Gary Talbot at 80: Amazing stories from his life behind a lens

Reporter:

David Triggs

Gary Talbot’s life behind a lens saw him photograph some of the most famous faces of the 20th century, but he was never star-struck.

From royalty to world leaders, actors, artists and playwrights, they all received the same treatment – a down-to-earth approach which put them at ease.

“If you talk to them normally, they reply back to you,” says Gary, who celebrates his 80th birthday today. 

“If you try to butter them up, it doesn't work.”

Gary got on so well with James Mason that the Hollywood actor invited him for a pint after having his portrait taken for Chester’s Grosvenor Hotel, where a room was being named after him. With the Falcon pub close by serving Samuel Smith’s ale from Mason’s native Yorkshire, the opportunity to call in was too good to miss.

Gary's portrait of James Mason

“So I walked into the local with James Mason,” said Gary, taking up the story. “Everybody recognised him and wanted to talk to him. He was really nice. He was lovely.”

One of Gary’s early assignments, before he began playing football for Chester FC in the 1960s, was in Blackpool photographing another Hollywood superstar – Jayne Mansfield – up the town’s tower for the annual lights switch-on.

“Unfortunately for her, the strap on her dress broke,” recalls Gary. “She turned round to me and said ‘have you got a safety pin?’

“I said ‘I’m very sorry, Miss Mansfield, I haven’t’. Then somebody up the other gantry passed one down to me, so I had to pull her strap back and pin her dress!”

Gary took this picture of Jayne Mansfield in Blackpool in the late 1950s

Sifting through piles of old photos at his Eccleston cottage, the memories flood back for Gary.

There are wonderful images of a relaxed Noel Coward strolling around Dublin, taken after the playwright sensed that Gary was not happy with ‘staged’ shots of him in his hotel.

Then there’s a young Princess Diana, looking carefree and happy on a visit to the Duke of Westminster’s estate. 

“She was very, very easy, very professional,” said Gary. “I was doing group photos and could see the Duke was showing the souls of his shoes so I went along the line and politely said ‘Your Grace, can you please close your feet’... and she immediately closed her feet. I didn’t have to ask her.”

Princess Diana at Eaton Hall

The anecdotes flow from one photo to another, from tales of nightclubbing with cricket legend Brian Lara in the Caribbean, to being offered a sketch of a matchstick man by the painter LS Lowry to playing golf – one of Gary's other big passions along with football and photography – with rock icon Alice Cooper.

Some of Gary’s images were even syndicated around the world, such as his chilling shot of Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley leaving Chester Assizes – now Chester Crown Court – during the evil killers' two-week trial in April 1966.

“It’s a bit of a lucky shot – they come down and you snap it,” says Gary, modestly.

Photography runs in the Talbot family, and newspapers are in the blood too. Gary’s father Wally was a national press photographer, as was his brother Howard.

All three would regularly find themselves attending the same assignments, often competing to get the best picture.  

Gary’s newspaper career began when he left school and found work on his local paper, the Blackburn Times, performing various jobs around the office. He then completed two years’ National Service with the RAF. Upon leaving, he got a job with the Lancashire Evening Post before joining the Daily Mail.

He worked as a staff photographer until his football commitments with Chester FC led to him handing in his notice in the mid-1960s. The decision opened up new possibilities for Gary, who carved out a successful career as a freelance photographer for national newspapers, agencies and magazines.

He also opened a studio in Chester, the base for a successful portrait business which evolved over the years and saw him travel the world taking portraits of the rich and famous – including world leaders, presidents and sheikhs from Africa and the Middle East. 

Gary and wife Christine, who is also pictured with her husband in the image at the top of this article

Now enjoying a well-earned retirement, Gary says his 80th birthday will be a relatively quiet affair. He is looking forward to spending quality time with his family in Eccleston where he has lived for the last 38 years with Christine, his wife of 53 years.

The couple's children, Melbourne-based knitwear designer Annabelle, 49, and Dubai-based architect Damian, 46, are coming home for their dad’s big day, bringing with them grandchildren Matilda, nine, and Maisy, five.

There will be a couple of family trips out but, otherwise, Gary says he is looking forward to “just doing nothing”. 

When asked to sum up his life so far, he had one word for it... “Incredible.”

Email:

david.triggs@nwn.co.uk

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