Friday 29 May 2020

Britain is no longer a country for, salutes and says "Goodbye" to the oldest man in the world and of the world : Bob Weighton

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Bob, who has died in coronavirus isolation at the age of 112, had the distinction of being one of the few people alive who had lived through both the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 and the present day nightmare of Covid-19.

He summed up his philosophy of life as : "My experience is that, although you recognise differences and you have to do that to be realistic, it's no hypothetical matter, but in the end I found it possible to have the same sort of human relationships with with anybody else; different though they may be. And you've got to find a way of living together constructively. You have to live together in some way and you have to give and take and reach a reasonable conclusion. You can't live in a world where everything is perfect for you and destructive of somebody else's point of view. But if you want to know I feel is the outcome of all my experiences I would say that sums it up : 
It's far better to make a friend out of a possible enemy than it is to make an enemy out of a possible friend. 
This is something I have lived by throughout my life.”

Bob was born on 29th March 1908 in Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire, the fourth child of seven of of Eliza and Arthur, a veterinary surgeon. Ten days later a young politician called Winston Churchill entered the Cabinet for the first time as President of the Board of Trade; in June, the first major Suffragette rally took place in Hyde Park and an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people demanded 'Votes for Women'; a loaf of bread cost 2½ pennies and a pint of  beer 1¾ pennies; on the other side of the Atlantic, in a rising power called the USA, Henry Ford’s Model-T motor car was introduced, costing $850 and on this side, EM Forster’s 'A Room With A View' and 'The Wind in the Willows' by Kenneth Grahame were published in hardback.

During he intervening 112 years between his birth and today Bob lived through two world wars, saw 22 prime ministers, five monarchs, the rise and fall of communism and fascism, the moon landings, the birth of the NHS and the transformative power of digital technology.

Bob stayed at school until he was 16 in 1924, after his father paid an extra £3 a term for his education so that he could take up a marine engineering apprenticeship and, after qualifying, he moved to Taiwan, to teach at a missionary school, but first had to spend two years in Japan learning the language.

In 1937, at the age of 29, he married Agnes, in Hong Kong then returned to Taiwan, where his son, David was born and en route back to Britain, was diverted to Toronto, Canada, due to the outbreak of the Second World War.

Bob fathered two more children in Canada, before moving to Connecticut in the USA and worked in a factory that made airplanes for Britain to help them fight the War and also worked closely with the American Secret Service broadcasting propaganda to Japan, before moving to Washington and then back to Britain after the war had ended, eventually taking on a teaching position at City University, London.

He saw Agnes, his wife, pass away when he was 87 in 1995 and his son Peter in 2014 and was a grandfather to 10 and great-grandfather to 25.

On Bob's 110th birthday on 29th March 2018 Gary Oldman had just gained an Oscar for his portrayal
of Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the film 'Darkest Hour' ; two months before a 'March4Women Rally' took place in London with thousands of protesters calling for gender equality; a loaf of bread cost £1 and a pint of beer £3.60; a Ford Fiesta cost £13,470; Amazon sold the DVD of the film version of E.M. Forster's 'A Room with a View' and Peter Hunt's 'The Making of Wind in the Willows' was published in paperback.

On his 109th birthday in 2017 he said that he was a "bit irked" to be celebrating on the same day Brexit was triggered and although he was "not enamoured" with all of the European Union's decisions and spending, he felt quitting was a "mistake." He said he did not regard Theresa May's signing of Article 50, as "a step forward at all" and joked : "She didn't ring me up to see what my reaction would be." 

Bob described himself as "very internationally-minded."  He had not been in favour of Brexit and had said : “I have a son who married a Swede, and a daughter who married a German. I flatly refuse to regard my grandchildren as foreigners. I’m an internationalist but I’ve not lost my pride in being a Yorkshireman or British. I’ve lived in a number of countries and I felt I was at one with the people there. You can make as good a friend with a German or an Argentinian or a South African as you can with the man next door.”
Bob took 'A Level' German at the age of 70 and kept two small flags, German and Swedish, on his mantelpiece – a nod to his international extended family.

Bob's optimism : 

“I’ve learned to take things as they come and trust that all will be well and it usually has been”

Monday 25 May 2020

Britain is still a country for five old men who, when young and in the 43 Group, fought fascists on its streets

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The '43 Group' was formed in April 1946 at Maccabi House, a Jewish sports club in Hampstead, North London, a couple of months after four Jewish ex-servicemen had encountered a far-right rally at which “aliens in our midst” were denounced. The 43 pledged to stop fascism by physical means if necessary and were soon engaging in confrontations on the streets.

The Group had a thousand members and naturally the numbers of the survivors have declined over the years. Vidal Sassoon died in 2012 and Morris Beckman in 2015 :

Britain was a country for a time and now says "Goodbye" to an old hairdresser called Vidal Sassoon who once fought fascist on the streets of London.

