Tom's Biography

When I was Sweet Seventeen

Music, and more particularly musicians, have played a part in my career as a photographer that was never intended. I never set out to be a musical photographer in the way that some have. And yet now in the twilight of my long and varied career, I find it is music and musicians who have provided me not only with some great pictures, but also some of the finest memories that I have. The melody does linger on, and the songs never die. I now believe that the greatest benefit to mankind (usually and rightly attributed to doctors) really belongs also to songwriters, singers and musicians.

By the age of 17 I had decided two things, -I was going to become a photographer and I was not going to become cynical. I succeeded in both, though recently there may be some small doubts about the latter. Being 17 was very important to me. Right up until my mid fifties when I looked into a mirror I could still see the 17 year old boy that once was me. He has gone now and I miss him. In those days a group called The Ink Spots were top of the pops and they played my local theatre, the Regal Edmonton. I was to take a picture of them for the local paper and at that time flashbulbs were glass filled with foil and they sometimes exploded. As 17 year old Tom crept from the wings of the stage to take his picture sure enough it went off with a bang. Embarrassed I slid away. But I did not give up, thank God.

My first photographs had been published a year before and I am pleased to say that now as I enter my eighth decade they are still going into print here there and everywhere.

Looking back on a lifetime of picture taking I fear that in putting this photo gallery together there may be some disparity between the generations. Most viewers and readers out there are going to be decades younger than I, and I have noticed that the world changes as we move through it. Mine was a more gentle kinder world than exists today. I can laugh if my grandchildren think I'm an old fogey, but I'm sensitive to strangers thinking he was 'born a long long time ago'.

Big bands, Glenn Miller style were all the rage when I was 17, we used to go and see them at any one of a dozen theatres around London, (Finsbury Park, Wood Green etc.). After the match on Saturday (we played football, there was no TV) we went to the dance and if we were lucky the best we got was a kiss and a feel. It was great! Many years later I was with Harry Nilsson when he recorded a song called 'Give Her a Kiss and a Feel'. By that time it was decent to say so.

Change, Come and Go

To a fair degree I can say that I have covered the world, or at least enough of it as it was in my time. I've steered clear of wars mainly because there are so many better things to do. I have been to more than 50 countries and met people from every walk of life. In my early twenties I became a staff photographer on 'John Bull' which at that time was a parody of America's 'Saturday Evening Post'.

For seven years I travelled up and down the British Isles on a variety of assignments. Very British, but we were not allowed outside of the UK. There was a fair amount of radio and TV work and I began to learn there's no business like show business.

'John Bull' became' Today' magazine and from being penned in to Britain suddenly the world wasn't big enough for us. It was come fly with me time, fly the ocean in a silver plane, -old Beirut, down the Nile, across Asia, and if you weren't in Paris every two months you weren,t doing your job properly. Watching all the girls go by wasn't good enough, we had to get that glamour on the cover every week. And scandal too, we were ahead of the rest of the press on the Christine Keeler story. And in the cold war missile scare of 1962 we ran a campaign for peace.

Pop music somehow came in through the bathroom window right behind Cliff Richard and The Shadows. It was of course The Beatles. They have changed nearly everyone's lives so inevitably they have changed mine. This would not have happened without two very fine journalist friends, Derek Taylor and Mike Hennessey. Derek's career and personality are legendary not only for his work with The Beatles but through his staunch support of dozens of other artists in the music industry to whom he was friend, counsellor and career builder. Mike and I worked together on 'Today' magazine. He later became European Editor of 'Billboard' when I was free-lancing. Mike, Derek (before he gave it up), and I have drunk a wine lake together over the years with nights at Ronnie Scotts, clubs, pubs, receptions and celebrations all over the place. But we never failed to work hard and always to deliver pictures and copy on time to whomever we were working for.

