“I was looking for Blackfriars Street, and a meeting I never found … I walked down many streets, all stoney and treeless, between the two-storey houses that look painfully alike. In all the windows were shabby lace curtains, and against the light you could see from time to time a man or woman silhouetted, bent over a washbowl, or stretching and yawning, ready for sleep after a hard day.” The Lord will Provide for England, by Martha Gellhorn, Collier’s, September 1938.
Imagine London, the confident, smoky, industrious centre of the British Empire, the location of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the meeting place for Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims.
Now focus your mind south of the River Thames on the district of Southwark, where a short stroll from the site of the tavern in which Chaucer had his Canterbury pilgrims gather you will find the birthplace of the much loved English photographer, Bert Hardy.
Bert was born on May 19th 1913, the first of seven children to carpenter Albert ‘Seagull’ Hardy and Blanche, his charlady wife. The family home consisted of two small rooms at the top of Priory Buildings on Webber Street just off the Blackfriars Road, where they slept at night packed like sardines into one double bed.
Photography became part of Bert Hardy’s life in 1927 when the young Cockney got a job as a messenger and developer and printer at the Central Photographic Service, which was run from a gloomy basement near Charing Cross Station.
Twice a day Bert went on a round of West End chemist shops collecting and delivering film and prints, often jumping onto the backs of passing lorries and carts to save on bus fares.
When he heard that a photographer could earn good money on Fleet Street – then the heart of the British newspaper industry – Hardy bought a plate camera for 50p from a pawn shop on The Cut opposite London’s Old Vic Theatre.
Having taught himself about apertures and shutter speeds by trial and error, and how to gauge distance by pacing between lamp posts, Hardy’s career as a photographer began with a photograph of royalty.
What the grand occasion was may be lost in the mists of time, but King George V and Queen Mary were in regal procession down the Blackfriars Road in an open carriage when spotting the young Hardy with his camera among the cheering crowds, the monarch turned in acknowledgement.
Steadying the camera on his sister’s head Bert pressed the shutter.
From a slightly blurred black and white negative Bert printed 200 postcards which he sold to friends and neighbours at two and a half pence each. Before long he was turning a decent profit with group-shots of pub-outings – ‘beanos’ – to the resort of Southend-On-Sea.
During the 1930s rising wages and falling production costs had turned cycling into a popular sport. Bert joined a cycling club and combining his passion for cycling with his photography began submitting photographs to The Bicycle magazine.
Although it wasn’t long before Hardy’s images of cycling girls and rural landscapes became a feature of the magazine’s front and back pages, it was the work of The Bicycle’s staff photographer, George Moore, which was to change Bert’s career.
Moore used a 35mm Leica. Amazed at the detail in Moore’s prints Hardy saved up and bought a second-hand model – probably a Leica I – which he described as old, black and with a fixed 50mm f3.5 standard lens. “I never looked back after buying my first Leica,” Bert was to say in later life.
The Cockney photographer went on to create his own developer (a mix of paraphenylene-diamine, metol, glycin and soda sulphite) which he called his ‘super-soup’. By push-processing film in his super-soup Bert could work without flash in lower lighting conditions than most of his competitors.
Not content with his own developer Hardy took a soldering iron to another Leica and customised the shutter so that it could synchronise with flash at 1000th of a second. Bert was no fool. Even today’s Lecia M7 cannot achieve flash synchronisation at such a high speed without an adaptor.
In 1936 Hardy’s nine year association with the Central Photographic Service ended when Bert and his girlfriend Dora decided to get married.
When Bert broke the news to Mr Duke, his boss at Central Photographic, Duke was so embarrassed at the idea of a man keeping a wife on less than £3 a week that he sacked him.
Hardy moved to the General Photographic Agency (GPA) which was run by William Davis, a large-format photographer known on Fleet Street for his broad-rimmed hat and starched-wing collars.
The routine at GPA included a search of the daily papers by William Davis and his salesman Bertran Collins for ideas to turn into picture features like The Singing Mouse, The Man who Grew Stones in his Garden and the Alligator Hypnotiser.
Bert Hardy was soon matching Davis and Collins with silly stories of his own, notably A Fish Gone to Hospital which made a four page spread in an early edition of Picture Post.
Channel Crossing, another of Bert’s ideas, made seven pages in the popular weekly for which William Davis was paid £26. Bert’s cut was £1.50. An argument ensued but Bert stayed on until both he and Bertran Collins were sacked for earning too much.
Just four days after leaving GPA, Hardy and Collins opened the doors of their own agency, the Criterion Press, at 172 Fleet Street.
INFORMATION AND TECHNOLOGY
Long before the internet and television could disseminate 24 hour news across the planet, and before the emergence of cinema newsreels and radio news broadcasts in the 1920s, the general public relied on the print media – newspapers and magazines – to inform them of world events.
From the introduction of Gutenberg’s letterpress process in the fifteenth century to this day it has been possible to express all the subtleties of the printed European word to an ever widening audience.
But it was not until the introduction of the halftone printing process at the end of the nineteenth century that the nuances in tone of the visual image printed for the mass market, could escape interpretation by the eye and hand of the woodcut artist or the engraver.
By converting continuous tones into tiny dots to be printed with ink onto paper, the halftone printing process did away with this need for simplification of tone by hand, and the work of news photographers began to reach the popular market uninterpreted just as Europe toppled into the first major conflict of the twentieth century.
The hunger for news during the First World War (1914-18) provided the stimulus for publishers to utilise the new print technology to reproduce photographs in innovative and dynamic layouts.
Inspired by the juxtapositions created by the editing process of photography’s young sibling, cinematography, magazine editors realised that laying out images sequentially across a page could tell a compelling story without words, and the photo-essay was born.
Until the 1920s however, plate and roll film cameras with bellows for focusing inclined many photographers to produce posed and static images.
But in 1924 two cameras were introduced that revolutionised how photographs could be taken, and in consequence dramatically changed the possibilities of the photo-essay and the history of photography. Both innovations came from Germany.
From Ermanann of Dresden (soon to be part of Zeiss-Ikon) came the Ermanox camera with the fastest lens then in existence, the Ernostar f1.8.
From Leitz of Wetzlar came another spin-off from early cinema, Oscar Barnak’s Leica camera. The Leica had film transport, used daylight loadable cassettes of 35mm cinematographic film and fitted discreetly into the palm of a man’s hand.
1924 was the year in which photographers were liberated to become the eyes – and at times the conscience – of the modern age in motion.
Perhaps it was no coincidence that both cameras came from Weimar Germany, then the fulcrum for much of the modernist movement in art and design.
Emerging from Germany’s defeat in the First World War only to fall into the catastrophe of the Nazi ascendancy, the democratic Weimar Republic burnt bright for a decade and a half with new ideas in social and political theory, psychoanalysis and the arts.
Politically unstable yet vibrant in thought and innovation, Weimar Germany was the home to more illustrated magazines than any other country in Europe.
