Roger Red­fern — A Coun­try­man’s Eye

This England - - News - ALAN ROBIN­SON

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.

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