A touch of Beatlemania

The three of us first came together on early Beatles assignments. Mike and Derek were well ahead of the rest of Fleet Street (the old press centre of London) in seeing the Beatles coming. This led to our signing them up for a set of magazine exclusives and Derek signing George Harrison to a regular column for the Daily Express. In consequence, during the autumn months of 1963 we three were very frequently in the Fab Four's company. It culminated in Paris in January 1964 when we shared the inside of their apartment at the George V Hotel while the rest of the press fumed outside. It was that PR disaster that led to Derek becoming their press officer.

My reaction to that trip was surprising. I can only explain it by saying I must have been a very precocious young man. As much as I enjoyed their company, and they were always fun, being stuck with the Beatles even in the luxury of the George V, was some indication of the imprisonment that they were to experience later in their lives. I was frustrated that we could not move without raising a gale. The journalists and photographers waiting to pounce were like a swarm of bees. I carefully planned what was meant to be a secret trip with them up to Montmartre.

As we arrived there the swarm descended and we had to move on to a pre-planned studio booking to escape. I said to myself, no more Beatles and three weeks later when they went to the USA for the first time I turned the trip down. Yes I did. However, I couldn't resist going to the airport to see them off and I was flattered by their reaction when I told them I wouldn't be there with them. No regrets. And I was not to meet them again until 1968.

Going Freelance

Shortly after that I began my career as a freelance and as everyone who has run their own business knows, the things that you enjoy doing are not the same as the things you earn your money from. I had to get on with earning my bread. Time spent with or waiting for musicians wasn't allowed. I still did my share of human interest magazine assignments, but commercially paying work was the order of the day. Unfortunately the money that music journals paid for publication of photographs could never be equal to the time and effort spent in getting those photos. Later on, assignments for record companies were well paid, and as I once had to tell a tax inspector, in the early 70s I could live off the food I ate at those record company receptions. It was however, the less interesting assignments for press, publicity and commercial organisations that kept me alive to relish this day.

A Bite of the Apple

Towards the end of 1968 we all came together again. Mike met Derek and passed a message on telling me to drop in and see him at the Apple office in Saville Row. Drop in I did and received a welcome from Niel, Mal and one by one, John, Paul, George and Ringo. I became a part of the furniture at Apple, dropping in there whenever I had time, enjoying the company of whoever was around and trying to get to grips with the madness of the place. Having conquered the music world and become rich beyond their wildest dreams, the four Beatles in their youthful magnanimity wanted to pass on their backing and influence to all of the unrecognised talent in the world. It was a wonderful idea, embracing 'If I Ruled The World' and 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow'. It produced a huge mail of demo tapes, letters from poets and painters, a magic wizard and ultimately Hell's Angels until John said, 'If we go on like this we'll be broke in 6 months'.

I think essentially I was there as a social visitor but inevitably I had a camera in the bag and was able to use it. I did a set of pictures 'Inside the crazy world of Apple' for which Mike wrote the words and they were used worldwide. Like a lot of other visitors in Derek's press office we were always waiting for a Beatle or four to appear. Just in case they ever did I rigged up some studio lights and a background in some spare space on the third floor but it was never to happen. They came in one at a time and occasionally, the pictures I got of them in the office have a very unique place, only rarely were they musical. Oh yes, there was that day in January 1969 when they jammed on the roof. Unfortunately that was one of the days I didn't drop by. Must have been out earning my living elsewhere.


By that time I was doing well enough as a freelance to return to doing some of the things that I like doing. 'Free' became the operative part of free-lance. I turned to a long time interest I had in the whys and wherefores of the British Empire. I set off to India on the trail of Mahatma Gandhi, who, it seemed to me, had pulled the rug from under that great empire. Going to India became a habit for the next few years and a well worthwhile enterprise it has proved to be, in terms of my education and in the matter of photographs that continue to sell.

Returning to the Apple office in late 1969 I shared some affinity with George Harrison who by then was deeply into Indian music and the philosophy which has served him through good times and bad until his departure from this earth. Sadly by that time the Apple was disintegrating. The ship was losing its crew. As the pro and anti-Allan Klein parties began to split, the pictures began disappearing off the walls until somebody finally unscrewed the name plate off the door and disappeared with it.

