When the Queen went to the Opera

Perhaps such a state visit would be unthinkable today: When Queen Elizabeth paid France her first state visit in 1957, the manifestly  Republican country welcomed her lavishly. Ceremonial parades lined up; the Royal Standard flew from the Elysees Palace. The choir of Notre Dame sang to her from the banks of the Seine as she sailed down it. Abandoning all diplomatic protocol, President Rene Coty planted a kiss on the Queen, Paris March reported. The Queen was feted in the Hall of Mirrors at the Versailles and in the Louvre.

Her enthusiastic host at the latter occasion was the French prime minister, Guy Mollet, who the previous year had suggested to his British counterpart, Anthony Eden, that Britain and France should considered a “union” with the Queen as its head. When Eden rejected the idea, Mollet broached the possibility of the French joining the Commonwealth when Eden visited Paris a fortnight later.

After telling her hosts, “You were the cradle of our kings,” the Queen (it wasn’t clear whether she was informed of Mr. Mollet’s royalist bent, but the appalled Cabinet definitely was) went to the Paris Opera for the ballet Le Chevalier et la Demoiselle, where 5,000 Parisians cheered, “Long Live the Queen.”  In Bert Hardy: My Life, the photographer then working for Picture Post remembers how difficult it was to cover this occasion:

Paris Match was very much our competition, and there was a rota system in effect. Only two Frenchmen and two of us were allowed to go in; but the French newsmen were above the rules. They had twenty, we would have two, and the French police were making sure that’s all we had.

The Queen was due to visit the Paris Opera, and I wanted to be there to take some pictures, although officially I wasn’t supposed to be. The French Press had been cheating like mad (on the rota system), I knew. I decided that it was about time the British Press did a bit of cheating.

I had my usual difficulty getting hold of a dinner jacket. The only one I was able to borrow was several sizes too big, but that suited me: I was able to hide my Leica inside it. As for my brown shoes, I just hoped that no one would look down that far. The next little difficulty was getting into the Opera. I didn’t have a permit, so I waited outside on the pavement until a group of French dignitaries wearing grand plumed hats, who had got out of various cars, came towards the entrance. I sidled up and joined them. I was appearing to get on fairly well with my few words of French, when they all moved to go inside. I moved with them. The police saluted, and everybody bowed (I hoped they didn’t notice my shoes), and I was in.

I quickly looked for the best vantage point to get a good picture of the Queen coming in. I went up the magnificent staircase, and found a little box by the side where the occupants made room for me, thinking I was an official Press man. It was a fabulous panorama, and I began to realise that the scene was just too large for a standard lens to take in. The only thing to do was make a massive ‘join-up.’ Before the Queen actually entered, I started taking shots of the vast entrance hall, working slowly from left to right, and from top to bottom, and making sure that the edges of each shot coincided as far as possible with some feature like the edge of a balcony or pillar. In all I took about twenty separate shots, and the last shot of all showed the Queen climbing the stairs. After I sent the film back, I telephoned Sheila (his soon-to-be-wife) to explain to her what I had done, so she could tell the make-up man how to piece the jigsaw together. The finished picture was the most ambitious example ever of the technique I had learned from William Davis, and was published on 20 April 1957.

Fifteen of Hardy’s photos were painstakingly joined, by hand in those days before easy photoshop, to compose the one of the largest montages (or ‘join-up’ as they called it back then). The only clue that the image is a montage is in the guards’ unrisen swords to Her Majesty’s left. Picture Post’s special April 20 souvenir edition was a last hurrah for the magazine; six weeks later, it closed down.

Ironically, the photo was also published in Paris Match issue of the same date; the French magazine actually devoted 27 spreads to the Queen’s visit.

Life in the Gorbals | Bert Hardy

While it revealed only a small segment of the society, the above photo of two filthy street urchins walking arm-in-arm nonetheless became one of the most famous icons of post-war Glasgow – a symbol of renewal and regeneration amidst the decay and ruin that was the Gorbals.