Two magazines at the forefront of the Weimar publishing boom, the Münchner Illustrierte Presse and the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, made full creative use of the newly versatile medium of photography.
Photography was at the vanguard of modernist thought.
PHOTOJOURNALISM AND THE PRINT MEDIA BOOM
The most significant figure to come out of the publishing boom in Weimar Germany was a Jewish Hungarian magazine editor from Budapest called Stefan Lorant (1901-97).
A mercurial loner, Lorant used his potent visual intelligence to pioneer the dramatic use of the new photojournalism on the printed page, and in so doing led magazine publishing into it’s most exciting and influential era.
At the age of 19 Stefan Lorant had left Hungary to work in the silent film industry in Austria and Germany. Beginning work as a studio photographer it was the young Hungarian’s cinematography on Otto Kreisler’s ‘Mozart Leben, Lieben und Leiden’ (Austria, 1920) that really established his career.
Within a year the brilliant Lorant had risen from cameraman to film director. By 1925 he was editing picture magazines in Berlin.
Appointed Editor in Chief of the Münchner Illustrierte Presse in 1928 Lorant used the work of eminent stills photographers, including Brassaï and Erich Solomon, to tell stories on the printed page as effectively as he had used moving images to tell stories on the silent screen.
Following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the Great Depression edged the Weimar Republic into political instability. Out of this instability emerged an extreme nationalist leader from Austria offering a new future.
Stefan Lorant had been critical of the Nazis during Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. When in 1933 Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and civil rights were suspended and political opposition extinguished, Lorant found himself in the ‘protective custody’ of the Nazis for six and a half months.
As soon as the Hungarian Government had managed to secure his release, Stefan Lorant joined an exodus of journalists, scientists, artists and Jews from Nazi Germany. After a short time writing and editing in Budapest, he moved to London.
Hardly able to speak English on his arrival, Lorant’s influence on English language magazine publishing was to be immediate and profound.
Lorant’s first job in London was as a picture editor at Odhams Press where he worked on the launch issues of Britain’s first popular picture magazine, Weekly Illustrated.
Photographs were selected for their impact and printed big. Story lines made the reader curious. ’Mussolini : What is he Planning?’ (Weekly Illustrated, August 4th 1934) with photographs by Felix H. Man of Il Duce at work in his palatial office (Lorant himself appears in one of the images talking to Mussolini by a giant fireplace), and ‘Midnight in Paris’ by Brassaï (December 1st 1934).
Without any publicity the circulation of Weekly Illustrated shot to a quarter of a million – a success which was to make the publication the model for Henry Luce’s Life magazine, launched in the United States in 1936.
However, the restless Lorant decided he was not appreciated at Odhams working under editor Maurice Cowan, and left determined to produce a picture magazine of his own.
The result was the classic pocket journal Lilliput which Lorant launched in July 1937 on £1,200 borrowed from a girlfriend. Another instant success Lilliput entertained its readers with short stories, humour and photographs often printed in witty juxtapositions.
The journal contained no advertising and cost more to publish than the two and a half pence cover price brought in.
Within a year all the shares in Lilliput had been sold to a new publishing company, the Hulton Press, for an estimated £20,000. Stefan Lorant paid off his debts and – while retaining editorship of Lilliput – started planning a fresh venture with the publishers.
POWER AND INFLUENCE
The owner of the Hulton Press was Edward Hulton (1906-1988), the rich and educated illegitimate son of a newspaper baron.
The Hulton family fortune had grown quickly from modest beginnings. Edward Hulton’s grandfather, a compositor on the Manchester Guardian launched The Sporting Chronicle in 1871. Hulton’s father built this into a significant media empire, which in ill health, he sold to Lord Beverbrook for £6 million in 1923.
On gaining his inheritance on his thirtieth birthday, Edward Hulton used the money to establish the Hulton Press in London, at 43 Shoe Lane.
Already publishing Farmer’s Weekly and Nursing Mirror by the time he bought Lilliput in 1937, Edward Hulton was keen to bring out a new high-profile magazine that would further his ambition as a Conservative politician.
Hulton hoped that his new employee Stefan Lorant, would produce a conservative weekly similar to The Spectator, but having been given a free hand the unpredictable Hungarian returned to the pictorial format with which he had made his name in Berlin, and created the left-leaning Picture Post, the most influential picture magazine in the British Empire.
“I wanted to appeal to the masses, the common man, to the workers, to the intelligensia,” Lorant told his boigrapher Michael Hallett.
“To print the truth and to do it honestly, to enlighten the readers of subjects on which they have little knowledge; never talk down to them; never underestimate their intelligence; but share with them a common knowledge, to learn together.”
The only concession made to publisher Edward Hulton was that Hulton would write a weekly article for the magazine.
Picture Post was launched on October 1st 1938 with Stefan Lorant as editor. His assistant, Tom Hopkinson (1905-1990) was an Oxford graduate who had worked in the advertising department at Odhams Press and on the Labour newspaper the Daily Herald.
Photographers on the new weekly included two Germans, Felix H. Man (Hans Bauman) and Kurt Hutton (Kurt Hubschmann).
Both Man and Hutton had worked for Simon Guttmann’s Dephot agency which had supplied Lorant’s Münchner Illustrierte Presse and the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung with innovative material, but who in 1934 had, like Lorant, fled Hitler’s Germany for England. In England they had established themselves by working for Lorant at Weekly Illustrated.
Stefan Lorant ordered a print run of 750,000 copies for the first issue of Picture Post, twice what he rightly expected to sell, but every copy sold.
Within two months Picture Post became the first weekly to top one million copies. When circulation reached 1.7 million in the summer of 1939 it was estimated that seven million Britains a week were reading the picture magazine.
In his autobiography ‘Of This Our Time,’ Tom Hopkinson wrote that Lorant was the first editor to fully understand what a potent journalistic weapon photography was in its own right.
‘Back to the Middle Ages’ (Picture Post, November 26th 1938) was a ferocious attack on Germany’s Nazi leaders Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Herman Goering and the Jew baiter Julius Steiche, who’s faces were contrasted with those of the writers, actors and scientists they were persecuting.
“Out of all the thousands of picture magazines I have since read and studied,” wrote Hopkinson, “this remains for me the most powerful example of photographs used for political effect. Lorant understood photographs as no one else I have ever met understood them.”
On September 1st 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. France and the British Empire declared war on Germany. The Second World War had begun.
Within nine months Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium and France had all fallen to the advancing German Reich, and Stefan Lorant became convinced Hitler’s armies would soon be in Britain. Fearing further ill-treatment at the hands of the Nazis, Lorant left Britain for America in July 1940. He was not to return for 50 years.
After watching and learning for 78 issues, Tom Hopkinson was ready to succeed as editor.
As German nationals, Picture Post photographers Felix H. Man and Kurt Hutton were temporarily interned on the Isle of Man.
“It would always be possible to find someone to take charge of the text,” noted Hopkinson. “But if the picture side of the magazine were not handled properly the whole enterprise would fail.”
Picture Post was in need of a photographer.