Life, as ever, went on. In fact for a time the musical side of my life pepped up and I earned a bob or two from it. Mike Hennessey was engaged on a series of the musical greats for 'Record Mirror' and Derek Taylor became press guy for Warner Elektra Atlantic in an office just round the corner from my small studio. 'Oh Happy Days' in that studio close by the British Museum, which for me, has never lost its charm. The next couple of years were musical, happy and productive. But then of course nothing lasts forever. George Harrison had written 'All Things Must Pass' by that time and lots of other nice stuff. But as he wrote it the other music out there was changing to punk which I never got to grips with. So I went off in search of other pastures. History now makes clear that a lot of people were doing the same thing. Trouble was the pastures were a bit barren and not many of us now look back on the seventies as a good decade.

The oil price hikes of that time were the problem and the new game in town was to find the rich arab. This is not a thing I say with pride now, but I found one and got my assignment to Saudi Arabia for an organisation promoting Saudi interests in the UK. After being arrested three times in the first week in that country my feelings of universal goodwill to all men began to change. I finished the assignment for which I never got paid and was left ruminating about money being the root of all evil and rich men scrambling through the eye of a needle.

But something good did come out of that journey. Publication of the pictures in a trade magazine led me into a few years happy association with travel, trade and export magazines for whom I ranged large areas of our globe providing pictures and writing. Writing was refreshing, I omitted to say at the start of this essay that my very first ambition was to be a writer, until that 17 year old picked up a camera. The actual picture needs of those travel magazines were easy for me and I was able to use those assignments for stocking up my library considerably.

China, Japan, Canada., Iceland, Greece, Brazil, Taiwan, Korea and others were just some of the countries that I wrote about and photographed contentedly making me something of a hot property in the travel world. These pictures too, add many a happy memory of people in their places.

The More Things Change - The More They Stay As They Are

Inevitably that ended too. That old chestnut about one door closing and another one opening is part of a freelance's lot. In the midstream of it all there isn't time to compare how others are doing, though many I've met since confirm this as a freelance way of life. I next found a lucrative stream of income from the banking world in the City of London. I was fascinated to look behind the scenes at the heart of capitalism. Among other things I found that bankers are not only very rich but are very vain. Self importantly they would declare, 'I can only spare a few minutes'. Then they would fall for some chat and flattery every bit as much as actors and film stars, so that I would still be shooting them after an hour had passed. Vanity knows no bounds and a little psychology is just one among many talents a photographer needs to carry in his bag.

By that time in my life that camera bag was getting heavy. Overall I was content to take portrait assignments of chairmen or photos for company annual reports. It was on one such assignment that fate came round the corner. The City of Westminster wanted to set up new statues to brighten the place up. They were considering putting a statue of the late John Lennon on the corner of Oxford Street and Argyll Street where the London Palladium stands. It was here that John made his famous remark to the royal audience, 'clap your hands or rattle your jewellery'. They needed some photos of the potential site and I was doing what photographers must of necessity frequently do, I was standing on the corner watching the girls go by again. One of those girls was Joan Taylor accompanied by her husband Derek who I hadn't seen for some eight years or more.

Apple - The height of luxury it wasn't

That delightful and unexpected reunion led to meeting up again with Niel Aspinall whom, I had seen but rarely over the years. I did a couple of jobs for him in the old days but by the mid eighties Apple was all but a forgotten entity. It had a small office in Gt. Charles Street where Niel sat behind piles of boxes and files still sorting out the problems of the Fab Four. He had recently purchased the photographs of Dezo Hoffman, an invaluable collection of their early days and needed someone (me) who knew and understood photo management. With some large cardboard boxes I rigged myself up what I thought would be a temporary

desk in his back room and began working a few hours a week checking through Dezo,s photographs and odd boxes which Niel would unearth from various corners. It was Heath Robinson but it was the beginning of Niel's vast and secretive plan that culminated in the Beatles Anthology and all their other product of the nineties. I never did get a proper desk until two moves later when we moved offices once again.

