6 Apr 2008

A career in photography - 3

Well, you asked for it... here is the 3rd part of the story of how I got into photojournalism:

Despite having a clear idea of what I wanted to do, it was still compulsory for all school leavers to attend an interview with the careers officer, who had an office in a grim brick building at the back of the hospital morgue. I presented myself there for an appointment with Mr. Turton, the Chief Careers Officer, on the stroke of nine one wet Monday morning. I have changed this man’s name because he was an incompetent idiot.

It was all a waste of time, I thought, but at least it got me out of school for the morning. Then, as I climbed a well-worn wooden staircase to this man’s office, it dawned on me that maybe I might be able to enlist his help. Surely he would have some contacts within the local weekly newspapers. Perhaps he would know someone I could write to, or talk to for advice. My hopes of breaking into a career in photography came flooding back as I mounted those stairs.

Now I stood in a gloomy office whose grime-streaked sash window overlooked the hospital morgue. Behind a battered, ink stained pine desk sat the great man, Mr. Turton, himself.

I tried to take in what he was telling me.

“No, no, no, lad. That’s not for the likes of you.”

He was a large, florid man. He pushed his chair back from the desk, put his thumbs behind his braces and let out a great boom of laughter. He leaned the chair so far back on its two back legs that they creaked under the strain of his great fat body. I hoped that they might snap and he would topple over backwards onto the floor. I had just confessed to this man my ambitions to become a professional photographer, my desire to travel, and my plans to work my way up the professional ladder to work in what was then the world’s pinnacle of journalism - Fleet Street.

“Now, let’s be more sensible,” he said, still shaking his great fat head and heaving his shoulders as he tried to contain his amusement. He lowered his chair back onto all fours with a bump and became businesslike, shuffling though papers.

“I really don’t know who puts some of these daft ideas into boys’ heads. Now, these are more like it,” He said picking out two cards. “There are some ‘prenticeships going at the engineering works, and they are looking for likely lads at the bakery. That’s more your line, you know. I’ll put you down for the bakery, shall I? What do you say? Nice steady job. You won’t regret it. Then you can tell your mam you’ve got a proper job and can bring a bit of a wage home every week to help her with the housekeeping.”

Anger, rage, humiliation, all welled up inside me. I was fourteen years old and felt foolish and small in front of this big, ignorant man who wanted to consign me to a life of wholemeal baps and bread trays. The tears welled in my eyes, I tried to speak, but couldn’t get the words out. I looked at Mr Turton through an increasingly red haze of hatred and despair. Then, all the frustration rushed to the surface and I blurted out:

“You can put me down for what you like, Sir, but I shan’t be going to no bakery. And I’ll tell you what, I’ll come back and laugh at you when I’m a press photographer in Fleet Street.”

The expression on Mr Turton’s face showed his shock and utter disbelief. His flabby jaw dropped. He started to squeeze out of his chair. His florid face flushed even more and his cheeks went purple.

“Well you cheeky little bugger, I’ll…”

But I didn’t wait for him to finish, I turned and fled out of his office, down the stairs and out into the rain.

The headmaster sent for me when I got to school that afternoon. Mr Turton had been on the phone with a vivid report on my behaviour.

I was publicly caned on stage in front of the entire school for, among other things, insubordination, bringing the school into disrepute, lack of respect… the list was a long one, and so was the cane. Every stroke of that rod across my backside fired my determination to succeed. I’d show the stupid buggers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

just goes to show - a clout round the ear or a belt across the backside never hurt anyone.
did you ever meet that bloke again?