Saturday, April 30, 2011

Verdict On Wedding Front Page Picture

Congratulations to the Daily Mail. Amazingly they got the page one picture treatment of the wedding right! This was pure Mirror territory and they blew it. There's a time on major picture stories when gushing type and 'angles' are unnecessary. Picture editor's should tell back benches to butt out. Emotion = minimalism.

The Times made a good stab at being different. Sadly, on the wrong story.

Alright, the FT and the Guardian are pretentious heavies. They're allowed to be boring.

 The Telegraph were so close - then suffered a bout of cropping fever.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The paparazzi and the royals

On a hot August day in 1992 a well-known paparazzo approached me and said.
“What would you say if I told you I could get pictures of Fergie having her toes sucked by Johnny Bryan?”
I was Picture Editor of the TODAY newspaper then and the scandalous pictures had been on the grapevine. I was desperate for them. I said.
“The Mirror’s got them for 75 grand. I can’t afford that.”
His eyes twinkled.
“No probs. I’ll get them for a quarter of that. I’ll have them here by midnight.”
With that he grinned – and so did I. Every red top in the world wanted those snaps. I feared a caning by my Editor if we appeared without them. On such things tabloid picture editors’ jobs depend.

A call on the stroke of twelve saw me in a darkened Wapping car park for the ‘meet.’ A touch of ‘deep throat’ about it all, especially under the very windows of our owner and deadly rival the SUN. Sure enough he had the scandalous snaps. He had done a deal with a print worker in Italy and he clutched a still warm copy of Oggi magazine, straight off the presses and flown to London within hours.

The deal done I sliced them up and slapped them into that night’s first edition of Today, only hours after the Mirror. At twenty grand they were a bargain.

That’s how the paps operate. Smart, solo units, thinking on their feet. Some deride them but are they any different from Francis Drake raiding the Spanish ships for gold, or the Merchant Adventurers of old? The readers wanted to be titillated by scandal amongst the privileged classes. It was supply and demand.

Earlier, the pap who took the Fergie pics discovered where the Pope went swimming in his red socks. He rigged the Holy Father’s holiday villa with CCTV cameras and the pictures went round the world.

His forerunners were equally adept sharks in the pap pool. The UK’s first, Ray Bellisario, climbed a tree in the dead of night in Windsor Great Park, overlooking the lake and waited. A day later Princess Margaret went water skiing in a wetsuit. He was nick-named, ‘the Peeping Tom’ and telefoto lenses in those days were called ‘long toms.’

He would walk the Mall pushing a pram, his long lens snuggling where the baby should be. He plagued the royal family for a decade. Prince Philip finally asked the Queen,
“Can’t we bloody have him put in the Tower!”
She replied.
“Not these days, dear.”
It was said Philip walked the corridors flipping open the visors of the suits of armour in case Bellisario was inside.
The paps didn’t always get their way. In the late sixties ‘Peeping Tom’ pictured the Queen walking in the grounds of the Palace with the Duke of Windsor, then shunned and outlawed by ‘the Firm.’ The royals were furious and denied it ever happened. No UK editor would dare call the Queen a liar, and the picture didn’t appear in print until thirty years later, in 1998.

In the late fifties a picture was taken by an ‘insider’ of the Queen and Philip in bed, eating breakfast from a tray. The Express, terrified to use it, gave it to French magazine, Paris Match, hoping to report the ‘scurrilous’ use by the foreign press and thereby, use it themselves. But all parties got cold feet and it ‘disappeared.’

It was a reporter who took the picture that finally outed Princess Margaret’s affair with Roddy Llewellyn, a man 17 years her junior. Ross Waby of the Daily Mail visited Mustique, Margaret’s hideaway island, as a rich tourist. He posed his wife for a picture and caught the two lovers in the background. The pics caused a sensation.

Later the Express planted cameraman, Stanley Meagher, in the rafters of Streatham Ice Rink. He stayed for six weeks to capture the first skating lessons for the young Princess Anne.

Diana’s charisma and the availability of miniature cameras made her pursuit a money-maker for the new breed of ‘stop at nothing’ paparazzi of the 90’s. She was stalked and an industry grew up around her. Millions of pounds were made from her pictures. Because she lived in Kensington it wasn’t hard to guess her movements.

I was now Daily Mirror Picture Editor. Every day ten paps offered me her picture. I only covered diary events with my royal photographer, Kent Gavin. I didn’t need him to chase her. The paps filled the blanks.

By now TV had joined the chase. The picture of the decade was a video grab. Martin Bashir’s BBC Panorama interview, in which she admitted adultery with James Hewitt and revealed the role of Camilla in the marriage, depicted a Princess in anguish, and the stills showed it.

The beginning of the end for the Princess came when Diana insisted the Queen withdraw her Royal Protection Officers. She was doing 'deals' with the pressmen, tipping them off where she would be, scoring points against her husband in their battle and the S.O.14 officers were in her way. But they had kept her safe on the streets. By shunning them she was literally alone, thrown to the wolves. The fringe paps could now get at her and made her life hell, insulting her, screaming at her. They were not proper cameramen, just chancers who bought a camera to make money from her. She turned to Mohamed Fayed for protection.

In doing so she lost her trusted Royal Protection Officer, Inspector Ken Wharfe, of the elite S.O.14 bureau at New Scotland Yard. He was with her for ten years until he resigned, frustrated by her machinations with the royal press pack.

