing with the glasses,  lifting them up & down while you’re sitting in the cinema puts me off the plot. Fortunately there’s not much of one to be put off. Clooney is charming, Bullock acts well again and er…that’s it.

Hustle is a masterclass of period detail. Well done the wardrobe dept. The girls play their parts well. erm….

Slave is 2 hrs 14 minutes of wanting something rather good to stop. (a bit like watching Charlton Athletic, without the ‘rather good’ bit). The 3 main, nominated actors are very good indeed. But…

You see…maybe I’m getting old and stuck in my ways (“No! NO! surely not!” I don’t hear you cry) but Gravity doesn’t have the feeling of epicness which 2001, Apollo 13, Moon, Silent Running or even Star Wars had/has. Hustle is a great study of the 70s, but no better than Boogie Nights, and certainly no Carlito’s Way. And Slave is a very worthy and sad movie, with a tale that needs to be told, and watched. But Schindler’ List it ain’t.

There is a movie called Prisoners, which is a rather under-stated thriller(nominated for Roger Deakins‘ photography) that is worth a look, but it’s not making many headlines, sadly.

So there you have it: Some good films indeed, just not great films. Nothing with the impact of watching the first 28 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, seeing The Godfather for the first time (or the tenth time), no The Right Stuff or even a Milk.

So by way of a trip down memory lane, when the movies really did seem to live with you long after you left the cinema (I’ve already forgotten the plot to American Hustle) and as an excuse to show some pretty cool snaps from behind the scenes (decent movie or not), have a little browse thru this lot.

They’ll have you screaming for the return of Blockbuster Video.


The Birds. “What’s my motivation for this ?”


The Godfather.”I reckon this is gonna be worth one sequel, at the very most”


Apocalypse Now. “I Hate the taste of Pepsi in the Morning”


Planet of the Apes “Put your stinking cigarette out, you damn dirty ape! Want to buy a gun?”


Frankenstein. “I’ve created a breakfast”


Jaws. “We’re Gonna Need some Bigger Shorts”


The Shining. Heeeere’s Stanley


Psycho. “Don’t worry, my boy. After this role, the job offers will just fly in”


2001: A Space Odyssey. “Well I don’t get the oberlisk. Do you get the oberlisk? I don’t get the oberlisk”


Misty Water-Coloured Memories of the Way We Was

If you ever need proof that there was, indeed, a God, you need look no further than the fascinating news story that they have unearthed a couple of very early episodes of Dr Who, which up to now had been presumed lost. Wiped. Erased. They had ceased to be. Bereft of life, they rested in peace. After transmission, the intelligentsia at the BBC decided (and, let’s face it, who could argue with them in this instance) that all traces of performances by Fraser Hinds — he of Emmerdale Farm fame— should be deleted, destroyed and copied over with episodes of Pogles’ Wood. They needed the space and this sort of tosh should make way for future, quality programing — say, Michael Bentine‘s Potty Time (it meant something different then than it does now).


Clue: Front row, brown patterned socks, open crotch.

Sadly, copies of the offending articles were unearthed in Guinea-Bissau, or somesuch place. So the geeks and the gits of the Dr Who Brethren can sit there, cup-a-soup cradled in hand, and relive 1960s shite telly. 14 minutes of badly-restored cardboard theatre and wooden actors, but which nevertheless get us ready for the next series of BBC World’s Syndication Sensation, adverts and all. Having turned 34-and-bit yesterday, I am old enough to remember when Dr Who, Blake Seven and The Brothers were all we had to watch if we didn’t want to go and play with weird uncle Colin and his ‘finger puppets’ in the garden. No Sky TV or ITV8 for us, but at least the BBC was commercial-free and still employed professional entertainers and real journalists. (Come Dancing and David Icke apart).

(As an aside there is a house down my road which the inhabitants have hilariously named “Gallifrey” — I kid you not— complete with name plaque. I got a wee bit tiddly last night and The Incumbent had to pull me away as we walked past, lest I piddled in the garden and over the sign).

Isn’t it uncanny (if not astounding), that every time there is a new Dr Who Series in the offing, someone in Ulaanbaatar unearths an episode starring Patrick Troughton or Jon Pertwee or the like (odd that that they always leave the shows starring Sylvester McCoy buried in the attic)? Just when your mind wanders off the subject, the BBC ‘news’ announced someone’s found Tom Baker’s “original” scarf, or Paul McGann’s  long lost “talent”.  If you’ve ever watched The BBC DailyMailBreakfast Show, you’ll know what I mean: New Series Advert Masquerades as News Item. Every single sodding morning. We sit there and take it all in, like The Emperors New Clothes or the new Petshop Boys Single. I predict a riot. Some day.


