Wednesday, 18 May 2011


It is interesting; I had an exchange on Twitter with Jack Schofield who describes himself as a 'tech journo who covered IT for The Guardian'. I told him that he had been largely responsible for my development as a writer. After writing this Tweet I paused for thought and began considering people who have had the most influence over the way my life has panned out.  

Jack had been the editor of a magazine called Photo Technique during the early 1970s at a time when I took the plunge to start my photography business. I had been exceptionally well trained as a wedding photographer by Ron Hayward, who managed Wilkin Studios in Enfield. Ron had become my mentor and friend and it was entirely due to him that I became a professional photographer.

I wanted to learn all I could about wedding photography but there were no books on the subject. It occurred to me that I could pass on much of what Ron had taught and approached Photo Technique and was encouraged by Jack to write a series of instructional articles that created the impetus to write my first book.
Since then I have never really looked back despite a gap of more than twenty years between writing my second commissioned book and my most recently published title in 2009. In the latter case I may have lost confidence had it not been for my editor, Robert Forsyth of Chevron Publications who gave me the encouragement needed to bring my project to life. 

We rarely stop to consider why we do what we do it, why we act as we do or enjoy certain things. Mostly other people have had a long-term influence on our lives that will have shaped just about everything that we do. The pattern we follow usually begins with the relationships that we form with our parents and our siblings before we enter the wider world and make friends, and sometimes enemies. 

My parents were separated and while my mother, grandmother and less so, my older sister, will have influenced my home life, Saturdays spend with my father provided me with an intimate knowledge and love of London. He had no car so each week he would take me on the bus and tube to parks and museums until I was old enough to become independent. He also gave me my first camera which formed my early interest in photography. As a weekend parent he was not around enough to influence other aspects of my life but I am eternally grateful for the knowledge he gave me.

At grammar school there were a few teachers that inspired me; Mrs Webster shaped my English; Alec Cooper (maths and science) and Len Hadleigh (geography). After leaving school I cannot recall anyone I regarded as a mentor until my second job as a trainee cinema manager with Granada. I had enormous respect for my manager, Harry Kimber. Two relief managers Paul Kenna and the other, a former repertory theatre actor, a wonderful man called Charlie Rowe, inspired responsibility and taught me how to manage and deal with staff. At a later job, Bill Dewan the charismatic owner of Dominion Press showed me leadership skills, while later at Garland-Compton Advertising Philip Broadbridge expressed enough confidence in my fledgling photographic ability to hire me as a freelance to boost the wages I was earning at the same agency as a progress chaser. Each of these people added special qualities that have helped make my life what it is, perhaps by passing on particular particles of knowledge or simply by encouraging me to pursue what I was good at. 

But it goes beyond this. Others offer us their wisdom by sharing their experiences of some of the finer things in life. While working at Sharps Advertising Chris Tew made me realise that there was something better to drink than Blue Nun and the cheap Spanish plonk from Stowells of Chelsea that we would consume while dining on steak at a Berni Inn. I probably knew little about good food until Steve Cowdrill at the Bedford Arms Hotel (now Inn at Woburn) commissioned me to photograph - and taste - the food on their menu. As a wedding photographer I met Richard Musa who was food and beverage manager at the same hotel. He became a best friend, taught me more about good food and together we went on a book buying spree to Foyles in Charing cross Road and returned loaded with cookery books. This ultimately led to me specialise in food photography and to writing restaurant reviews for magazines. 

In sport, brother-in-law Brian took me to Arsenal when I was just eight years old and, for better or worse, I have supported the club ever since despite spending two or three seasons from the age of eleven as an honorary spectator at Spurs. At my first match at Highbury I was thrilled watching the great goalkeeper Jack Kelsey for the first and only time before injury forced his retirement. But the experience was enough to convince me that once I started playing football, in spite of my short stature, I had to play in goal. That was until Joe Baker came to Arsenal and started banging in the goals during the 1960s and became my hero. From then on I switched to centre forward and though never emulating his skills when I began playing in a team I did bang in twelve goals in four matches because the opposition was rubbish. 

When I became a photographer, Ron Hayward had given me so much encouragement and was the reason I switched from being part-time wedding photographer to become a highly competent  professional. Thereafter the late Eric Lawe, perhaps one of the finest classical portrait photographers this country has produced, became my mentor and friend. 

I could go on ... there are so many others who have contributed so much towards making me what I am. We tend to take the influence of others for granted - especially when an individual's influence has contributed something positive and permanent to our lives. Perhaps we should all spend a few moments to consider why we are what are and to remember with gratitude those that have most influenced our lives.

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