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to an indefatigable anti-fascist called Morris Beckman.

Daniel Sonabend, the author of 'We Fight Fascists: The 43 Group and their Forgotten Battle for Post-war Britain' said that the Group's confrontation with the Far Right : “This was happening in the shadow of the Second World War and the Holocaust. Some of these Jewish men and women had escaped nazism, some had seen the concentration camps, some had been prisoners of war, plenty had lost family. They had seen how fundamentally violent fascism is when it is allowed to take the reins of power. These people will kill us, put us in the gas chambers. Therefore, they said, we have to stand up for ourselves.”

It took four years to see off the postwar fascists and the group disbanded 70 years ago next month. Now there are only five members still alive :

Jules Konopinski, now 90 years old, was born in Breslau, Germany in 1930 and escaped to Britain with his mother in 1939. He joined the 43 Group when he was 17 and had a reputation for being a tough young fighter. He recently said : “The enemy hadn’t gone away. We Jews, all our lives, have been taught that if anyone spits at you, you walk away – that’s the teaching of the rabbis. But there comes a time when you have to make a stand – and we made a stand. I’m very proud of what we did.”

Harry Kaufman, now 89, was born in Walthamstow in 1931. Joining the 43 Group at just sixteen years old, he was for a long time the Group’s youngest member. He left the Group in 1949 when he was called up for his National Service.

Jules and Harry :

Martin White, now 88, was seventeen when he joined the group and said that he was fighting against anti-semitism from the age of five. On his first day at school he had his hand shut in a desk and had been kicked by othe boys for being a Jew. "My big sister said to me that :"You've just got to go and fight. You've got to go back tomorrow, find the boy and hit him." An that's what I did and I've been fighting every day since." Young Martin was often known to have said at 43 Group meetings : "Let's just throw bombs at them" and it was in an effort to curb his radicalism and that of other members of the Group, that the older group members began to hold educative talks on its aims, objectives and acceptable methods.

The last two surviving members of the Group are Jerry Kaffin and Gerry Abrahams.

Daniel Sonabend explained why, in his opinion, the resurgence of fascism in the aftermath of the War has had little attention from British historians : “It goes against the narrative we have in this country of postwar Britain – that we were the victors against the Nazis. Having to confront a notion that there were fascists who were tolerated by the government, protected by the police and, at some points, gained a hearing among their audiences on the streets is a bit jarring. In August 1947, there were antisemitic riots in Manchester, Liverpool and other cities, which have been largely forgotten. They are alien to the story we tell about ourselves.” 

Police break up clashes between followers of Sir Oswald Mosley and protestors in Ridley Road, East London on 20 March 1949 :

Ridley Road, in Dalston, East London, was one of the regular battlegrounds between fascists and 43 Groupers, as it had been between the BUF and their enemies in the ‘30s, and would be again in the 1960s.

Saturday 23 May 2020

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to an old and much-loved photographic artist and son of Coventry called Richard Sadler

Richard who has died at the age of 93, was born in the winter of 1927 in the industrial and working class district of Hillfields, 160-acre suburb of Coventry. For over half a century Richard documented in photographs, the City of Coventry's, architecture, work and leisure. This involved recording the reconstruction of the City in the 1950s after its destruction in the enemy bombing of the Second World War; scenes from the factory floor and photographs of the artists and audiences at its Belgrade Theatre.

If the photos he took, at the age of 24, of his grandmother Minnie Sadler, are anything to go by, his was a working class family. She  lived on her own in Bath Street in Hillfields, where she slept in a tiny bedroom with its jug and bowl for washing and sat in her kitchen next to the iron stove, reading her favourite newspaper, 'The Coventry Evening Telegraph'.

When he grew up in the 1930s, most Hillside families were dependent on the motor industry for their livelihood. At the start of the 20th century, there were 20 motor manufacturers in Hillfields and by the 1930s and the Singer Company, which had became Coventry's largest manufacturer, operated in five different sites in Hillfields.

Richard was 8 years old when the Second World War broke out in 1939 and from 1940, Hillfields, with its densely packed Victorian terraced housing was, as an industrial target, heavily bombed by the German Luftwaffe.

In the Coventry Blitz on November 14th 1940, Richard and his father had gone into the City the next morning and, in the Cathedral ruins, saw that two burnt roof beams, which had fallen in the shape of a cross in the rubble, were bound together and placed where the altar had been and someone had written ‘Father Forgive’ on the wall of the ruined chancel.