Rare image depicting The 1978 Dartford Hair Parting Famine. U13s Purdey Appreciation XV. Clue: Front row, early signs of obesity, small boy at side, open crotch

When I had a proper job, (they used to pay me to look at snaps, pix, photographs— ART , darling!) every 4.6 months someone would offer me snaps “never before seen” of Marilyn Monroe; Every 5 weeks I’d be shown a “new and exciting” set of pics of 1950 cars, still being used as Taxis in Havana, Cuba. But to be fair (and I’m nothing but fair) these monkeys  sorry, photographers, were only trying to earn a living. They were not to know they were the 73rd to offer the exact same thing. I’ve been offered a black & white set of images of an empty supermarket, shot in the name of “art” (I didn’t buy it), and worse was even asked once by a supposed journalist (I do hope to God she no longer exists in this space/time continuum) for “all the great photos of Diana that have never been published”. Honest, that’s what she asked me to find.  I have witnesses. She had a million ideas like this. The same person asked for a photo of “a woman breathing”. Oh ! and of a woman/model “who looks older than she actually is”. Think about that one for a while. She outlasted me at the paper.

I won’t say her name, cos it would embarrass her. Or maybe it wouldn’t. So thank, you Corinna Honan for years of chuckles over those, and all your other hilarious requests [subs- can someone edit this name out before it goes to print please. thanks] . I’ve just Googled her. She works for The Daily Mail !  Ha !  You couldn’t write this stuff. Even though I just have.

So in the spirit of not having anything to say, anything to advertise or promote (although, I do know of a sensational shop which has a thousand of ideas for Christmas gifts for all the family. More on that, here, after 9 o’clock. Now here’s Carol with an awfully bad guess at the weather) I thought I’d show you, as my 34th Birthday gift to you, from me, these two completely irrelevant photos, recently unearthed by experts in Dartford, Kent, and published today by me in Dartford…er…Kent. No angle, nothing to promote. I just found em.

Just thought I’d show them to you. Let this be a warning to younger readers. Say no to Guinness and Ginsters Pasties (whether they are made by Dwarfs, or otherwise). Resist the temptations of Tesco’s Trifle and Scrumpy Jack. Look how gorgeous I was and how I’ve ended up.

The end.

Now here’s an advert.


Is that Pounds or Guineas ?

They tell me that, at one stage yesterday, all British national newspapers were interested in buying those photos of the Prince Harry starkers. Then ever so slowly, and one after another they dropped out. A few still published them on their websites, then gradually one-by-one they pulled them from their site. They were, apparently going for 10K a set. I don’t know if that was 10k Exclusive, English Language rights only, or as a share. Seems a lot of money to spend on a set of snaps, knowing that your rivals up the street had exactly the same set of pics.

The Sun mocks-up its own           version of those photos

Maybe it was this high price which made them pull out of the deal. Maybe it was the risk of upsetting Lord Leveson. Perhaps they didn’t want to upset The Palace or the NPA, or whoever nowadays hands out press passes to national events. We will have a couple of funerals in town coming up in the not-too-distant future, I guess, then a coronation and probably a christening or eight ? That’s a lot of monkey positions in the press pen to be giving away for the sake of a muzzy pic of some ginger pubes. Or maybe they didn’t buy the photos because they stopped and thought “Hang-on! Why don’t we respect this guy’s right to party on down. Public don’t need to see these. Stuff the pics ” ?  No, I don’t think that happened either. I do know one journal which did exactly that, but they are not in Fleet St. Anymore.

So you’re looking down the wrong end of a £10,000 deal for a set of not-very-exclusive snaps of a nude ginger bloke. Hmmm… I guess in the world of the internet, it’s rather difficult to keep anything at all exclusive. Back in the day of hard prints, analogue wires and when BBC Ceefax was the source of information 24 hours a day, it was a lot easier to find a set of exclusives.