ONE OF OUR PHOTOGRAPHERS
Bert Hardy had had stories published in Picture Post before the start of the Second World War, but as with most of the money, the credit for Bert’s work had gone to the starch-collared William Davis at GPA.
Now his own boss at Criterion, Hardy could supply features in his own name.
Keen to test the young Cockney’s abilities under the pressure of a commission, Picture Post’s new editor Tom Hopkinson decided on a challenging assignment.
German bombers had started the blitz of British cities, and Hopkinson asked Bert to do a shoot on the street shelters. He could not use flash and the pictures must make the reader feel they were in the semi-darkness, with the families as bombs were falling.
Hardy was dispatched to Newcastle where an air raid had been reported. After scratching around he found a dimly lit brick-lined tunnel, “Where nervous people sometimes went at night”. Using the available light from a few strung-out light bulbs Bert took pictures hand-holding his Leica at 1/4 of a second.
On his return to London Hardy took his films to the Criterion darkroom and put them in his super-soup to develop. Knowing the images were underexposed, he doubled his usual processing time from sixteen to thirty minutes.
When Hardy viewed his negatives under a green safelight there was nothing to see. Another half hour in the super-soup produced the faintest of highlights. Frustrated, Bert put the films back in the developer and went to visit his mother across Blackfriars Bridge. He let himself in to her house but as everyone was asleep made himself a cup of tea. He thinks he may have dozed off.
By the time he got back to the darkroom the films had been stewing for four hours, and something of the latent images had finally emerged as dense and very grainy negatives.
Hardy even felt the lighting in the images emanated a Rembrandt-like quality, and so did Picture Post who loved the results of Hardy’s first assignment. Even Life magazine published the photographs.
Bert had passed his test triumphantly, and was to become the mainstay of Picture Post. Assignments were to come thick and fast. The world was at war. London was being bombed.
On the night of January 11th 1941 the Luftwaffe dropped incendiaries on a row of warehouses south of Blackfriars Bridge. Always on the hunt for a dramatic image Bert went into the cellar of one of the warehouses with a fireman, but a beam gave way bringing the roof crashing down behind them.
Scrambling for a way out the pair found a tunnel which ran beneath the warehouses which they wriggled along until they emerged further down the burning street – to discover the fireman’s colleagues were already digging for their bodies in the rubble.
Bert thought he must also have got onto the roof of one of the buildings to take pictures of firemen fighting the blaze from the tops of their ladders, although he couldn’t recall doing so.
In the warehouse fire, Bert’s suit had been burnt and his camera damaged. Tom Hopkinson ensured Picture Post paid the cost of replacing both for the Criterion Press photographer.
When the fire-fighter story was published, Hopkinson ended it with the famous caption, ”From our rule of anonymity we except these pictures. They were taken by A. Hardy, one of our photographers.” (Picture Post, February 1st 1941).
Two months after shooting the fire-fighters, Bert left Bertram Collins and Criterion to join Picture Post as a staff photographer on a freelance basis. His guarantee was £8 a week, plus expenses.
In 1942, as a fit man of fighting age, Hardy was called up by the British Army. Following training, Bert was assigned to to the Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU) which had it’s headquarters on London’s Curzon Street. As part of AFPU he then began to work for Army Public Relations in Cadogan Gardens.
MUDDLE AND CONFUSION
During the Second World War British army photographers were issued with the Zeiss Super Ikonta, a heavy folding camera with a non-interchangable f2.8 lens.
Made in Germany, the Super Ikonta produced eleven pictures on a roll of 120 film, its top speed was only 1/250 of a second, and winding the film between frames took two to three seconds. Not allowed to use his own cameras, Hardy complained the Ikonta was slow, awkward and annoying.
The British Army, it seemed, was issuing its photographers with German equipment inappropriate for war photography.
Under the editorships of Stefan Lorant and Tom Hopkinson, Picture Post had set out to inform and entertain; but it was also a crusading publication and the weekly magazine’s readers came to see Picture Post as their mouthpiece, as a voice of the people.
At the beginning of the Second World War Picture Post had criticised what it saw as the avoidable failures of Britain’s war effort – especially the muddle and confusion of the early months – and the military’s inability to adapt to the advances in modern warfare that were being so effectively employed by the enemy.
These reports antagonised government departments, notably the Ministry of Information. When a story was printed detailing how second-rate war material was undermining morale, the ministry prevented the magazine from reaching British troops in the Middle East. Not that that proved to be a problem for Hulton who re-allocated the banned edition to outlets throughout Britain.
Bert Hardy, army photographer, became a Sergeant and for a while military life provided a leisurely break from the bustle of assignments for Picture Post. But Hardy’s value to the weekly magazine was not forgotten in his absence.
For the duration of Hardy’s army service, Tom Hopkinson ensured the Hulton Press paid £5 a week into Bert’s bank account, a sum which covered the mortgage repayments on his family house in Eltham. Bert could even afford £200 to buy a Bugatti that had once belonged to an Italian Count.
INTO OCCUPIED EUROPE
On D Day, June 6th 1944, the Allies invaded occupied Europe in the largest sea-borne assault in history. As an army photographer Bert Hardy was ordered to photograph the first of the allied wounded as they returned to England from the beaches of northern France.
On July 1st Bert crossed the Channel himself and was sent to the strategic city of Caen where the Germans were putting up fierce resistance. Amid being mortared and documenting captured German soldiers and nurses at work on the injured he met George Silk of Life magazine and Robert Capa.
Saying how much they liked his work Capa and Silk invited Hardy to join them for a drink. But the officer’s mess was for commissioned officers and war correspondents only. As a Sergeant Bert wasn’t allowed in.
Bert made up for this in Paris. Detailed to record the liberation of the city on August 25th Hardy photographed the Free French and American forces as they marched into the city amid a carnival atmosphere of cheering crowds and waving flags. After four days of heady celebration Bert was dispatched east to cover the liberation of Brussels and Antwerp.
Bert’s military duties were relaxed enough for him to combine his AFPU work with shooting stories for Weekly Illustrated and for Picture Post once more. Permission was granted for his Rolleiflex and 35 mm Contax cameras to be sent over from London.
Life became hazardous again when the Allies reached the German border.
The British military land force for the invasion of Europe on June 6th 1944 had been the Second Army, commanded by General Miles Dempsey.
After the Allied breakout from Normandy in August Bert Hardy had moved with Dempsey’s Second Army as it swept across northern France into Belgium and eventually to Holland where AFPU headquarters was established at Eindhoven.
For the Allies one of the key strategic operations of the campaign was the crossing of the Rhine into Nazi Germany.
Just hours before the British were to make the crossing Bert set up his Contax on a tripod on the heights at Staaland to photograph the river at night. The Rhine, crowded with barges and landing craft was lit by an eerie moon.
Fires burned on the far bank. The odd tracer bullet appeared to fly lazily through the night air. Suddenly Bert’s Picture Post colleague Macdonald Hastings threw himself to the ground and shouted to Bert to do the same. The tracer bullet had been fired at them.