 At that point the Cathedral Provost, Dick Howard, had made a commitment not to seek revenge, but to strive for forgiveness and reconciliation with those responsible. During the BBC radio broadcast from the Cathedral ruins on Christmas Day 1940, to which Richard may well have listened, Howard declared that when the War was over we should work with those who had been enemies “to build a kinder, more Christ-like world.” The experience of the visit to the charred and smoking ruins made an indelible impression on Richard and years later, as a photographer, it was with this memory and its spirit of reconciliation, that he began to document the reconstruction of the City and Cathedral, becoming their official photographer and providing the photographs for many of their books and other publications.

In all likelihood, Richard left school at the age of 15 in 1942 and started working life in Hillfields. The Town and Country Planning Act 1944 allowed local authorities to declare 'Areas of Comprehensive Development' and Hillfields was declared one of three in Coventry in 1951 because 53% of the houses were 'unfit to live in'. This gave the local authorities the right to use Compulsory Purchase Orders on the properties and ultimately this led to the demolition of the old slums and construction of 13 new tower blocks in the 1960s.

At the age of 18 in 1945, Richard would had undertaken his two years National Service in the Armed Forces and it was after this, in the early 1950s, that he served his apprenticeship at the photographic studios of Edward Eves in Leamington Spa. Eves was known, in particular, for his motor sport photography, but could also turn his hand to urban photography, as seen in his 1960 photo of the Parade, opposite Euston Place in Leamington Spa. In addition, he was also the owner of Edward Eves Limited, a camera maker in the town noted for its one-shot colour-separation cameras, with their ability to make a true colour image, with which Richard was no doubt familiar.

It was while working for Edward that, at the age of 24 in 1951, that Richard photographed his Grandmother Minnie as she went around Hillfields over the course of a day, from her home at 11 Bath Street.

He also had an eye for the the post-War Hillfields : The boy with his wooden, home-made gun, playing in the ruins of a bomb-damaged house and the policeman riding his bike on a deserted road in an area where the bomb-damaged housing had been removed.

As Richard's reputation as a professional photographer grew, he was drawn to both commercial and artistic projects. This included work in the City for Wimpey and Jaguar and a commission to capture working life at Courtaulds Fabric and Clothing Factory in Foleshill.

It was while working at Courtaulds, that he first met the comedian, Ken Dodd and later recalled : “I met him through working as a photographer at Courtaulds Research Laboratory in the 1950s. The company ran a social club and employees organised events and activities. Members ran a photographic club and naturally our department became ‘key’ members. 
Interested in theatre photography at our social club events, we were also invited to photograph the rehearsals for the annual Pantomime and spring show seasons at Coventry’s Hippodrome theatre. Shirley Bassey and Ken Dodd headlined one of the spring shows. Having attended our club event I decided to give some enlargements of my photos to Ken and others of the cast.

I presented myself at the stage door prior to an evening performance and ‘Nan’, the wonderful lady that controlled the stage door, told Ken, who invited me into the green room. Many 'before' and 'during' show visits, became the norm through that three-month season. We planned photos of him for publicity : ‘Ken the Gourmet’, visiting restaurants where he ate. He even visited me in my new home where our first child, Jane, by then nearly five years old, burst into tears on meeting him. However, as he jokingly said at the time, “most of my fans cry but usually with laughter!” Which he was sure Jane would when older.

I learned much and owe Ken a great deal from our conversations for our respective futures. He made notes on his performances on his timing, content and projection to and from an audience. I was even allowed to be with the ASM in the wings of the stage during his performances. I became aware certainly of the “atmosphere” of projection given and returned. I have continued to be a fan and followed his history. Attended many of his shows yet too shy and protective of our shared youthful moments to knock on the stage door and ask to see him. However I did discover the whereabouts, and indeed have visited, Knotty Ash many times since.”

In 1953, Richard captured the 'Boy in white suit' as part of the Queen's Coronation Day celebrations in Bath Street, Hillfields and 'Young Lad' , holding his box of 'Ludo', on a crowded London street in 1959.

Richard became the official 'In-house Photographer' for The Belgrade Theatre, at the age of 31 when it opened in 1958 and remained in post until his retirement at the age of 67 in 1994. Hamish Glen, Artistic Director for the Belgrade Theatre, said : “Richard’s photographs are an extraordinary and invaluable record of the theatre’s history and people from its very early days.” 

It was here that he photographed the comedy trio, 'The Goons', Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan at the peak of their popularity in the late 1950s. Over the years he captured David Suchet, Irene Handl, Susan Hill, Robert Lindsay, Leslie Grantham and Rosemary Leach in the early days of their later careers on both stage and in film.

At the age of 36, he took what would become his most famous photo of Arthur Fellig, better known as 'Weegee' and Richard spent a week with him in September 1963. Weegee was a New York press photographer who gained his nickname – a phonetic spelling of 'Ouija', the fortune-telling board game – for his reputation for arriving at crime scenes before the police. The real reason for his early arrival was that he was the only press photographer in the United States, at that time, with a permit to use a police radio. It was this radio, constantly tuned into police calls, that enabled him to be at the scene first - not, as was thought at the time, a mystical connection. He adopted the title 'Weegee' for, as he said, "It read better as a credit line for a picture than Arthur Fellig'.