In around 1985 I was a young freelancer selling photos generated by a very small agency to national newspapers in Fleet St. I was enjoying a beer (no, really, I was) one evening after work with a colleague when a young photographer we’d sent out a few hours earlier “to see what you can find” came and found us at the bar. He had on him a developed roll of colour transparency film which had on it various dancers/strippers, C-listers and Christopher Bigginses which a night photographing London usually threw up. Then as I got down to the end of the of the roll of film, there were two blurry frames of a bloke, who looked uncannily like Prince Andrew, walking next to a fat redhead.

A bun is awarded for anyone who can                       tell me what he was thinking of.

“Who’s that ?” I asked the snapper

“Oh that Prince Andrew and some fat redhead” (I told you it was) “I saw a royal motor outside Les Mis so I hung around to see who was in there”

These were the first photos of Prince Andrew and his latest squeeze Sarah Ferguson. They were with a Royal Bodyguard getting into a Royal Jaguar. This meant she was official. She was Andy’s “One” (if only we knew…), confirming what Buckingham Palace had been denying for weeks – that Fergie was gonna be part of the firm real soon. As odd as it must sound now, this was really big news at the time.

Being a Royalist, I immediately cut off the two frames and got a cab down to The Daily Mirror. For reasons which don’t escape me, I refused to go to Wapping and to Rupert Murdoch’s strike-bound News International (what does escape me is why I lifted that self-imposed ban to go work for those wankers later on in my career), and The Mirror was my weapon of choice.

Up to a point.

I arrived at The Mirror‘s picture desk only to find it deserted. Normally I wouldn’t care less that everyone was in “The Stab” down below (The White Hart pub, known by Mirror hacks as The Stab in the Back” – for obvious reasons), and on any other evening may have gone to join them (it was, after all, one of the reasons I wanted to be a journo in the first place) and sell them the odd snap. But this was different. I had a pic which I knew everyone would want, and I had to get it into a paper NOW. On THIS edition. I couldn’t take the risk of other photographers having captured the young couple together and selling it before I could. I certainly couldn’t wait for the Mirror Picture Desk to sober up. So I took a decision. I went off to The Daily Star.  Ooh Aah.

It wasn’t what I wanted, but I was in luck . Perhaps the Popinjay (Express Newspaper’s version of The Stab) had burnt down that night as both numbers 1&2 on the picture desk had returned from the pub, unaided, and were just about awake. I think one of them could have been mistaken for being sober. At a distance. The other, his boss (a legendary scotchman and a scotch man) could not.

“What ye got, young fella?” the boss asked.

Carefully avoiding the hot, sweet airstream of scotch & best bitter coming from his mouth, I showed him the two frames.

“It’s Andy and Sarah Ferguson at Les Miserables tonight. Our man…..”

But I could have saved my breath, for he was off. Off an a lap of honour of the newsroom. Past the news desk (yes they had one) and the foreign…erm…reporter, past the back bench, the subs and the assorted ‘tired’ journalists and cleaning staff. He skipped, he whistled, he paused to show and tell his colleagues “Look what I got, ye bastard ye”.

Once the Scot and the scotch had settled, he agreed to pay ten thousand pounds for the photo. (What Sarah Ferguson would do nowadays for £10,000 is a story for another time). It appeared on the front page the very next day. The Mirror’s Picture editor, nicknamed “Grumpy” called me, sparrows fart. ‘Why didn’t I sell the pic to him ?’ he wanted to know. ‘Because he was in the pub’, I replied. ‘Why didn’t I call him out ?’ he demanded. ‘Because he was already well and truly out‘ I said. He didn’t speak to me for months and months after that.

As far as I know, that little photo agency of ours never did get the £10k promised to it by the pissed old fart that night at The Star. He sobered up and swore blind that he’d said FIVE not ten grand. The photographer never believed me, I don’t think. It’s all true, believe me. Over the next few weeks we did get some decent money for the pic from American, Aussie and, oddly, German rags, but nothing on the scale of what The Star (should have) paid us.

I wonder if Harry’s “mate” who took the pics of his arse will ever get paid ? It’s out there now. Everyone has it, or at least has seen it. And once everyone has seen it, who will want to buy it ? If the photos had landed in my lap today, would I have flogged them ? Probably not. When I was 21 who-was-doing-what-and-how-to-whom-and-how-often seemed really interesting to me. I’d passed my “smash the state, bring down the Monarchy” phase, but was still walking around with a press ticket metaphorically stuck in the band of my trilby”.

