Extract: Neill Bruce
When I left school in July 1960, I had no idea what I wanted to do, not being in the least academic. To cut a long story short, I ended up in the advertising world, mainly working as a sales clerk, then as a sales executive for the commercial television companies Rediffusion, Tyne Tees and Channel Television, the London office of which closed in 1969 and made me redundant. That happened just before a Frazer Nash rally to Bolzano in Italy and I went along as a passenger to an old pal. There I met Lewis Morley, the well-known theatre and fashion photographer, who had joined the rally for a holiday.
By chance my great uncle Vivian gave me his 1950s Rolleiflex twin-lens 6x6-inch camera later that year. I was already keen on taking photographs but it was all a bit hit-and-miss, with decisions about whether it was ‘cloudy’ or ‘bright’, and the distance of the subject. However, once I learned how to use a Weston V light meter, and actually focus on the subject, I found that photography became rather more rewarding.
I had to find work and ended up getting a dead-end job in London at Woman’s Own magazine, based in Long Acre near Covent Garden. While there I kept in regular contact with Lewis Morley, who had a studio above Peter Cook’s Establishment Club in Greek Street, Soho, and occasionally I would go over there and have lunch with him. Often there were well-known personalities at his studio and I remember arriving one day and being introduced to Dudley Moore, who was then at the height of his fame as a comedy actor. Lewis was half Chinese and could speak the language fluently, so it was fun to go to his favourite Chinese restaurant in Soho and have him chat to the waiters in Chinese and order what was the best of the day.
Lewis took the famous nude photograph of Christine Keeler sitting on a chair the wrong way round and staring into the camera. It was just one of those fluke shots. He had finished a shoot with her and still had a couple of frames left on his Hasselblad. Christine had sat down in that position, the session completed, but Lewis saw an opportunity and told her not to move. That image is so iconic that the National Portrait Gallery has a copy. Proper limited-edition enlargements sell for many thousands of pounds and in his later years Lewis said that he swapped a 10x8 print of the shot for a Smart car!
Much encouraged by Lewis and with my super Rollei, I decided to ‘do photography’ as a profession, and built a darkroom in my parents’ house, in Woking, Surrey, where I was still living. My older brother was a negotiator at the London office of Hampton’s estate agents and so I started taking photos of houses for him. I also bought a 5x4-inch MPP plate camera that took some learning to use. The image showed upside down on its ground-glass screen and was quite faint, so in order to see it you had to use black cloth — in my case a piece of Second World War black-out curtain. Later that year Lewis emigrated to Australia and I bought his darkroom kit.
MY FIRST VISIT
When I started to ‘trade’ on 1st January 1971, I had already met Jackie Kendrick, a reporter for the Esher News in Surrey. We used to borrow cars for motoring features from local garages such as Thomson & Taylor, which was run by Roy Salvadori, and Tony Brooks’s Lancia and Fiat dealership in Weybridge. Probably the most important job in my life came within three months, on 31st March, when Jackie said she had managed to arrange a road test of a Ferrari Dino 246 GT at Maranello Concessionaires, which operated from Tower Garage on the bypass at Egham in Surrey and remains there today. For obvious reasons they weren’t going to let us drive the car and instead Michael Salmon, the Sales Director, gave us rides in turn. A successful racing driver since the mid-1950s in Jaguars and Aston Martins, he had been invited by Maranello Concessionaires to race Ferraris for its team, starting in 1965, and had become closely involved with the company.
Jackie went off first and looked rather flushed and shaken when they returned ten minutes later. Now it was my turn, with my Rollei, and we set off along the Egham bypass. It had a 50mph speed limit but straight away we went rather faster than that and I managed to take a photograph of the speedometer reading 108mph! When we reached the roundabout at the eastern end of the bypass, a huge articulated lorry carrying a massive concrete motorway beam was being supervised by police, surrounded by their white Rover 2000s with blue lights flashing, while it slowly made its way straight across the roundabout because it was too long to go round. To my amazement, Michael flicked the Dino down through the gears, put it into a noisy power slide and exited left for Runnymede while waving to one of the policemen, who, to my astonishment, waved back!
“Wasn’t that a bit risky, Mr Salmon?”
“Oh no,” said Michael. “I took him out in the Daytona on Tuesday and we did 120 down here — they’re all right!”
I took some photographs of the Dino on Englefield Green and then we returned to Tower Garage, where I was introduced to Shaun Bealey, Managing Director.
“Well, Mr Bruce, are we going to see any of your photos?” said Shaun.
“Yes, of course, if you like,” I replied.
It has always been my policy to send a print of a photograph whenever requested and I duly supplied one. Shaun wrote back saying that I was the first photographer to keep to a promise and actually send a print, and asked if I might be interested in doing some photography for Maranello Concessionaires.
Always do what you say you’re going to do and only say you can do things that you know you can do well — that’s my motto. Your clients may well not tell anyone when you do a decent job but news of a cock-up will travel at the speed of sound.
As for that Dino, which was registered FPA 132J, I recently found that it’s still around, now in Australia.
MY FIRST COMMISSION
My first commission for Maranello Concessionaires came in October 1971. Shaun Bealey called me over to Tower Garage and showed me a photo of the latest model, the 365 GTS/4 ‘Daytona Spider’. All he had been sent by the factory was a yellowing Polaroid print and I remember him saying, “How are we supposed to sell a £10,000 car from this?” There was just one such car in the country, a black one belonging to Robert Michaels, who very kindly agreed to bring it to Tower Garage to be photographed.
The appointed day was 16th October, the Saturday before the London Motor Show opened. Naturally it was chucking it down with rain — and obviously we needed to shoot the car with the top down. So, nothing for it but to get poor Andrew Zarzosa, the Spanish car valet at Maranello Concessionaires, to empty the showroom of cars and park them out in the rain so that the Spider, dripping with water, could be positioned inside.
When Andrew had finished drying the Spider, it was so dark in the showroom that I realised it wasn’t going work without some lighting, especially as the car was black, but fortunately I had chucked the lighting equipment I used for house photography into my Austin 1100 estate, the terrible but practical car I was now driving as the replacement for my lovely Daimler SP250 that I had so enjoyed before. Then there were no power sockets near where we wanted the lights, so the white cable had to run across the floor to one side of the car and really showed up against the dark floor. I had to ask Andrew to put some touch-up paint on the section of the cable that showed but you can still see it in the photo. And so it went on, with Robert Michaels looking at his watch.
Eventually we were ready. I stood by the petrol pumps and pointed my MPP 5x4 camera towards the showroom for a clear view through the fully opened concertina-type glass doors, with Andrew holding an umbrella to keep me, the camera and the film dry. I took several bracketed sheets of black-and-white negative, packed everything up, and raced back home to my darkroom, where I dish-developed each sheet one at a time.
By prior arrangement I then drove to somewhere near Teddington and handed the best negatives over to an exhibition print firm, which was able to get a four-foot-wide mounted print onto the Maranello Concessionaires Motor Show stand by 8am on the morning of Press Day, which was the following Tuesday.