“I can’t,” said Bert. “I’m giving a time exposure!”
CROSSING THE RHINE
On March 24th 1945 Bert Hardy was taking pictures on the River Rhine when he was spotted by General Dempsey. Dempsey was about to become the first Allied General to cross the river, and unaware the photographer was working for Picture Post ordered Bert to record the occasion.
General Dempsey crossed the Rhine and Bert photographed him stepping onto the eastern bank. Hardy then took the return crossing on the prow of Dempsey’s motor launch to get pictures of the victorious general with the German shoreline in the background.
When they were midway across German mortar positions got the launch’s range and began peppering the river with fire, sending sheets of water into the air. Dempsey’s launch reached the Allied side and everyone took cover as Hardy took some more images of the general under fire.
“Brilliant stuff,” wrote Tom Hopkinson in a letter to Bert when General Dempsey crossing the Rhine made the cover of Picture Post.
Three weeks later as the Allies advanced into Nazi Germany Bert was confronted with the shock of the death camps. Sketchy reports of camps liberated by the Red Army in Poland had reached the west but the full horror was not apparent to the Western Allies until British troops entered the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp near Hanover on April 15th 1945.
Bert Hardy reached the camp to find the press and allied military personnel wandering around in disbelief. 50,000 people had died in Bergen-Belsen during the war. Emaciated bodies lay everywhere. More than 10,000 were to die from disease and illness following liberation.
Never inclined to photograph corpses Bert realised that he had to record what he was witnessing. He knew no one would believe such things could happen were they not to see photographic proof.
Bert took to carrying a print of the concentration camp in his pocket which he would show to any German who refused to accept that such things had happened. Even then some Germans refused to accept that images of the death camps were not Allied propaganda.
A BALLET OF BRIDESMAIDS
After five and a half years of war in Europe, Germany surrendered to the Allies on May 7th 1945. In the Far East, following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered on September 2nd 1945.
That August Bert Hardy had been deployed to AFPU Far East Command in Kandy, Ceylon and then to Singapore where he was detailed to organise Lord Louis Mounbatten’s press section along Fleet Street lines. Bert streamlined the developing, printing, captioning and world wide syndication.
As great-grandson of Queen Victoria, brother to the Queen of Sweden and Supreme Allied Commander in South East Asia, the amiable Mountbatten was as aware of his own importance as he was the power of the photograph in promoting it. Bert’s AFPU darkroom was to produce endless portraits of Mountbatten for distribution among all the officers serving under him.
In August 1946 the AFPU operation in Singapore closed down and Bert sailed for home and civilian life. Within a week of his return Hardy had accepted an offer of a full time job at Picture Post.
In newly independent India, Bert photographed the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, in France the Gypsy festival of the Black Virgin at Saint Maries-de-la Mar in the Camargue and in Poland the wedding of a Scottish girl to a Polish soldier in Warsaw.
In London there was a bigger wedding to cover. In what Bert described as one of England’s periodic fits of royalty fever, the future Queen Elizabeth was marrying the Duke of Edinburgh in Westminster Abbey.
Crammed into a rota position in a tiny gallery over a dimly lit West Door, Bert caught a ballet of bridesmaids around the princess as they arranged her train on his much loved Contax at 1/10 of a second at f1.4, as the two agency photographers either side of him struggled with their much slower large-format equipment.
The Royal Wedding was followed by the Irish General Election of 1948, the Greek Civil War, and the war in Burma – between the Burmese Government and the Karen people (of Mongol descent who lay claim to be among the first settlers of that part of South East Asia). When Bret was there the battle was only ten miles from the Burmese capital, Rangoon.
Refused permission to go to the front line, Bert made his own way to the fighting where he found a few Burmese troops taking cover. He asked them where the Karen forces were, then simply walked up the road through no man’s land to the Karen positions. Being pro-British the Karen proved friendly.
After taking his photographs Bert walked back to the Burmese front line where he was pressed on what he had seen. Bert suggested if they really wanted to know, the Burmese should go and find out for themselves, and returned to Rangoon.
THE ESSENCE OF LIFE
In 1948 Bert Hardy shot a story for Picture Post on the Gorbals, a deprived working class district of Glasgow. In the Gorbals Bert encountered poverty far greater than he ever experienced as a child in Blackfriars.
Curtains of grimy rags hung behind uncleaned windows. Among the slum tenements, vandalised and damp, the misery was only lifted by the cheeky playfulness of the children. Here Bert took his favourite image, the famous picture of two boys off on an errand. The mature photographer had captured in an instant the spirit of his own childhood.
“The ideal picture tells something of the essence of life,” wrote Hardy. “It sums up emotion, it holds the feeling of movement thereby implying the continuity of life. It shows some aspect of humanity, the way that the person who looks at the picture will at once recognise as startlingly true.”
Although Bill Brandt was first assigned the Gorbals shoot, it was Bert’s pictures of Glasgow which gave the story it’s gritty atmosphere, and went on to win the photo sequence section in the first Encyclopaedia Britannica Photographic Awards.
In November 1948, two days after collecting his prize at the glitzy Savoy Hotel in London, Hardy started on a story that took him back to his old stomping ground at the Elephant and Castle near Blackfriars, and just a stone’s throw from his birthplace in Priory Buildings on Webber Street.
As with the Gorbals piece, Bert was to document life in a poor district with his friend, the loyal Communist Bert Lloyd – an eloquent writer known later for his broadcasts and involvement in the revival of British folk music.
Autumn was turning to winter, and the Elephant was shrouded in thick smog. All the two Bert’s could manage were images of trams and smog, and of smog and trams. That was until they met Maisie, a prostitute who’s husband was in prison for robbery.
Maisie became their contact and guide. Unwilling to accept money for all the contacts and ideas she provided, she was content to be given a bottle of port and a bottle of gin. Maisie helped make a wonderful story for Picture Post that has lost nothing with the passing of time.
Bert Hardy’s images for ‘Life in the Elephant’ exposing the area’s pattern of life are complimented by Bert Lloyd’s lyrical introduction: ”Its voice has the rasp of trams, trains, trucks. Its eyes have the blaze of street-stalls, eel-stands, pin-table arcades and chestnut cans. Its anatomy is decked with sooty bricks, cast iron spikes and the marble pillars of pubs. Its heart is that of its people – kind as a housewife, rough as a worker, busy as a tradesman, wide as a wide-boy.”
SEEDS OF CHANGE
Following the war years when virtually every edition sold out, 1945-50 was a time of consolidation for Picture Post. Profits were steady, and despite fierce competition the circulation was rising. The magazine had all the advertising it could carry on what was still a restricted paper ration.
In 1950 Picture Post had seven more years to run, but change was to be forced on the publication all to soon, and the provocative voice of the people stance – that had made it so popular throughout the previous decade – was to be challenged from above.