Not now. Now I care little for that shite. Pop and celebs interest me not.  Sod The One Show, give me the World at One. I’m into Big Gussets not Big Brother. Less X-Factor, more Ex-Lax. I’d still like the money, though.

Turd Polishing**

Ah yes: Exam Results. I remember them. For some reason whenever I see on the news that today’s the day when the exam results come through, I get a chill running through my bones. I feel nauseous. The very water inside me somehow wants to get out.

Perhaps this is because it brings back memories of when I received an envelope containing my results all those years ago ? Perhaps not. It wasn’t all bad (honest) I scraped in here, and got by there. Could have been a lot worse (the teachers at school certainly predicted so). No it’s not those memories which irk me. It’s something rather more recent. Something that’s still taking place. It’s the “jumping for joy photos”.

Stick your head out of the window, listen hard and there’s a good chance you’ll be able to hear the unmistakable sound of a photographer near you organising a staggeringly unimaginative photo.

“Ok if you could spread yourself out in a line towards me… no, no, can we have the two blonde young ladies in the middle… yes, much better… now, on the count of three, could you all jump up, punch  the air and cheer ? … especially you girls… thanks very much….right here we go…one…two…three….SNAP…CLICK…SNAP…”

It happens every year (twice in the UK), and it’s happening today with the announcement of today’s A-Level results.

And it’s not necessarily the fault of the photographer. Would you believe that, in this day in age, there are national newspaper and agency picture editors who actually commission such dross ? They do, I promise you. And why ? Because above them are Chief Subs, Features Editors and other assorted numpties who deal in crap and clichés. But don’t take my word for it. Buy a paper tomorrow (any one should do) and look for yourselves. If you can’t wait, switch on TV Regional News this evening (“Local Man bit by Local Dog, Locally“). They’ll be down at their local High School or Academy filming young men and women, crying with/jumping for joy (delete where applicable).

Such imagination.

Here’s another. It’s gonna be hot this weekend. Some at the Met Office are predicting up to 30 degrees over the south of England. Queue the hot weather picture:

L-R: The Times, Indie,Guardian;               Tabloids+Telegraph;                            All of them

You can bet your left testicle (or whatever you have to hand) that you’ll find a version of the above tomorrow in your favourite rag. If I had a penny for every time someone submitted a photo of boys diving into the sea/pond/canal/fountain once the temperatures reach 28 degrees, I’d have £17.43.


But the photographers don’t get off Scot free. After all, they take the snap, they ping it in to the picture desk and some berk uses it. Ca-Ching! Why on earth do you think that we’ve seen this pose endlessly over the last few weeks ?

No. Serena’s not biting that medal because she’s hungry (again), but because there’s an unwritten law amongst sports snappers which tells them that’s what Gold Medallists do.  And you know what ? – the pictures go in the paper. They get in the linen, as we used to say. (oh, and by the way, don’t think that this dreadful state of affairs will finish with the death of newspapers. Online Photo Eds and Snappers – oh, ok Monkeys – are just as (un)imaginative as are the paper ones.)

But don’t let it worry you. If you have been lucky in life and never had to listen and watch a back bench fuck-up your picture selection, you will remain unscathed by all this. I’m sure you probably think my head is about to pop off again, driven by dark memories of no-nothing subs and myopic designers ? You may or may not be correct.

I shan’t go on. Just to say, the next time you see Obama do this…

…don’t think that he’s seen someone in the crowd he recognise, it’s just that someone (probably a press officer) once told him that photos of Pointing Politicians get in the linen too. He’s not alone. They all do it. Just watch them all getting off a plane pointing; Take the applause of the crowd, pointing; Arrive in Brussels POINTING. Watch out for Barack when he wins the election. He’ll be jumping for joy.

**”You Can’t Polish a Turd, Mike”…Telegraph Photographer Roy Letkey on being asked by me how his photos were from a terribly thought-out photo shoot.

Black n White Snaps

I know you’re just like me and can’t wait to get yourself to London to enjoy all the festivities that the Olympic Games has to offer. But, if you should find yourself at a loose end, or at London Bridge Station with an hour before your slot watching the 1 yard air rifle begins, please do yourself a favour and take yourself down to the South Bank, just by Boris’s place. There you’ll be able to see Tom Stoddart’s fabulous new open air photo exhibition.

If not the Greatest Living Geordie (my mum wins that award), Tom is certainly the greatest British photographer, and he buys his round, to boot (which is more than I can say for my mum). While you’re there you may even catch a glimpse of the great man himself. Tell him I sent you and you’ll immediately be asked to leave the area.

