Meet the photographer who took one of the most famous photos of Portsmouth...ever

Roy West was the chief photographer for The News. This week and next I will be telling his story.

Wednesday, 7th August 2019, 10:23 am
Updated Thursday, 15th August 2019, 2:16 am
Roy West alongside the iconic photograph he took of HMS Vanguard at Point, Old Portsmouth

If asked what the most stressful occupation was, you might say chief executive of some high-rolling business, or perhaps the commander of a naval ship going into action, or maybe a surgeon.

You would not automatically think being a press photographer was tough – just turn up and press a button.

Believe me, you could not be more wrong.

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The mechanical flower clock, Southsea

Imagine having done a day’s work, taking photographs at three or four assignments, then settling down at home and receiving a phone call: ‘Get yourself over to Gosport will you? A factory is ablaze and I want the pictures for the early editions.’

Or perhaps: ‘Get yourself to the dockyard, there is a launch waiting to take you out into the Channel.

‘Two oil tankers have collided and one is ablaze.’

After taking the pictures, the photographer has to get back to the office with the rolls of film, have them developed, printed and written up.

By now it would be past 4am and there would be more appointments already booked in the diary for the next day’s work.

You might think I am joking but this was the life of former Portsmouth Evening News, later The News, chief photographer Roy West.

After 30 years the stress became too much and he had to stand down and move to a different department.

Perhaps the most famous photograph Roy ever took was when HMS Vanguard slipped her tow and collided with Point, Old Portsmouth, just south of the Still and West public house.

He took off from Portsmouth Airport in a light aircraft and flew over the scene capturing some of the most iconic photographs ever taken in Portsmouth Harbour.

Roy is a Portsmouth man born and bred.

He was born in Monmouth Road, North End, in 1935, and his earliest memories are sitting for hours in an air raid shelter during the bombing of the Second World War.

At school he excelled in art and, aged nine, he won £2.10/- for painting a road safety poster.

The cheque was presented to him at the Hampshire Regiment drill hall in Hampshire Terrace, Southsea.

On passing his eleven-plus, he joined Northern Grammar School where his fondness for art developed into photography.

On leaving school Roy joined the estate agents Robson Hall, in Elm Grove.

His job was to collect rents, take complaints about properties and keep the tenants happy.

After a three-month trial he was offered a permanent position with the firm.

Roy wanted to take the job but asked for a rise in wages to 30/- (£1.50), which was declined.

On reading the Portsmouth Evening News one evening Roy saw a position offered by the paper for a photographic junior.

He applied and had an interview with the editor and the chief photographer, Victor Stewart.

Victor took legendary photos during the war.

Roy was offered the position at £3-17/6d a week, a vast increase on the estate agents wages.

His first worry was telling his parents who thought he had made a good decision when he took up the post with Robson Hall.

Roy’s first fortnight was spent mixing chemicals in the photograph studio for developing.

His first camera was, even in 1952, an old fashioned Nettel plate camera which had glass plates 3.5 x 4.5 inches.

His first published photographs were of parrots in Victoria Park and of the Cenotaph.

As he became more experienced Roy was the photographer on duty at Fratton Park, taking pictures for the Football Mail.

At half-time a taxi was waiting to take rolls of film to Stanhope Road for developing.

All football matches finished at 4.45pm and the Football Mail was on the streets by 5pm.

Roger Young worked for the Portsmouth Parks department for 40 years. He told me what happened to the floral clock.

The floral clock next to Southsea Castle was electric and had a clutch mechanism that controlled the movement of the hands. Unfortunately young children would often sit on the hands and push them round which broke the clutch.

The original hands were wide enough and deep enough to be filled with soil and planted with ice plants such as echeveria.

The numerals around the edge were originally marked out in carpet bedding, such as alternanthera or echeverias.

During the mid-1990s permanent numerals were put in, but due to the amount of vandalism it was decided to remove the hands to save money repairing them.

Vandalism raises its ugly head once again.