It has been suggested that Edward Hulton was in line for a knighthood when the tide of fortune turned for Picture Post, but Tom Hopkinson hints the reason for the internal conflict that was to be the undoing of the weekly magazine, occurred further back in time, in Russia in 1917, when the ruling aristocracy was overthrown by Lenin’s Bolsheviks.
Hulton married twice. On both occasions into the exiled Russian aristocracy. His first marriage was to the daughter of an Imperial Russian General; his second in 1941, was to Princess Nika Youreivich, who’s father had been a chamberlain at the court of the Tsar.
The fall of France to the jackboot of Nazi Germany in 1940 affected Edward Hulton, Picture Post’s publisher, almost as profoundly as it had affected Stefan Lorant, the magazine’s first editor.
Edward Hulton did not leave Britain as Lorant felt impelled to do. Indeed he put much energy into the war effort and into the debate for social reform in post-war Britain.
Like many wealthy people at the time however, Hulton believed France’s collapse was due to the refusal of the underprivileged masses to risk their lives protecting the property of the privileged few.
The belief that the established order of entitlement would prevail, which changed with the Russian Revolution in 1917, no longer held true in western Europe. For Hulton it wasn’t Fascism that was the ideological threat, it was Communism.
A kind, but painfully shy man with a dislike of controversy, Edward Hulton had maintained a progressive outlook throughout the war, content to be associated with Picture Post’s left of centre arguments. The Labour Government of Clement Atlee, elected by a landslide at the war’s end in 1945, was welcomed with open arms.
But as any possibility of revolution ebbed away and the world polarised ideologically into communist and capitalist camps, the gap in views between Hulton the wealthy proprietor married to an exiled Russian princess, and his left-of-centre editor and staff increasingly widened.
By 1950 Atlee’s Labour government was running out of steam to become increasingly associated with rationing and control. Fleet Street’s predominantly right wing press started calling for the return of the Conservatives, who with the free spirit of national enterprise, they claimed, would again make Britain world leader in industry and trade.
Hulton had left the Conservatives during the war, but when he rejoined the party in February 1950, the Hulton Press was already a public company.
From that time Hulton showered Picture Post’s editor Tom Hopkinson with notes criticising what he saw as the magazine’s left-wing agenda.
As tensions grew between east and west, and Edward Hulton suspected imminent war, accusations were made of appeasement with the Soviet Union.
Hopkinson suggests, even as far back as 1945 – when Hulton wrote complaining, “I cannot permit editors of my newspapers to become organs of Communist propaganda” – the writing was already on the wall for Picture Post.
THE COLD WAR TURNS HOT IN NORTH-EAST ASIA
Periodically throughout its history the Korean peninsular had been a battle ground for more powerful forces in north-east Asia as they sought resources and increased spheres of influence. In 1910, after success in the Russo-Japanese War, Imperial Japan annexed the whole peninsular.
Japan’s surrender to the Allies in 1945 following America’s atomic bombing of its southern cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the final act of the Second World War. The atomic bombing, in demonstrating America’s awesome military power to the Soviet Union, has been called the first major act of the Cold War.
As the defeated Japanese departed from Korea the peninsular was split along the 38th Parallel into two zones of occupation, the United States in the south and the Soviet Union in the north.
In 1948 two independent ideologically opposing states, North and South Korea were proclaimed.
But both North and South Korea had respective plans for reunification, and in June 1950, in an attempt to unify the country by force, Communist North Korea launched a surprise attack on the right-wing republican South.
The assault pushed US and South Korean forces to the south-eastern tip of the Korean peninsular around the city of Pusan.
When the United Nations Security Council voted in support of South Korea heavily reinforced American and South Korean forces under the flag of the United Nations launched a massive counter-offensive far behind enemy lines at Inchon, port to the captured South Korean capital Seoul.
Within six weeks UN forces had pushed the North’s Korean Peoples Army back to their northern frontier bordering the Peoples Republic of China.
Although the North Korean army with massive Chinese support then drove the United Nations forces south again to recapture all of North Korea, deadlock around the original border of the 38th Parallel led to an armistice agreement (in 1953), and an uneasy peace between the North and South which has remained to this day.
PHOTOGRAPHERS AND JOURNALISTS FIRST
Dominated by American forces, the Inchon landings of September 15th 1950 were the second most powerful sea-borne invasion after D Day. The only British journalists present were photographer Bert Hardy and writer James Cameron for Picture Post.
The first assault took place around 6:30 am following a heavy bombardment by the US fleet on North Korean positions. The section where Hardy and Cameron were would not see action until high tide that evening.
Around the transport ship, the USS Seminole, the sea was filled with boats of every shape and size. At 5:00 pm a landing craft with the word PRESS painted on it pulled alongside the Seminole and a voice from a loudhailer called, “Hardy and Cameron!”
The Picture Post men clambered aboard to join their American colleagues and the invasion fleet lined up, “Like horses under starters orders.”
Inexplicably the press launch was slightly ahead of all the other landing craft. At a given signal the entire flotilla of vessels raced for the shore at full throttle, the press craft leading the way.
The air was thick with rockets and shells as the photographers and journalists became the first invaders to make landfall. With the light fading fast, Bert put on a tin hat for the first time in his life and poked his head above the sea wall.
James Cameron remembers, “On the Korean assignment, as on many others, I was fortunately reinforced by my old mate and colleague Bert Hardy, and one of the good things about that was that Bert was no more of a John Wayne type than I.”
“Bert was, I am sure, as alarmed as I was, but there was one signal difference in our roles: he had to take the pictures, and it was long ago established that one way you cannot take pictures is lying face-down in a hole. I spent considerable periods of time doing that.”
“Bert, on the other hand, was plying his trade upright in the open, cursing the military exigencies that had organised this invasion in the middle of the night. One of my enduring memories of that strange occasion is of Bert Hardy on the seawall of Blue Beach, blaspheming among the impossible din, and timing his exposures to the momentary flash of the rockets.”
“That is the difference between the reporter’s trade and the cameraman’s. His art can never be emotion recalled in tranquillity.”
The only photographs Bert could get that evening were on his Contax at speeds as low as 1/25 of a second at f1.4. The American press working with Speed Graphics, with a widest aperture of f4.5, got next to nothing.
With the light gone, Hardy and Cameron took an empty landing craft back to the mother ship where Bert was informed that their landing had taken place on the wrong beach, one still being softened up by ‘friendly fire’. Other reports indicate the North Korean forces may have already surrendered by the time Blue Beach was reached.
Nevertheless Tom Hopkinson recalled, “As I turned over Hardy’s prints when they first came out of the darkroom, I knew that I had never had a better picture story in my hands.”
Picture Post published the Inchon Landings on October 7th 1950, the images winning Bert another Encyclopaedia Britannica award.
There was to be no such success with the second major story Hardy and Cameron sent back from the conflict in Korea.