Over the ensuing years, what started as a small temporary job grew into a full time task of getting to grips with the copyright problems of many of the photographs that The Beatles had commissioned and owned but had fallen into other hands through lack of control. Picture libraries and individuals had assumed ownership and had to be told otherwise. Some pictures were delivered up, some were bought back at auction and some through very expensive court cases but by the mid nineties Apple had an archive of photographs that did justice to their history. For the third time I was working alongside The Beatles and I worked with them up until what I had always planned would be my retiring date.

Like most photographers who have had to guard their own pictures through life I was proficient in copyright matters. People on the outside including some rogue agencies knew and I think, respected me for that. I used to attend the rock and pop auctions for Apple mainly with the intent of building the Beatles Library but there were some amusing diversions. That same name plate that I mentioned earlier from the Apple door in Saville Row came up for sale. Tracing it back we were told it had been found in a builder's skip on the outer edge of London ??.

When I was bidding for pictures for Apple no one else stood much of a chance. Then one day I got my come uppance. A set of photos by Terence Spencer appeared with an estimated value of £25-30,000. I advised Niel that we should get them, probably cheaper than that. The bidding however went to The 30,000 and I still thought I would get them just over the margin. But it went up and up against me from an unknown bidder. Over 40 and on to 50,000 it went. I was well above the limits of my authority, possibly above the limits of Niel's authority. But I was smitten by auction fever and the pride that if I wanted them for Apple nothing was going to stop me. Over 60 and over 70,000 it went before my normally sanguine sense cut in and told me to cool it. Something was going on here I didn't understand. I stopped at 80,000 and Bloomsbury Publishers got them for 82,000. I went back to Niel with a sigh of relief that I hadn't bought them at that price and I sensed he was relieved too. Years later my successor at Apple hooked them back into the Beatles library but at a price in the region of £80,000. A mere snip at todays ever increasing prices.

A Final Goodbye

So, at the end of my third and final set with The Beatles, I left them when I was 64 without the wine or the valentine. I left them on October 2 nd 1995, (which would have been Mahatma Gandhi's 126 th birthday had he been immortal enough). Once again, no regrets in choosing my time to go, I had been with them at their beginning, in their middle period and up to their end Anthology, a unique and lucky experience. And of course done a lot of other things in between.

It is my pleasure and privilege to present this gallery of images. These are some of the photographs that matter most from my work, these are the names that live on, the people whose music is still in demand. The music and musicians who leave a legacy that we still like to hear, occasionally sing a Duke Ellington/Louis Armstong/ or Ella Fitzgerald song while we're under the shower. These are the people that radio, TV, and every new kind of media rely on for so much of their entertainment. Their music is truly immortal. They fill up my senses with a great deal of happiness, memories and emotion. It's the power of music, a much stronger force than we know. We are spoiled by music and we take it too much for granted.

At the very peak of the musical highs of the late 60s I recall an old buffer of the music industry saying to Derek and I, 'If no one wrote another word of music, there is enough music in the world to last another 200 years'. How wrong he was.

The world needs new music all the time and there will never be enough of it.

Music is an exchange between the composers, singers and musicians who make it and the likes of you and I who absorb it. It feeds our needs and emotions, not like a drug, but like a balm that soothes and satisfies. It feeds and cures, it is the antedote to life's everyday sacks of rubbish and frustrations.

I am indeed grateful that I had such musically minded friends and met so many great people in music. 'As I approach the prime of my life, I find I've had the time of my life' - the words of a song written by the lovely Gordon Jenkins who led the string orchestras for Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Harry Nilsson.

No doubt about it, for all the places I've seen, the things I've done and all the nice (and other) people I've met, It is music and musicians that form the best of all my memories that I am priveledged to have been in the right place at the right time to capture some special moments, for ever.