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Parole beer, Wakefield, 2nd May 1953, by Thurston Hopkins for Picture Post

Alan Sparrow on Thurston Hopkins

Nearing the end of a seven-year sentence in Wakefield Prison, Danny Hughes has been granted a week's parole. Trusted to take responsibility for himself, Danny (left) enjoys some of the simple freedoms that he had been denied in prison. Photographer Thurston Hopkins was there to capture the moment.

Godfrey Thurston Hopkins would have preferred to have been remembered as a painter, it was how he started a life in art and what he did in retirement, painting prolifically, abstracts, full of colour.

But it is as a photographer that he will be recognised.

Not as Godfrey, though, the first which name he dropped early in life. As Thurston he became one of the most original photographers in a stable of brilliant photojournalists, at the legendary Picture Post.

Journalist Shan Lancaster says she found him to be ''very dry, very funny and irreverent about everything. He loved good wine, fine art and animals'' she said. But he never considered photography to be fine art, nor did he expect his work to have longevity.

Thurston Hopkins was married to Grace Robertson, a rare creature in the 1950s in that she was a professional photographer who worked at first under the pseudonym of Dick Muir, because female photographers were unlikely to get work.

Grace and Thurston met while they both worked for Picture Post and they married  in 1955, staying together until Thurston’s death in October 2014 when he was 101. Grace died in January 2021 aged 90.

Hopkins was born in South London and studied to become a graphic artist at Brighton College of Art. His early graphics work was painting decorative frames for portraits of Edward V111, but when the king abdicated in 1936 the work unsurprisingly dried up and the 23-year-old Hopkins was made redundant. A change of tact took him to photography and he joined a photo agency, Photo Press. Here he discovered that the camera paid better than the brush.

During the Second World War he joined the RAF photography unit where he served in the Middle East and Italy. A return to civilian life after the war saw him travelling around Europe taking photographs with a newly acquired Leica, a souvenir from the conflict, and on return to the UK he got a job with Camera Press.

Picture Post had opened in 1938 and its essay style of photography allowed photographers and writers to work together to express a story over several pages, and not in just one picture and a caption. Hopkins’s desire to join the magazine motivated him to create a CV that was hard to ignore. He produced a dummy Picture Post full of stories and pictures that he had created himself.  He was given work as a freelance and then in 1950 a staff job.

While working for Picture Post he produced his most memorable work. His first assignment was a feature ''Cats of London'', a pictorial essay about feral cats in the city after the Blitz.

Another feature was about Danny Hughes who was nearing the end of a seven-year sentence in Wakefield and had been granted a week’s parole, and instant when he  had his first liberated swallow of beer was enshrined by Hopkins.

In 1956 Thurston photographed poverty among the people of Liverpool and many believe this was his finest work, but sadly the essay was never published. Liverpool Council believed it would show them in a bad light and appealed to Edward Hulton, owner of Picture Post, who forbade publication.

When Picture Post came to an end Hopkins set up a studio in Chiswick and became one of London’s most successful commercial photographers, later teaching photography at the Guildford College of Art.



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