DUTY OF A FREE PRESS: PUBLISH THE FACTS
“It had rained that day, and there were a few puddles on the ground. The prisoners were being closely watched by armed guards, but the intense heat must have made them very thirsty. Whenever they thought that no one was looking, they would scoop up the rainwater from the ground and drink it. If one of the guards saw them doing this, he immediately set on them and beat them mercilessly with his rifle butt,” wrote Bert Hardy. “These guards were in the army of our allies.”
The scene that confronted photographer Bert Hardy and writer James Cameron outside the station at Pusan, South Korea in September 1950 was never to make the pages of Picture Post, but what Hardy and Cameron were to document was to rupture the heart of the magazine so that it was never to beat as fully again.
Squatting miserably in the square outside Pusan Station were sixty men, teenagers to old men. Dressed in rags and tied together with ropes their degradation brought back the horrors of Belsen to Bert Hardy.
Suspected opponents of the South’s authoritarian nationalist leader Syngman Rhee, the captives were political prisoners. Bert wondered how a fourteen year old could hold political views. It seemed evident that they were about to be taken off and shot.
The United Nations office wanted nothing to do with the prisoners, neither did the Red Cross. All Hardy and Cameron could do was produce an indictment of the South Korean government’s actions in the knowledge that an exposé of the UN’s ally would inevitably reflect badly on the UN itself.
Having published the Inchon landings feature immediately, editor Tom Hopkinson delayed publication of the story of the ill-treatment of political prisoners until he had confirmed every detail face to face with Hardy and Cameron in Picture Post’s Shoe Lane offices.
Although authenticated reports had been filed – but never published – by Picture Post correspondent Stefan Schimanski and photographer Haywood Magee in July 1950 and The Times, on Wednesday October 25th 1950, was to confirm the ill-treatment of political prisoners by the South Korean police in chilling detail, Hopkinson knew the combination of James Cameron’s words and Bert Hardy’s pictures would create controversy.
Well aware that criticism of South Korea would inevitably be viewed as criticism of South Korea’s western allies and of the United Nations, Tom Hopkinson feared that he would again be suspected of publishing Communist propaganda by his conservative employer, Edward Hulton.
To balance the implied criticism, Hopkinson searched for and found a photograph showing the humiliation of American prisoners of war by the Communist North Koreans, which had been published in a Czech magazine. In a plea for action Picture Post also dispatched appeals to the Secretary General of the United Nations and to the leader of the British delegation, although neither were to reply.
On Friday October 20th 1950 – as on every Friday – the paste-up of Picture Post layouts was taken to Edward Hulton’s office for corrections and comment. To Hopkinson’s relief, Hulton was only concerned about his own weekly article and returned the layouts on the Korean political prisoners uncorrected and without comment.
On the following Monday Tom Hopkinson spent the day at the printers putting the issue to bed. All seemed well.
Then on Tuesday October 24th Hopkinson received a telephone call from Hulton ordering the political prisoner story be removed at once.
Hopkinson responded that he would take the story out that week as instructed, but unless he was given a convincing reason for not doing so he would put it back in the following issue.
Edward Hulton then avoided contact with his editor until Thursday, October 26th when Hopkinson was called before the full board of directors of the Hulton Press, where he was informed that the board were in full support of the proprietor’s right to include – or exclude – whatever material he chose.
Hopkinson countered that as the Korean conflict was the first battle of the Cold War, the setting of a standard for the treatment of all prisoners and captives was one of the responsibilities of the West, and of the United Nations.
“The propaganda victory or defeat would be as important in the long run as military victory; and if we believed in a free press it must be a duty of that press to publish the facts even when – indeed particularly when – they told against ourselves.”
Whether the board were moved by Hopkinson’s argument we do not know. They nevertheless upheld Hulton’s position and ordered that no part of the article or pictures should ever appear in Picture Post.
Refusing to resign or accept the board’s authority to decide the contents of the magazine, Tom Hopkinson was sacked as editor. He had served ten years at the helm of Picture Post.
Among the magazine’s staff there was talk of mass resignations, but Hopkinson advised everyone to stay on. In the end only Bert Lloyd the eloquent Communist, Marjorie Beckett, fashion editor and second wife of photographer Bill Brandt, and the science writer Derek Wragge-Morley departed.
FROM THE SILK ROAD TO THE GOLDEN MILE
By sacking Hopkinson Edward Hulton was forced to pay him, but those who resigned would get nothing more than the salary they were owed.
Even for James Cameron and Bert Hardy who had produced the fateful story, resignation was a luxury neither could afford. To keep them out of trouble the pair were dispatched to the remoteness of the Himalayas in a search for the Dalai Lama, who, following the Chinese invasion of Tibet, had escaped Lhasa and was in hiding in the Chumbi Valley near the Indian border.
Unsuccessful in their quest for the Tibetan spiritual leader (who was not to flee Tibet for another nine years), Hardy and Cameron settled on a story including the life of the monks at the monastery at Pedong, situated high on a trans-Himalayan trade route between India and Tibet (Picture Post, February 24th 1951). For a while on the Silk Road Hardy thought seriously about becoming a Buddhist.
Perhaps times were changing or perhaps the public sensed Picture Post, now lacking Hopkinson’s social comment, was loosing touch with the times. Circulation began to decline.
In an attempt to boost sales the magazine announced a £10,000 photo competition with a massive £1000 first prize (£20,000 in today’s money). Bert, who had stated that it wasn’t the camera but the person behind the camera, that made a good picture, now found himself in the position of having to prove it.
Hardy was dispatched to Blackpool where the Lord Mayor presented him with an amateur camera. With this most basic of devices plus the minor adaptations of a close up lens, a yellow filter and an improvised cardboard viewfinder, Bert roamed Blackpool’s Golden Mile looking for images. He searched without great success until he hit upon the idea of asking the showgirls from the Pier Theatre to help out.
Bert sat a couple of the girls on the rails by the sea-front and as the sun shone and the girls engaged in animated conversation the sea breeze caught their skirts and with the click of a simple shutter Hardy produced the most famous image of his entire career on the cheapest Box Brownie. Bert had made his point.
Hardy went on to shoot two stories which he seemed to enjoy immensely – Hop picking in Kent, and the port-wine harvest in Portugal – but his constant travels were putting pressure on his personal life, and although they moved house from Eltham to Blackheath, Bert was no longer getting on with his wife Dora.
THE FAMILY OF MAN
By June 1952 circulation of Picture Post had dropped below the all-important one million mark. On August 9th 1952 The Times reported profits at the Hulton Press had fallen from £321,767 to £19,340, due to “heavy losses sustained on the periodical Picture Post in particular.”
Declining readership, observed the sacked former editor Tom Hopkinson, resulted from a loss of confidence by the public, who no longer felt they were getting a clear message to help them make sense of the world around them.
On March 2nd 1953, The Daily Mail reported that Stefan Lorant was returning to London having been offered £35,000 for a year’s work on Picture Post. But Lorant never arrived, and following a procession of editors, Edward Hulton took over the editorship himself that November.
Bert Hardy wrote that the decline of Picture Post went into top gear as the magazine drifted into lightweight stories and features on film starlets. Aware of the problems on Shoe Lane Life magazine approached Hardy with the offer of a staff job.