This is by far the best show in town this summer.

Photographer Tom Stoddart stands at his Perspectives photographic exhibition at More London on July 25, 2012 in London, England. Seventy-eight of Stoddart’s signature black and white pictures form a free, open-air display at More London Riverside, between City Hall and HMS Belfast. During his distinguished career Stoddart has travelled to more than 50 countries and documented such historic events as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Siege of Sarajevo and the election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first black president. The exhibition is in participation with The International Committee of The Red Cross for whom Stoddart has worked on their Healthcare in Danger campaign initiative that aims to address the widespread and severe impact of illegal and sometimes violent acts that obstruct the delivery of health care, damage or destroy facilities and vehicles, and injure or kill health-care workers and patients, in armed conflicts and other emergencies.
(July 24, 2012 – Source: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images Europe)

The A Cappella Fella

I first saw the Flying Pickets at the Woolwich Tramshed in about 1982. They were supporting Lenny Henry and stole the show. Lenny did his funny voices and squawks, his Trevor McDonut skit, occasionally inviting the audience to shout “yeah!” at the top of their voices – you know, the same act as he does today. “The Pickets” went through their short card, performing every number with wit, charm and precision – Lenny’s act differed in just three ways.

A year or so later I met them in again in a photographic studio where they were being snapped for a spread in a newspaper, having made number 1 in the charts with “Only You”. Three things I remember very clearly: They all seemed very old indeed (probably in their late 30s), the lead singer was a rough-looking welshman, and they were all, to a man, very very charming indeed.  One of the more unlikely hits to come out of the post-punk confusion that was the early 80s and named after the National Union of Mineworkers (that’ll cheer you lot up) they had a couple of hit singles and a few albums and gathered a considerable following having introduced the country to a cappella – singing without the accompaniment of instruments (not to be confused with The Smiths who sang without the accompaniment of tune).

Well, the rough-looking Welsh lead singer died today. Brian Hibbard was 65 and had become a familiar face on tv , having made himself a very decent character actor. But I shall remember him as that rather scary looking bloke who, along with his weird-looking old mates, tramped into our studio one afternoon and got themselves photographed while singing “When You’re Young and in Love”.

Great sound. Nice blokes.

A Top Man

At the risk of seeming like the Telegraph’s Obit Dept, I present this piece by David Williams on photographer and friend Steve Bent. Dunno about you, but I’m getting a little tired of all the good guys leaving us all of a sudden. You’d have liked Benty, a great snapper, great company and silly sod. Anyway, maybe it’s all a part of getting old – your friends keep leaving you all of a sudden- but I don’t like it.

After a battle against illness, Steve died on Christmas Day, aged 53. Give yourself a little time to read and enjoy this: one mate of mine writing about another.

Steve Bent was among the most admired, respected and loved photographers in Fleet Street. His devoted compassion for his cameras’ subjects – be they victims of war, mutation, famine, disease or simple mindless cruelty – knew no bounds.

He had a journalistic mind so sharp, says his great friend and colleague Richard Holliday, that it was as if he slept in the proverbial knife drawer every night.

Occasionally, he could be taken by surprise. Arriving in war-torn Beirut for the first time with fellow snapper Tom Stoddart and Mail on Sunday hack Holliday, the trio were cornered in a bar by Lebanese freelance photographer Lena Kara.

“What’s happening?” asked an alarmed Steve. Kara blew him a kiss and said “I’m taking your pictures so that when they kidnap you or execute you I can make lots of money from London.”

Together they did – as a trio – four trips to Beirut, which is where Steve met his beautiful wife-to-be, Reuters journalist Hala Jaber, married her and brought her back to London, where she has won a host of foreign correspondent awards on the Sunday Times.

One memory Stoddart and Holliday have of Beirut is of the mad Mancunian Bent dragging them up to the top floor of a shelled apartment block. The blown-out window of that block was connected to the adjacent building by a rotting plank of wood. Bent was halfway across. Stoddart and Holliday looked at each other and shook their heads. Stoddart – who’d worked with Bent at John Pick’s York agency – enquired, as only Geordies can (when they’re being soft), “Are you being a twat, pet?”

