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On Call

My next job was to take all the pictures in the Witney Gazette each week and generally freelance. Richard Early asked me to take some pictures of his blanket factory from the air. I took advantage of the flight to photograph several other sites nearby, including one of Eynsham in 1965 (first picture in the gallery).

Fortunately for me the Witney Gazette was soon swallowed up by Westminster Press, which resulted in me getting my coveted position as an NUJ staff photographer on the Oxford Mail and Times. The 1960s were a golden era for press photography. Lord Snowdon and others had given it some street cred. As a member of the editorial team I earned a good wage. I was one of nine photographers. Now I’m afraid there are none. Papers rely on freelances and readers sending in their digital photos, which are often not paid for. People just like to see their handiwork in print.

I started off in a little house in West End, Witney, I remember various friends and family huddling round my little black and white TV to watch in awe the first moon landing. I had a handsome pussycat, Caesar, who used to frequent the pubs if I was out in the evening. Dear Don joined me after we got married, while he was busy making Millstone Cottage in Eynsham habitable before the arrival of Katie in the summer of 1970. I had a darkroom at the bottom of my garden. The chief photographer gave me my diary jobs at breakfast time and I walked my overnight pictures to the Witney Office to be taken up early next morning. I was obviously on call, so if anything happened in West Oxfordshire I was there to cover it.

The gallery shows our own primary school in 1968. It was a show school, only two years old. The year before I had taken pictures of a delegation studying its revolutionary teaching methods. I was called out to the fire in the middle of the night and returned in the morning to show the devastation as children went to school without warning of what they would be facing - no mobile phones then.

Crashes and sports coverage

A train crash at Kingham meant I had to photograph it and rush back to Oxford for what we called editions. I would seesaw my film through contrast developer for one minute, then print my negatives wet and get a 10x8 print down to the subeditors in eight minutes. Within the hour the paper could be on the streets of Oxford.

The one thing I stopped doing was car crashes. Walking past queuing cars with a camera over my shoulder was bad enough, worse was one day in my darkroom watching a print coming up in the developing dish to reveal an arm sticking out from under a tarpaulin. I accepted every other job like the boys, even late night pub darts finals, where it was so smoky and the contestants so drunk they would tease me about their names.

I enjoyed doing sport like this wrestling contest and the big football matches, sitting near the goalmouth with lots of other photographers all of us pressing our shutters at the same time. There was cricket, rugby (I remember running along the touchline seven months pregnant), tennis - I spent a day with the young Tim Henman - horse jumping and best of all air shows and Silverstone for which I got special passes and good food!


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train crash at Kingham - ©horse being rescued from a ditch at Stonesfield - ©wrestling contest - ©Eynsham from the air in 1965 - ©fire at Eynsham primary school in 1968 - ©I returned in the morning to show the devastation  - ©
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