Bert knew Life would pay three to four times his Picture Post salary, but he also knew the American giant would publish only one in every four or five stories he shot.
Despite its difficulties Picture Post still gave Bert the tight deadlines he thrived on, and the guarantee that he would see published nearly every story he shot. Like many photographers before and since, Bert Hardy needed the buzz of seeing his work in print.
So Bert turned Life down to continue his busy schedule for the British weekly. Typically the first six months of 1953 included trips to Belgrade to photograph Yugoslavia’s President Tito; to Naples to record Ingrid Bergman with her second husband, film director Roberto Rossellini and back to London for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1956 Bert’s marriage with Dora ended and he moved into his brother Sid’s front room with Sheila Marshall. Bert and Sheila had met in 1942 at Picture Post where Sheila worked as secretary and picture researcher to the picture editor.
Years were to pass before an office acquaintance became affection but a bond between them grew. “I was not the woman behind Bert,” says Sheila in recognition of the difficulties Dora must have endured bringing up two sons whilst Bert travelled the world on back-to-back assignments. But it is Sheila who today carries the Bert Hardy flame with enduring rigour.
Around this time Bert was approached by Edward Steichen who was researching images for his landmark exhibition, ‘The Family of Man’; but because Steichen only had a short time in London, and Bert was still based in his brother Sid’s front room it wasn’t possible for Bert to show his best pictures.
Exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1955 as the nuclear arms race between east and west accelerated, ‘The Family of Man’ was Steichen’s plea to the peoples of the world to remember their common humanity. The exhibition also served as a reminder of the importance of photography’s role as documenter of the rights of passage we all share. Three of Hardy’s images were to be selected.
(After going on to tour 37 countries ‘The Family of Man’ is now housed at Clervaux in Luxembourg, Steichen’s birthplace.)
The early years of Bert Hardy’s life had coincided with the high water mark of the British Empire. In the 1920s 600 million people were ruled from London. Young Bert, it seemed, was at the centre of the world. The Second World War ensured however, that the tide of Empire had changed for good and with it the balance of power in the world.
In the years following the war Bert documented many of the struggles for independence for Picture Post.
Hardy was to escape angry mobs in Sudan and Egypt, cover the Mau-Mau campaign against British colonialists in Kenya, document nationalist unrest against the British in Cyprus and photograph Yemeni tribesmen fighting British troops in Aden.
Within Bert Hardy’s lifetime the vast dominion of Britain’s empire dwindled from one quarter of the world’s surface to a scattering of far flung rocks and islands.
A NIGHT AT THE OPERA
Britain was not the only European country with a shrinking empire. France too was feeling the bite of nationalism from its colonies in South East Asia and North Africa.
In 1956 the two declining colonial powers joined with Israel, then a nascent regional power, on a military operation to retake the Suez Canal – the vital artery for the transportation of oil from the Persian Gulf to western Europe – following its nationalisation by Egypt’s President Nasser. Forced to withdraw in the face of American opposition the operation turned military success into political disaster.
“We believe these actions to have been taken in error,” broadcast US President Eisenhower with great good sense. “For we do not accept the use of force as a wise or proper instrument for the settlement of international disputes.”
The Americans blocked an IMF loan on which Britain was dependent and joined the Soviet Union (then brutally suppressing revolt in Hungary) for the one and only time in the United Nations, to demand a cease-fire.
As stark reality hit home the British and French called a halt to the invasion, and any illusion they had of being major world powers disappeared in the Saharan dust.
In a tell tale sign of insecurity the British government rounded on the BBC accusing it of unpatriotic reporting of the crisis. The BBC stood firm and emerged – unlike the government – with its reputation around the world enhanced.
The cynical might say that it was no coincidence that Britain and France organised a royal visit to distract from their humiliation, although closer inspection reveals that the royal tour of France was one in a series of state visits to European countries at the time. Europe was where Britain now had to turn her attention.
On April 8th 1957, Queen Elizabeth II began her first state visit to France. The highlight of the tour was a visit to the Opera House, the most opulently baroque of all Parisian buildings, to see a performance of Lifar’s ballet ‘Le Chevalier et la Demoiselle’.
In Paris for Picture Post, Bert Hardy recalled the French press were a law unto themselves. There were twenty of them in the Place de L’Opéra that night, including newsmen working for Paris Match.
The British were given two permits. “And the French police were making sure that’s all we had,” said Hardy. Picture Post – then Paris Match’s main rival – received no accreditation.
So Bert hid his Leica beneath an oversized dinner jacket and watched from the pavement as a number of French dignitaries arrived wearing grand plumed hats.
As the dignitaries gathered in a group at the entrance, Bert stepped across to join them and began speaking in French. They were terribly courteous, Bert recalled. When the dignitaries moved to go in Bert moved with them. The police saluted, everybody bowed and Bert was in the Opera House.
Inside he found a position with a view of the grand stairway lined by the Republican Guard and began taking a series of shots working from left to right, and from top to bottom, using a 50mm lens making sure all of the photographs overlapped. His final image captured the French president, René Coty, as he escorted the Queen up the stairway.
Back in London in the Picture Post darkroom on Shoe Lane, Bert’s photographs were pasted together to produce a panorama which was published in Picture Post on April 20th 1957.
The French got nothing exceptional at the opera that night, and Bert’s composite panorama made a double page spread. But it was to be his last great picture published in Picture Post.
GOOD-BYE SHOE LANE
Since its inception in 1937, the Hulton Press had been housed beside The Evening Standard in a narrow Victorian building at 43 Shoe Lane.
Hulton’s figurehead publication Picture Post which had flourished in the 1930s and 40s with circulation peaking at 1.7 million, had by 1957 weekly sales below 740,000.
After twenty years, in an extraordinary act of hubris as financial disaster loomed over the company, the Hulton Press moved into a new property on Fleet Street. “This eight-storey centre of the Hulton interests is the first major new building to rise on Fleet Street since the war,” noted The Times dryly on May 16th 1957.
The Times was reporting on the shock news from the previous day. “To the suprise and shock of the newspaper, magazine and printing industry,” Edward Hulton (now Sir Edward) had announced that Picture Post would cease publication.
Bert Hardy recalled that a letter was posted on the notice board and stunned members of staff sat watching the announcement on television news.
Most of Picture Post’s employees were sacked. But in a good will gesture Nika Hulton, Sir Edward’s Russian wife, asked Bert to stay on to work for the remaining Hulton publications including Lilliput, Farmers Weekly and Housewife.
But Bert produced nothing he was happy with in two years and through the work he had started doing for Esso Magazine and Bowaters began making contacts in advertising.
In March 1959, after three generations the Hulton publishing empire ended with a whimper as an Odhams share offer of £1.8 million was accepted by the board of Hulton Press. The £6 million that Hulton had inherited in 1937 had all but disappeared. At his death in 1988 Sir Edward Hulton’s wealth was just above £1.1 million.