He says tellingly in his book:

* “Diana’s death, I kept thinking, was senseless because it could so easily have been prevented, but it was not photographers and journalists who killed her. My department had had the care of her for some fifteen years: Mohamed Fayed’s team of ‘bodyguards’ had had charge of her security for eight weeks, and now she was dead. They failed in their task and it angered me beyond words.”

A sentiment with which I could only agree.

* “Closely Guarded Secret” by Ken Wharfe. (Michael O’Mara Books.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Are The Banks To Blame For The Pap Attacks On Wills And Kate?

The new breed of ‘stop at nothing’ paparazzi, who pursued Kate Middleton’s mother and sister on mopeds, prompted Clarence House to warn newspaper editors via the UK press watchdog, citing ‘harassment by agency photographers.’ This ‘agency’ distinction is telling. The royal establishment, battle hardened by the same pursuit of Diana, is aware of the new dangers the pap packs pose to William, Kate and the Middleton family.

Hunting William’s mother became a dance, a ritual. The staff cameramen may have joined in with less gusto than the paps but join they did, encouraged by their bosses.  Diana’s canny royal protectors, the elite men from New Scotland Yard’s S.O.14  bureau, knew how to strike deals with the press snappers to ensure privacy. A royal holiday started with a discreet ‘photocall’ on a beach somewhere, conditional on being left alone for the week. Foreign paps broke it but not the British press corps.

The first time the 19 year old Diana emerged in that see-through summer skirt whilst working at a play school, the hunters simply repeated the actions they had used so successfully in an earlier decade with that era’s glamour princess, Margaret Rose Windsor.

The unhappy Margaret was forced by the establishment and the church to give up her divorced lover, Group Capt. Peter Townsend. The press photographers began a chase of proportions never before seen on British royalty. And circulations boomed. She was snapped in a swimsuit by the first UK stalker pap, Ray Bellisario, known as “the Peeping Tom.” Once separated from her husband, Tony Armstrong-Jones, also bizarrely a photographer who worked for the Daily Express, a photo of her with her new lover, Roddy Llewellyn, a man 17 years her junior, was taken by reporter Ross Waby, acting like a rich tourist and posing his wife with their targets in the background in Mustique, her Caribbean hideaway. The British press were galvanised and she was pursued relentlessly. Circulations boomed again. Royal deference was finally over. The Daily Express placed snapper Stanley Meagher in the rafters of Streatham Ice Rink for six weeks to capture the young Princess Anne's first ice skating lessons.

With Diana the papers smelled a new boost for readership and every editor, news editor and picture editor drank their fill of the ‘candid’ shots made available every day. The tabloids’ first schedule line was always, “what’s Diana doing today?”

Although Frederico Fellini coined the word ‘paparazzi’ when shooting “La Dolce Vita” in the fifties, to describe Italian snappers on motor-scooters as a swarm of mosquitoes, he later changed the translation to “somebody who wants to break your balls.” Royals on the end of a picture snatch attack might think that more appropriate.

Paparazzi are celebrity photographers whose pictures are confrontational. Zealots only to the cause of making money. Nothing wrong with that but it’s the way a fringe element goes about it that causes the damaged relationships. There’s a difference between paps chasing celebrities at nightclubs and film premieres and the hunting of royal family members. The paps don’t always see it that way.

The snap shooters are aware of the hypocrisy that goes with club publicists and PR’s making sure they know the whereabouts of their ‘stars’ then effecting to shield their celebrities from their attentions when the C-listers cry out, ‘somebody take my picture!’ But C-list fame is temporary unlike class. The true stars, the Jack Nicholsons, Michael Caines, knew how to light up the paps. No thrown punches, just smiles making great, saleable shots. Richard Burton was known to carouse into the small hours with chosen reporters and cameramen.

Nobody is forced to be a celebrity. The world’s richest man, living in anonymity, can ride a pushbike unmolested by cameras. Certain clubs are ‘targets’ and stars choose to go there or not. No doubt there are many clubs where you could fornicate on the dance floor and nobody would turn a lens on you. Drink has always fuelled the incidents outside nightclubs and the paps and papers thrive on the results.

But the same rules cannot apply to British royalty, who are an institution which needs contact with its people. They need to be safely seen, hence the warning about ‘harassment by agency photographers.’

Not staff photographers, you’ll notice and there’s a reason for that.

The financial meltdown not only damaged banks. It slashed tabloid newspaper staff too, and the first to go were the media trained staff photographers. The broadsheet Daily Express, in its pomp, had 51 cameramen in London, 37 in Manchester and 31 in Glasgow. Now it has two. The Daily Mirror, first to use pictures in 1904, had 30 in London - now cut to just two. This leaves untrained, wannabee paps, with no knowledge of the rules of engagement, chasing whoever they think will make them a buck.

It’s a recipe for confrontation.

The tabloid picture editors can simply cherry pick the snaps that interest their paper, only paying for what they buy. With no expensive staffers, cameras and cars to subsidise they can buy in the pictures they want and shun those taken on ‘renegade’ missions by fringe citizen cameramen.

The paparazzi have privatised press photography. The upside? Serious cost cutting. The down? Some unfortunate confrontations in the streets as some private snappers set about their trade. The tabloid picture editors need their snaps more than ever in a celebrity obsessed world. The more confrontational the better, safe from criticism by pointing out, ‘we didn’t do it. The pictures were offered to us.’

And so the uneasy truce will continue into the reign of Wills and Kate with many skirmishes yet to come. New era, new enemy.