Roger Redfern — A Countryman’s Eye
The late Roger Redfern, the writer and Guardian columnist, was also an accomplished photographer who accumulated a vast collection of stunning photographs of the English countryside from the past 50 years, many of which have remained unpublished — until now.
I first met him in about 1967 when he stepped in front of the class I was in at my old grammar school in Derbyshire. It was, by coincidence, his first day back at his old grammar school — the one he had left as a pupil in 1950 — but this time he was a teacher of biology. Little did I know then how this chance encounter would affect the next 45 years of my life.
It was Roger Redfern’s gentle encouragement that started my “alternative” career as a photographer and writer — skills I learnt from him that occupied the weekends and long holidays I enjoyed in my “real” job as a teacher. We learnt much from him as a teacher but even more outside the classroom. It was the field trips and rambles he organised that introduced me, and a considerable number of others over the long span of his teaching career, to the beauty and grandeur of the English countryside — its quiet villages, rugged mountains and leafy dales. And not just England, for under his expert guidance we explored the Scottish Highlands and islands and the Welsh peaks as well.
But it was the nearby jewels of the Peak District on our doorstep, together with the more distant delights of the Yorkshire Dales, the Malverns, the rolling Shropshire hills and the northern Pennine fells that filled our weekends and holidays. He taught us that exploring the countryside on foot was always a worthwhile and rewarding activity, and the further away you were from the
car parks and marked paths the more rewarding it was. And if the weather wasn’t fit for what he called “the high tops”, then there was always something new to be found in the valleys, woods and villages. The seasons, too, were irrelevant for each had its own unique beauty to be seen and enjoyed. They were lessons never forgotten, and ones I’ve carried with me into my own travels.
I noticed that on our wanderings he was often jotting things down on scraps of paper as we visited various locations or spotted something new. They were ideas for his regular contributions to the Yorkshire Post newspaper’s “Country and Coast” column which, he said, only took him about 15 minutes to write. How hard can that be I wondered? So I wrote something in longhand, Roger typed it up for me on his old typewriter and sent it off. A week later, there it was — in “Country and Coast”. It resulted in a cheque for two guineas — a small fortune for a schoolboy in 1968.
I didn’t need any more encouragement. Now, 10 books and a hundred or so magazine articles later — small fry compared with Roger’s prolific output of more than 30 books and hundreds of articles — I still remember the small kindness that started it all off. He broadened my horizons, and those of many others like me, to the beauty of the British countryside — its people, landscapes and wildlife.
Over the next few years he travelled widely throughout Britain and abroad and his writing was being recognised for its poetic and lyrical nature, particularly when he became one of the regular contributors to The Guardian newspaper’s “Country Diary” column in the 1980s with its huge readership. With a piece every fortnight he clocked-up more than 700 of them over 30 years,
and coupled with a regular output of articles for countryside and general interest magazines like The Lady and The People’s Friend, he became a truly distinctive and remarkable writer about British countryside matters, particularly in the Peak District of which it is said that there wasn’t a single summit from Cheshire to Lincolnshire he hadn’t set foot on.
But he didn’t just write notes as he travelled the English countryside, he always carried a camera with him as well, and photographed anything of interest he came across. His interest in photography must have begun at the same time as he started writing for newspapers and magazines. His earliest colour slides date from about 1958 and from then onwards it seems that his camera was used to record his travels as much as his pen, resulting in a body of work of many thousands of colour and black and white photographs — a magical and nostalgic collection of the weather, flora, fauna, people and the places he’d seen in almost six decades of photography.
A flare for composition seems to have been a natural gift, no doubt helped by his interest in pen and ink drawings where perspective, composition and “flow” were transferable skills into his photographs. He instinctively knew how to compose and to use colour and light to produce some stunning images. I watched and I learnt.
Portraits of the people and animals he met also form a significant part of his collection. He could often be found at farm and sheep sales, because it brought together in one place countryfolk whose lifestyle he was interested in and could relate to. He liked to watch, listen and chat with them, and to ask questions because he empathised with the rural way of life — because that was his own way of life. Needless to say, with his easy manner and warm humour, he was rarely refused a request for a photograph.
He understood the changing seasons and the beauty of each because, before training as a teacher, he had been a farm worker and watched them slip by and recorded them with his camera. And he was fascinated with the weather — the drama it could bring and the problems it could cause. Some of his weather photographs are unbelievably striking; a fiery sunset from his garden, deep winter snow under a Mediterranean blue sky, or the boiling clouds of an approaching thunderstorm and the subsequent rainbow were all recorded on many occasions — a weather eye if ever there was one.
Over the years he watched and worried that open access and the coming of the post-war motor car had brought throngs of people in such numbers, particularly at weekends, that the countryside would have difficulty sustaining them and all their cars, coaches and motor bikes without damage. In 1992 he wrote:
Summeris nearly here — time to get out the picnic basket and take some time off to enjoy the beautiful English countryside. Pat Rolfe of Hornchurch, Essex, wrote this poem after enjoying a day spent at Dedham Vale on the Suffolk/essex border, an area known as Constable Country as it was made famous by the paintings of John Constable.