His book 'Naked City' had become an international best seller and inspired a television series of that name in both America and Britain. He was the antithesis of Richard : the stereotypical, tough, wisecracking, news photographer - chewing a cigar stub, hat propped on the back of his head, holding a Speed Graphic 5x4 camera with his flashgun loaded with a PF6O bulb, ready to capture the decisive moment.

Richard recalled : "In Coventry I was commissioned by 'Owen and Owen' ( the Department Store) to assist him during his visit. The occasion was 'Russian Camera Week', a promotion by the UK importers who had commissioned Weegee to promote their cameras and lenses. During that week the Coventry Standard published an image he made at the time of the Lady Godiva statue entitled 'Lady Godiva on a Gee-Gee by Wee-Gee' where he employed one of the many image distorting methods he used to make his 'Art' photos. In an interview for the same newspaper he said, “I aim to bring any subject to life with my camera. I have even succeeded in making the Mona Lisa smile.”

The Coventry Express, the first national newspaper to use and print colour photographs, showed his colour work of Lady Godiva and Coventry. They also quote him as saying, at that time, that the caricature pictures he had taken of Macmillan and Kennedy, which were published widely in Europe, had been denied publication in the United States by the State Department. About Coventry he said, “Coventry reminds me of Philadelphia - I spent six months there one night!” Weegee was a great photographer, born in 1899, who died in 1968. He kindly gave me a signed copy of “Lady Godivia on a Gee-Gee”. I enjoyed his company, his impish humour and surreal but human eye. He taught me a great deal during that week. The images of him that I made show, I hope, some of the qualities of that remarkable man."

The V & A catalogue recorded Richard's famous photo of Weegee as : ‘Weegee the famous, by Richard Sadler. A portrait that suggests both homage, from one photographer to another, and construct about the photographic vision. Sadler focuses on the face and direct gaze of the famous American photographer Weegee. One eye is open, alert and fixed on the visible world, while the second ‘framed’ eye is the camera itself, Weegee’s Zenith. We, the viewers, appear to be the point of study for Weegee at the same time as Sadler is studying his fellow practitioner. Or is this portrait also encapsulating the essential relationship between subject, photographer and viewer? Weegee’s eye on the world and the essential prop of his trade are inter-dependent with us in our real space, as is Sadler’s; the construct is both finite and infinite.’

Richard's pursuit of an academic career saw him become a lecturer in photography at the Derby and District College of Art which opened in 1966 and subsequently became Derby College of Art and Technology and then Derbyshire College of Higher Education, where he was 'Course Leader in Photographic Studies.' In the early 1970s he was joined at Derby by his friend and fellow photographer of post-war Hillfields, John Blakemore. In 1992 the College was the only school of higher education in the country to be upgraded directly to a university and as the University of Derby it bestowed Richard with an honorary doctorate in 2006.

He also became a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society which awarded him 'The Fenton Medal' which had been created in the name of Roger Fenton, a pioneer of early photographer who had documented the Crimean War. The award is made to a member or non-member who has made an 'Outstanding Contribution to the Work of The Royal Photographic Society'. Usually, no more than three or four Fenton Medals are awarded each year and Richard received his at the age of 78 in 2005.

Richard had the pleasure of knowing that his work reached a wider public by being exhibited in the V & A Collection, The Royal Photographic Society's space within the National Media Museum in Bradford and the Center for Creative Photography, founded by the American landscape photographer, Ansel Adams, in Tucson, Arizona.

In 1981, Richard was able to demonstrate his portrayal as the photograph as art, while on a trip with Lucien Clergue in Southern France when he photographed Lucien's daughter, Anne, on the beach as the nude subject of his image and also took a full-frontal photographic portrait of a young male nude gazing out of a window. Lucien was a self-taught French photographer of some reputation who had met and become a life-long with Pablo Picasso in 1953.

In 2005 Richard's 'Homes Fit for Heroes : Photographs by Bill Brandt 1939-1943' written with Stuart H. Bartholomew and Peter James, was published and in 2012 he supplied the photos for Mike Smith's 'Following the Cross of Nails',  based on the medieval nails which fell with the roof of the old Coventry Cathedral, which Richard had seen with his father 72 years before. Richard's photographs illustrated the Cathedral Choir's mission to present a replica Cross of Nails to the monastery of Ottobeuren in Bavaria, passing en route through Nuremberg and Munich.

Richard had recalled that when he first met Ken Dodd at the Coventry Hippodrome all those years before :

"We became friends, both recognising instinctively, as perhaps one does in one's youth, that we loved people and an audience. In my case, for my photographs and Ken for his humour."