The Gorbals was often referred to as Europe’s worst slum, and the most dangerous place in the UK; poor design and low-quality construction led to many social and health problems. Street gangs and casual violence were rife, and the infamous Ian Brady, the Moors Murderer, was born in the Gorbals.

In 1948, Picture Post first assigned a feature story on poverty in the Gorbals to Bill Brandt; Bert Hardy, who grew up in equally deprived Blackfriars, claimed he could shot the story better and got the assignment. The above photo was Hardy’s favorite: the depiction of misery lifted by the cheeky playfulness of the children perfectly captured the spirit of his own difficult childhood. However, the magazine’s editors declined to publish it, choosing instead to include grittier shots of Gorbals life than the smiling “street urchins”; indeed, it was those haunting photos of vandalized tenements and tattered curtains that won Hardy the inaugural Encyclopaedia Britannica Photographic Awards.

The picture was taken on the city’s long since demolished Clelland Street. The identities of two boys were unknown until an Evening Times campaign to trace them in 1985; Les Mason (boy on the left) and George Davis were reunited for the first time since primary school. Back in 1948, Mason and Davis, both aged seven, were running to the chemist on errands for Mason’s mother. Davis died in 2002 and Mason died in July 2011.

(See also: the other controversial pairing of Hardy and Picture Post)

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Korea – Picture Post

In 1950, editor of Picture Post Tom Hopkinson sent reporter James Cameron and photographer Bert Hardy to cover the Korean War. While in Korea the two men produced three illustrated stories for Picture Post, including General Douglas MacArthur’s landing at Inchon. But the photos Hardy took outside Pusan Station were the memorable images that eventually ripped Britain’s premier picture magazine apart.

In early September 1950, Pusan was the only Korean city held by U.N. Forces. There outside the train station were about sixty political prisoners, aged 14 to 70, suspected of opposing South Korean dictator Syngman Rhee. They were tied up, and wore almost no clothes; when they tried to scoop a drink from the puddles of rain that they were squatting in, South Korean guards beat them with rifle butts. When Hardy took the photos, they were about to be taken off and shot. Their fate reminded Hardy and Cameron of the horrors of Bergen-Belsen. Cameron wrote a story harshly critical of the Allies, the UN and the Red Cross for giving Rhee a free rein.

In London, Tom Hopkinson admitted that Hardy’s photos were the best he ever received; but considering the story’s sensitivity, he waited until Cameron and Hardy came back to confirm the story’s authenticity and assure him that it was no isolated case. Even then, he attached a picture of an American prisoner being paraded cruelly through Pyongyang (taken from in a Czech magazine) to achieve some balance, and asked Cameron to remove any trace of excessive emotion which might lead people to accuse the paper of sensationalism or bias. Cameron rewrote the story in flatter style, and later reflected that he had “never worked so hard to write so badly”.

But Hopkinson was constantly conflict with Picture Post’s owner Edward G. Hulton. In August 1945, Hulton wrote to Hopkinson whom he suspected was a socialist: “I cannot permit editors of my newspapers to become organs of Communist propaganda. Still less to make the great newspaper which I built up a laughing-stock.” While Hulton initially did not object to Cameron’s story, he was persuaded by his beautiful émigrée wife Nika to remove the story. Hulton — on the verge of receiving a knighthood — stopped the presses, fearing that coverage would “give aid and comfort to the enemy”.

After a week’s cooling period, Hopkinson insisted on printing the story; he refused to accept the management’s invitation to resign, and they sacked him. He persuaded most of the staff not to resign in protest, although some did. Hulton sent Cameron and Hardy into the Himalayas on a wild goose chase for the Dalai Lama. Their “Inchon” story touting Gen. MacArthur covered nine pages of the Oct. 7, 1950 Picture Post. After Hopkinson, Post was led by a revolving door of incompetent editors until it finally closed shop in 1957. Syngman Rhee’s authoritarian presidency lasted ten more years until 1960, when following popular protests against a disputed election, he resigned. More than 200,000 perished under his reign of terror.