Manypeople will spend their free time enjoying their garden and my colleague Rosemary Pettigrew (see pages 20–21) is certainly one of them. She will like this poem found and sent in by Irene Breckwith of Plymouth, Devon — and I hope you do too.
I’ve never had green fingers and envy people who produce stunning flowers, fruit and vegetables from their gardens and allotments. Justly proud of their efforts, many gardeners enjoy competing against each other at shows around the country and this poem sent in by a reader from Devon perfectly captures the atmosphere.
As a 10-year-old boy growing up in rural Bedfordshire in 1966, I was not particularly interested in football. However, around the beginning of July even I was aware that something significant was in the offing, as most of the boys in the playground were going on about the “World Cup”. I also remember there was a lot of fuss earlier in the year when the actual trophy went missing and was then found under a hedge by a dog called Pickles.
The tournament began on Monday 11th July — a school day, and our teacher informed us that the World Cup began in 1930 and this would be the first time it would be played in England and that, sadly, we had never won the competition. He also said that our first game would be that evening against Uruguay and proceeded to show us on the big atlas where all the participating countries were, including Brazil who were the current holders of the cup — another thing I learnt that day.
After tea my father, who was a keen football fan, turned on the television as most of the matches were to be screened live, which was a rare thing in those days. After the opening ceremony had been completed in front of Her Majesty the game got under way. I had heard of players such as Bobby Charlton and Jimmy Greaves, but the likes of Alan Ball, Gordon Banks, George Cohen etc. — soon to become household names — were unfamiliar to me. The game ended in a disappointing 0-0 draw, so nothing to inspire me so far!
The next match for England came on the following Saturday against Mexico. This was a bit better as the hosts won 2-0, the first goal a thunderbolt from Bobby Charlton followed by a second-half strike from Liverpool’s Roger Hunt. The latter went on to score both goals in a similar victory over France on Wednesday 20th July, which meant that England finished top of their group and would face Argentina in the quarterfinals. Victory came at a price, though, for Jimmy Greaves had sustained an injury and would not be fit for Saturday’s match.
Of course, other games had been taking place around the country. I remember a brilliant goal from Hungary’s Farkas as they beat Brazil 3-1 at Goodison Park. The holders, with Pele injured, did not qualify for the quarter-finals and I later came to understand that the player who my dad said was the best in the world was literally kicked out of the tournament. The biggest shock came at Middlesbrough when the little men from North Korea put Italy out of the competition with a solitary goal. It was later reported that the Italian squad were pelted with rotten tomatoes on their return to home soil!
Dad had to work on the day of the quarter-finals so I watched the game on my own, which would have been unheard of only a few weeks previously. I soon came to understand that some countries played the game rather differently to us — the Argentinians were up to all sorts of tricks most of which were against the rules. Eventually the referee lost patience and he sent off their captain Rattin, who promptly refused to
wearing dark-coloured shirts (actually red, but this was not apparent on black and white television). Secondly there was no Jimmy Greaves in the line-up, for despite him being fit to play Mr. Ramsey had decided not to change the team.
After the National Anthems the game finally got under way and we soon had a shock as the Germans opened the scoring — this wasn’t in the script! Fortunately Hurst soon levelled matters and the game was fairly even right up to about 10 minutes from the end when Hurst’s West Ham United teammate Martin Peters scored what we all hoped was the winner. However, Germany were not finished yet and following a freekick awarded in the very last minute they equalised to force extra-time. Ramsey said to his players: “You’ve won it once, now go out and do it again!”
Some 10 minutes into the extra period came the tournament’s most controversial moment. Hurst turned and hit a shot that cannoned off the underside of the crossbar and bounced down. But had the ball crossed the goal line? The linesman initially did not signal that it had, and at this my father swore profusely which was most unlike him. Mother, who disliked both football and bad language, promptly got up and switched our television off! For some minutes we all sat in silence not knowing what was happening until I plucked up courage to turn it back on again to find that indeed the goal had been awarded. Moments later that man Hurst scored his third goal of the match to put the result beyond doubt — England 4 West Germany 2.
It was fitting that the Queen, who had opened the tournament nearly three weeks earlier, performed the final act by presenting England captain Bobby Moore with the trophy. I can still see the scenes of jubilation on the pitch afterwards, especially little Nobby Stiles with wide, toothless grin doing his little jig with the cup.
Cue then wild celebrations up and down the country with dancing in Trafalgar Square, and the East End of London having a right knees-up claiming that it was West Ham who had won it for England. They had a point, for they had provided the captain and both goalscorers on the day.
The World Cup of 1966 was therefore a pivotal time in my life as it had turned me into a football fan. The following season I began watching my local team Luton Town regularly and continue to do so to this day. Unfortunately, during those 50 years successive England teams have not even come close to emulating the Boys of ’66.