Feature: Retired photographer recalls his once-in-a-lifetime picture

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh en route to Westminster Abbey, June 2 1953.  Photograph by Chris Barham
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh en route to Westminster Abbey, June 2 1953. Photograph by Chris Barham

A RETIRED fleet street photographer recalls his luck in capturing an image which was to make front pages around the world.

In 1953, a 20-year-old Chris Barham had been paid five guineas and a packet of sandwiches by a london picture agency for 24 hours work, covering the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Retired photographer Chris Barham

Retired photographer Chris Barham

The photograph he took of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in the Royal coach on their way to Westminster Abbey, was snapped up by newspapers as the happiest one of the day, and earned him a £10 bonus.

Mr Barham, now 78, of Marianne Park, learned the tricks of the trade aged 15 in Bexhill, guided by top photographer Walter Effner, and was soon getting pictures in the London papers as well as the Bexhill Observer and Evening Argus.

Aged 20 he joined a picture agency as a freelance photographer, and was taken onto the agency staff just for the coronation.

On June 1, 1953 he began his assignment by photographing the thousands of people camped out along the coronation route, including a 99-year-old lady lying on the pavement near Westminster Abbey.

Despite being an unknown and junior photographer, Mr Barham managed to claim a prime position on the royal route along the Thames Embankment at 5am on June 2, by telling the policeman on duty (who was from Cornwall) he was a famous Fleet Street photographer and the Queen had requested that he be there to take her photo.

He said: “If that lovely copper from Cornwall had been from the London Metropolitan Police, I would have been thrown out on my ear.

“Going home on the train that night, a lady was sitting opposite me reading the London Evening News, and my Royal photograph covered the whole of the front page.

“I leant over and told her I took that picture this morning. I don’t think she believed me, she nearly pulled the emergency cord to get me thrown off.”

Mr Barham was soon taken on by The Daily Herald (later The Sun) as the youngest staff photographer ever in Fleet Street, at that time.

He retired aged 65, after around 30 years on the Daily Mail.

“I’ve photographed the Queen so many times over the years, she is a lovely person, my favourite though was the Queen Mother,” he said.