On the second tour of Beirut, the three attempted to smuggle themselves into a Palestinian refugee camp where the aptly-named British surgeon Dr Pauline Cutting was working around the clock in atrocious conditions. Sporting t-shirts with ‘British press – don’t shoot’ in English and Arabic on front and back, Bent was enraged when a shot rang out. “Can’t you f***ing read?” he bellowed. There was no reply.

Later, during the Balkan War, Bent and Holliday were attached to the Armija Bosnia-Herzegovenia, camped in tents on the summit of Mount Igman, one of the venues for the 1984 Winter Olympics. It was a classic Hammer Horror moment when, encased in sleeping bags in a tiny ridge tent during a Transylvanian storm, Bent hissed at his colleague, “Don’t move quickly, but there’s a giant rat nibbling at my b***ocks. You’ve got the torch – deal with it, mate!” Holliday switched on the light to focus on a tiny kitten pawing Bent’s groin.

It had been in a graveyard overlooking Sarajevo that Bent had handed the Daily Mail’s David Williams four plastic film containers, pressing them into his hand with the warning “guard these with your life, Willy…”
Dutifully, he hid them in three different parts of their Lada Niva they were using.  The fourth was gaffer-taped under the arm of Jano, the fixer, at Steve’s suggestion.
That night in near darkness back at the Holiday Inn, he began to develop his films and took back the containers, placing each side by side on the wooden table beside the bed.  Two he opened, taking out the precious film that would later make a spread for the Mail on Sunday.
He then threw the one with gaffer-tape at Williams  with the words “that’s for you”, his eyes dancing mischievously. They opened the containers at the same time, inside were two miniatures of brandy.  He simply raised an eyebrow and drank.  “The armpit kept it at the right temperature,” Steve explained.

It was typical of Bent’s generosity and sense of humour which stayed with him to the end although happily his favourite trick of twisting a man’s nipples and then pulling out a chest hair, pretending to add it to his head stopped several years ago.

These were just a few of the many stories about Bent repeated by friends in the days since his sad, premature, dignified death from cancer at the age of 53 on Christmas Day at his South London, home.

For a man who so loved to travel in his professional life, he was desperately difficult to move when back home in UK refusing to budge from what became known to Benty’s friends as the “Club House” – the locals where he could always be found.

In Maida Vale, it was the Warwick Castle (when he left for what he used to term the “Badlands” south of the Thames, he took the pub sign with him – it still hangs in the garden), in Fleet Street, The Harrow and for more than a decade in Clapham, the Tim Bobbin or the Rose and Crown.  It was not Hala or friends who could occasionally make Steve vary venues but only a change of brand of lager by a foolish landlord.

Those years of selfless saloon bar research paid dividends, bemused but grateful colleagues recall, when despite the Shock and Awe over Baghdad, Steve was uniquely always able to find beer and, even more impressively, a constant supply of good French wine.
It was in the basement of Baghdad’s hotels that Steve became known as ‘Stirred, never shaken’ after revealing his hand at mixing a mean Martini, playing host to colleagues entertained by Sinatra tunes.

It had been in Maida Vale’s Elgin Avenue that Steve had first found shelter on arrival in London early in the 1980s, sharing a one bedroomed flat with his colleague David O’Neill.  It became known as the “Pig Pen”, Benty’s bed a mattress on the flood among his clutter, the sofa propped-up by bricks.

When in 2004 he had been smuggled into the besieged city of Falluja to cover the American offensive – his blond hair and moustache were died dark brown and he wore traditional dishdasha robes – he mused it had been the years in the squalor of Elgin Avenue that had prepared him for the journey among the rubbish concealed in the boot of the car travelling through Al Qaeda and fundamentalist controlled frontlines.

His infamous negative library had begun in Elgin Avenue … compromising photos of friends and colleagues on the town or ‘at play’ on jobs which he would ‘ping’ by email years later into the inbox of an unsuspecting mate with a message saying ‘how much ?’ or ‘mmmm’.  One he particularly enjoyed was of an attractive young reporter, who rose to fame as a TV anchor.  In West Africa, he had taken a picture of a monkey passionately clutching her leg at the precise moment of the animal’s over-excitement.  Whether her expletives were directed at Bent or the monkey are unclear.

On another trip – to Algeria to cover a terrorist plane hijack – Bent was checking in for his Swissair flight home via Zurich. When the check-in clerk demanded to know if he could prove he hadn’t bought his state-of-the-art photo transmitter in a back-street market in Algiers, Bent finally lost his cool and demanded the man fetch his superior. Once the wretched clerk was out of sight, Bent reached across the desk, tacked a Swissair flight tag to the transmitter, pressed the button and off it happily went, bound for the aircraft.