Bert Hardy found himself working for Odhams Press, and it wasn’t long before his salary came to the attention of the Managing Director. Bert was politely told that Odhams was run by accountants and because his £3,000 a year salary (then the highest paid to any photographer on Fleet Street) was too generous, he had to go.
On leaving Odhams Bert was immediately re-engaged as a freelance and in his first year freelancing – with the help of his younger son Terry – Bert’s work for Odhams brought in £4,000.
Bert’s older son Michael also became a photographer. Mike had begun working in the Picture Post darkrooms, but when the magazine folded he landed the job as Paris photographer for the Daily Express.
THE CIGARETTE OF THE MOMENT
As his son Terry took over much of the freelance work from Odhams Press, Bert Hardy began a new career in advertising. At the beginning, Bert’s 35mm images and Picture Post style of story telling gave his work a fresh candid look. He was busy and the money was good.
One of Bert’s earliest advertising shoots was on the Strand cigarette campaign for the Bensons Advertising Agency – a campaign distinguished as one of the least successful flirtations between cigarette advertising and French philosophy.
Not that there was anything wrong with the photography. As befits the mood, Bert’s photograph shows a solitary man in a trilby hat and trench coat smoking a cigarette on London’s Albert Bridge. It is a wet autumn night and behind him the streetlights along the Chelsea Embankment are reflected in the River Thames.
Bert’s picture became the first 35mm photograph to be used as a 48 sheet poster, and there was even an accompanying TV advertisement, but the campaign floundered as the public decided Strand cigarette’s existential slogan ‘You’re Never Alone with a Strand: The Cigarette of the Moment’, inferred that a Strand cigarette was the cigarette for losers.
The adverts came down and the Strand cigarette was withdrawn from the market.
Bert’s other advertising clients were to endure better. Lucozade, Nestlé, Heineken, KLM Dutch Airlines, Kellogs, Oxo and Nivea remain household names today.
By 1964 the Bert Hardy style had ceased to be a novelty, and as Bert had expected the advertising work began to slow down.
Bert wrote later that advertising meant hard work and good money, but it never meant anything more than that. Without the money though, Bert and Sheila could not have afforded the perfect home.
BERT’S LITTLE BIT OF HEAVEN
For some time Bert and Sheila had been thinking about buying a cottage in the country. In February 1964 Sheila spotted a farm in Surrey advertised for sale in The Sunday Times.
They drove down to see it ,and although the farm needed a lot of work the two Londoners bought it and moved in that April. Undeterred by their lack of knowledge Bert and Sheila began learning everything about farming from scratch.
You can understand why. The farm would have inspired Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, whose 1944 film ‘A Canterbury Tale’ was made to remind people what singular beauty made Britain worth fighting for in the Second World War. Bert called it his little bit of heaven. And no one who has sat in the chair where he must have done, and watched the February light illuminate the folds in the meadows as afternoon turns to evening, could argue with that.
Looking back on the fortunes of Picture Post it is evident that the publication had its time and place, and that a firm hand and clear objectives were essential for the weekly’s survival.
On taking over from Stefan Lorant, Tom Hopkinson had brought together a uniquely gifted group of photographers and writers to produce some of the finest journalism of its day.
No British magazine before or since has so successfully combined popularity and profitability with a progressive – and at times combative – editorial line as did Picture Post at its best.
Even after the loss of direction in its third decade the standard of intelligent and enterprising journalism the mass-market weekly had once produced, remained an unmistakably positive influence on anyone aware of their publishing history.
The best of Picture Post gave direction to the next generation of photographers, journalists and editors working in the 1950s and 60s on the new Sunday supplements and on television news and outside broadcasting – a field into which a number of Picture Post writers moved with success following the magazine’s demise.
At one time Edward Hulton blamed the closure of Picture Post in 1957, on the drift of advertising revenue from print media to commercial television, but the British public didn’t watch much television in the 1950s, and TV advertising did not begin until 1954 by which time Picture Post was already in terminal decline. Later Hulton was to cite a change in reading habits.
In his book, ‘Point of Departure’ (1967) James Cameron laid the blame squarely on the magazine’s lack of character, “In fact Picture Post soon painlessly surrendered all the values and purposes that had made it a journal of consideration, before the eyes of its diminishing public it drifted into the market of arch cheesecake and commonplace decoration, and by and by it died, as by then it deserved to do.”
Tom Hopkinson believed Picture Post just lost it’s sense of direction and wandered off into the fog. If it hadn’t been the Korean article that started the demise it would have been something else.
RECOGNITION FOR A LOCAL HERO ?
On a warm July day in 1995 Bert and Sheila lunched at their favourite pub, the Royal Oak at Staffhust Wood, then went into Oxted. Calling in at his opticians to have them tighten a screw on his glasses Bert took a seat, and there in a seat at the opticians in Oxted, Bert died.
Sheila says it was a wonderful way to go. No pain, no farewells. The great photographer’s time had come, and that was that. Another generation would be left to look and review what Bert Hardy had achieved in his lifetime.
Tom Hopkinson said that out of all the photographers the writers at Picture Post asked to work with, Bert’s name nearly always came first.
Bert was invariably the good companion who’s instinctive images unfailingly conveyed an empathy with the poor and underprivileged showing that whatever misfortune was thrust upon them these people retained their human dignity.
Loved in Britain, Bert Hardy is one of the original photographer’s photographers yet his name remains remarkably unknown outside of the British Isles.
Had Bert accepted the offer of staff photographer from Life magazine his career might have taken a different path. But Sheila says he didn’t need to. Bert had already proved himself alongside his American peers at Inchon.
As for the international recognition Bert Hardy’s work deserves, there is a gallery in Southwark that might be able to assist. It is housed in a former power station that was constructed and decommissioned in Bert’s lifetime, and now stands proudly by the River Thames near the location of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and a short stroll from the site of the tavern in which Chaucer had his Canterbury pilgrims gather.
It is hard not to imagine as you cross the River Thames on a shiny footbridge, how fitting would be a sign on the roof of the former power station announcing, ‘The Life and Times of Albert Hardy’. For there could be no more appropriate artist to be shown at Southwark’s most international of venues than Britain’s best-loved photographer who was born in Priory Buildings on Webber Street, just off the Blackfriars Road.
The Unseen Bert Hardy, a talk by Graham Harrison showing images rediscovered in the Picture Post collection at the Hulton Archive, took place at the Photographers’ Gallery, London on November 10th, 2009. Peter Marshall reported the event on >Re: PHOTO
• Bert Hardy obituary by Sue Davies, The Independent, July 5th 1995.
• Bert Hardy Print Sales, at The Photographers’ Gallery, 16-18 Ramillies Street, London W1F 7LW, U.K.
Tel : +44 (0)20 7087 9320.
• St. Brides Church, Fleet Street, London. Sir Christopher Wren’s spiritual home for printing and the media in Britain.
See the slide show Doorstepping a city: how Bert Hardy captured life in Barcelona during the Franco dictatorship on Photo Histories.