THE ART OF PHOTOJOURNALISM Image of the month
London’s East End, June, 1957, by Frank Pocklington
Alan Sparrow talks to Frank Pocklington about his favourite Picture Post photograph
Is this Picture Post's last photograph? Frank Pocklington got into photography inspired by photographs taken by his dad who had travelled the world with the Royal Marines. Views of the Far East and of ships of the Royal Navy adorned the home, photos hung on every wall, and further inspiration came from the weekly arrival of the Picture Post.
At seven years old Frank was taking pictures on a home-made pinhole camera with the help of his older brother, and after leaving school at 14 he got a job as a messenger on The Times.
But he hated it and left as soon as he could, joining the Hulton Press as a messenger for the Picture Post and its sister publications Housewife, The Leader and Farmers Weekly. In 1945, after two years as a messenger, he went into the darkroom and in 1952 he was handed a camera and sent off on his first assignment.
After a picture editor’s test of photographing a large clock in a shop window in Covent Garden, a proper assignment came along and he was sent to Burghead near Elgin in Scotland where a three-masted schooner was docked. The training ship was run by Outward Bound, a youth charity, and was going to be the subject of a Picture Post photo spread. Frank was expected to meet the reporter Tim Raison but congestion in London meant Frank missed his berth on the overnight sleeper out of Euston and had to catch the next train the following morning. A poor start to his photography career.
At Picture Post his inspiration was photographer Bert Hardy. “He was the tops” Frank says, and he was also a great fan of Haywood Magee who gave Frank his photography bag, which he had had since joining the Royal Flying Corps. and which Frank still owns over 60 years later.
Frank was asked about his favourite story for Picture Post: it was the last one he ever took for the magazine in June 1957. He was assigned to a photo essay about retired East Enders and the financial hardships that they were suffering, a photograph of a woman sitting at a table having her lunch - which was never published because of the news that greeted him when he returned to the office.
The staff were gathered in editorial and were being addressed by Edward Hulton, the magazine’s proprietor. “It's all over. I have decided to fold the magazine'' he told the anxious gathering. As Hulton was leaving the room after delivering this bombshell, the phone rang and in the shocked silence of the newsroom the theatre critic picked up the phone and answered, “I'm sorry he has just jumped out of the window”.
Picture Post had finally been overtaken by the new kid on the block, television. Advertisers were deserting the magazine in preference for the new medium, and along with the controversy about a picture story shot in Korea that the publisher was against but was published against his instructions, Picture Post was gone.
Pondering his future, Frank gathered with the other photographers around the picture desk. “Bill Stacey, picture editor of the Picture Post, was sitting at his desk when the phone rang. After listening to the caller, Bill responded and said ‘Yes he's here’ and passed me the phone. Don Harker, who worked at Granada TV, had already heard on the grapevine that Picture Post was going and he asked me to come to see him at Golden Square, London, the headquarters of Granada TV.
“As I was expecting to leave the Picture Post offices I decided that I should keep a souvenir, and I noticed a bound book of Picture Posts signed by Stefan Lorant (co-founder and first editor of the magazine) which I secreted in a big black bag and still keep to this day.
“The next morning I went to Golden Square where I was offered a job.”
As a test Frank was sent to Manchester to photograph the production studios of Granada in action, so adopting a Picture Post approach to the assignment he returned to Golden Square with the results. “In fact, I had done such a good job I won an award in the Encyclopedia Britannica Photography awards in the sequence category. The following week I was sent back to Manchester, but this time to appear on a Grenada TV programme Scene at 6.30, hosted by Bill Grundy, to talk about the photographs.”
On the day that Picture Post closed another of the staff photographers, Charles “Slim” Hewitt, and reporter Trevor Philpott were on an assignment. Hewitt had been sent by Picture Post to photograph a sailing ship with an all-girl crew and a male captain. Luckily he had taken with him his Bell and Howell 16mm movie camera, so on hearing the news of the collapse of Picture Post he immediately swapped his Leica for his movie camera and a week later the piece by Philpott and Hewitt went out on the BBC’s Tonight programme.
Nearly all the old Picture Post journalists went on to Tonight eventually - Trevor Philpott, Kenneth Allsopp, Macdonald Hastings (Max’s father) and Fyfe Robertson.
Hewitt was a guest at Frank’s wedding to his wife Linda, when he persuaded him to join Hewitt as a freelance sound engineer providing stories for Tonight, which was live on weekday evenings from 18 February 1957 to 18 June 1965. “I thought I would give it a try, and 18 months later we were on assignment in Egypt doing a piece about the construction of the Aswan Dam” but on the day of filming Hewitt was laid low by a bug Philpott and Frank went off to Aswan leaving Hewitt behind to recover. “That day I did all the day's filming” Frank says.
“In 1957 while working with the Tonight programme we were joined by a rising star by the name of Alan Whicker. He started with a small section of the Tonight programme which soon grew to become a programme in its own right, Whicker’s World, and I joined the unit as a cameraman and continued to work with Whicker when the programme went to Yorkshire TV.”
Frank accompanied Whicker on 80 programmes, two tours a year, travelling widely around the world. Alan Coren, referring an early Whicker programme with the Vancouver police, said that the films always reminded him of Picture Post- unaware that the cameraman had been a staff photographer on the magazine.
Frank also worked on three series of In Loving Memory with Thora Hird and filmed the New Statesman with Rick Mayall, and in 1989 his career was capped by an International Emmy for a film about the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
But film was on the way out, video was on the way in, and Frank hated video. He retired in 1989 at the age of 58, and now lives with Linda in the south of France.