When the clerk returned with his supervisor to demand where ‘the thing’ had gone, Bent turned in all innocence to the supervisor and said “I really have no idea what this idiot is talking about”.

Later – and still riled after they had boarded the plane – Bent and Holliday were thrilled to be joined at the last moment by a noisy pompous German in the row immediately ahead. Turning to them, he demanded “Please put out those cigarettes. Smoke upsets me.” Bent pointed out that the man was seated in the smoking section of the plane. The German replied he had arrived late at the airport and “I had no choice, I had no choice.” “Mmmm, bit like Poland in 1939 then”, came the killer put-down from Steve.
Bent had always wanted to work in Fleet Street and enjoyed telling a story about how, as an ambitious but inexperienced young man, he once “door-stepped”  his hero, the award winning photographer Don McCullin, and asked for advice. McCullin told Bent to aim for the big stories, and to remember that the biggest stories were often in hard to reach places.

Steve followed that advice, spending five months in Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion and then smuggling himself into the Polish shipyards in the back of a lorry – he would later joke he had pioneered the asylum seeker trail – to bring back pictures that brought him to the notice of the Mail on Sunday where he became one of their first staff photographers.

It was an environment, an adventure in which Bent thrived.  What he termed ‘boutique trips’ to cities like New York or Paris would be turned down for the world’s trouble spots.  It was there that he thrived producing three decades of outstanding images, building lasting contacts and being at the heart of campaigns that raised huge sums for the subjects of his photographs.

He was especially proud of his early work in Ethiopia where his pictures of the famine, and in particular suffering of children, set the mark for his work in future years.

For many, many months in Iraq, he and Hala braved the huge dangers – and obvious hardships – to bring an untold story to the world.  As with many top photographers, his news sense was as good as most reporters and his judgement of a situation better than most.  His calming influence and protective presence allowed Hala to work at her brilliant best.

Inevitably, their work and contacts made enemies too and they became the targets.  On one occasion, they received a reliable tip they were about to be kidnapped, tortured and executed and Bent with his contacts built among former UK military now working in security orchestrated their escape, first along what at the time was the most dangerous drive in the world to Baghdad airport and then on to the plane.

An email marked “Urgent…for your eyes only” had alerted Williams to their plight.  It read : “fyi dave we have to move asap – Hala’s phone is working –

Don’t worry we are in safe hands.  Will ring asap…”  That night Steve called from a secure compound in the Iraqi capital.  Williams asked : “Are you OK ?”  There was a long silence, “No,” said Steve, pausing again to build-up the tension “….there’s no alcohol in the beer.”
The pair made their last trip to Baghdad in 2009 where Bent’s harrowing, moving pictures contributed massively to The Sunday Times Christmas appeal, in aid of Iraqi children horrifically wounded in the war; it has since raised more than £1 million.

He and Hala built relationships with many of their subjects.  When a girl called Shams Kareem was blinded by a bomb blast that killed her mother, Steve’s pictures brought home her story to the readers, who responded by donating £140,000 that brought her to London for treatment.  Steve and Hala have helped support her ever since.  She is one of several they met in Iraq they, unseen and unheralded, continued to help.

Even in the final year, unable to eat, and fed through a tube in his nose, Bent was often at his most animated when following international stories, especially where Hala was involved in Libya and Syria.  Crouched on the sofa, cigarette burning beside him, he would scribble notes to be relayed to Hala together with snippets from agency reports he demanded from colleagues.  When told he was like a Foreign Editor, his eyes danced – as they did to the end when all else was failing – and muttered his well known view of armchair generals.

Those blue-eyes would have been ‘dancing’ too a few days after his death at the success of a longstanding prank that had led to the fact that Geoff Bent, among the Manchester United players to have died in the 1958 Munich air disaster, was an uncle had appeared in an obit.  That alleged relationship had been an often repeated wind-up of Holliday so he believed it to be true…typical.
Steve Bent was one of the most travelled snappers in Fleet Street’s history. With the exception of South America, there was hardly a country that his trademark Desert boots had not left their imprint on.
His friends around the globe will mourn his passing very, very, very deeply – as will the orphaned children that his desperately moving photos raised so much money for.

David Williams
Chief Reporter
Daily Mail