'The day I pictured Portsmouth history being made’

Photographer Roy West captured one of the most famous pictures ever to appear in the Portsmouth Evening News. We look at how it all started.

Monday, 12th August 2019, 3:14 pm
Updated Wednesday, 14th August 2019, 6:32 pm
HMS Vanguard aground after just missing the Still and West pub.  Photo: Roy West The News archive
HMS Vanguard aground after just missing the Still and West pub. Photo: Roy West The News archive

In 1956 Roy was called up for National Service in the RAF where he joined the RAF Police as a dog handler.

It was a job he thoroughly enjoyed and even appeared at Earls Court when the military shows were held there.

He would loved to have remained in the service but as the Evening News was making up his wages to what he would have earned in civvy street, he had no option but to leave after his two years were up.

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Before I go on, many of you might remember the Evening News’ women’s page columnist Kay Stanhope. In reality there was no such person, it was the nom de plume of journalist Margaret Locke, to whom Roy took an immediate fancy.

Unfortunately Margaret had a boyfriend, or so Roy thought, a rugby-playing doctor.

After many weeks of working together they had to attend a function at the Savoy Ballroom on Southsea seafront.

After their work was done and they could relax, Roy asked Margaret to dance with him and they immediately fell for one another. They married in 1962.

By great fortune Roy was duty photographer on the day HMS Vanguard went aground at Point, Old Portsmouth, on August 4, 1960.

He tells me: ‘The editor wanted photographs of the Vanguard leaving Portsmouth for the last time. The chief photographer had a day off and the photographer who always had the flying jobs was on leave, so I knew it would be me who was flying that day.

‘I loved flying and aerial photography was better than trying to get some personality who refused to pose. The junior photographer, Ian Clark, was on the ground.

‘I flew in an Auster from City Airport, Portsmouth, with the door removed to have a clear view of events below. The pilot was Ian Mitchell, son of the owner of the City Airport.

‘As we circled over South Railway Jetty, Ian said to me, “It would be great if she ran aground.”

“No chance,” I said.

'Five tugs surrounded the great battleship as she moved towards the harbour entrance.

‘There was an ebb tide and cross wind and we noticed the ship moving off her course, not under her own steam. She was heading towards the Still and West pub.

‘Unknown to me, the harbour master on board remembered the chains from the old Gosport chain ferry were still lying on the seabed. He immediately gave the order to drop the anchors and this very order saved the day, to a certain extent.

‘The ship skewed to the right, missing the pub by yards, but grounding herself alongside.

‘Ian said we could go lower and I got the picture of the day. My 9x12 cm format glass plate was unable to get all the battleship in shot so we had to go higher to obtain it but the forecastle view was the picture.

‘It showed just how close she came to demolishing the equally famous Still and West public house.’

When the Evening News changed its name to The News and moved from Stanhope Road to Hilsea, Roy was made chief photographer with a staff of six under him.

In 1982 he won Photographer of the Year for regional newspapers.

He took photographs of all the royal family, the wedding of Charles and Diana, and Lord Mountbatten, whose home he visited at Broadlands where the butler was told to give him and the reporter a drink.

Roy snapped Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Anna Neagle, who always had a cream tea waiting for Roy.

Jean Kent, Frankie Howerd and jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, are just some of the stars he met.

Over the years he reckons he took more than 100,000 photographs – all on plate or roll film. Imagine the cost today compared to digital photography?

In 1983 Roy felt unwell and the doctor told him he was on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

He moved across to The News’ workshop, working with carpenter Derek Carter, until he retired in 1992 after 40 years service. Sadly, Margaret died in 2000.

In retirement Roy took up painting and has had several exhibitions which have done well.

He moved to an apartment in Old Portsmouth with views across the Solent. Perfect.

n The Metal Box fire I published a photo of last week was seen by Dave Quinton. He tells me the factory was in Copnor, not Farlington, as reported in The News.

He says: ‘I was working in Portsmouth Aviation Ltd in Airport Service Road when the fire happened.

‘On the first day all motorised vehicles were redirected but cyclists, and there were still many of us, were allowed down Dundas Lane and had to bump our way over the fire hoses stretched across the road.

‘No fire exclusion zones in those days!

'The fire officers apparently had to stop entering the building as all the fuse and switch boxes were dripping melted solder and lead onto them.

‘In those days junction boxes were up high on the vertical uprights in factories.

‘This led to other fires developing. A no-win situation for the fire brigade.’