THE ART OF PHOTOJOURNALISM Image of the month

Harrow, London, 8th October 1952, by George Phillips

Alan Sparrow introduces this month’s image 

The photographer George Phillips died on November 12thaged 84, leaving behind a panorama of news images.

Here, the Reverend John Richards stands in the mangled wreckage of the overnight express from Perth, a local passenger train and an Express train heading from Euston to Liverpool.

Around 1,000 people were aboard the three trains; 112 people died in the crash and 340 were injured. It is the worst peace time rail crash in the UK. 

George’s picture won "Britannica" news Picture of the Year award for 1952 and appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world. There is something about the picture of the priest surrounded by destruction that makes us realise how loose our grip on life can be. At 08.19 people were sitting on the train considering their day ahead and within minutes over a hundred lives had ended. 

At 08.20 the overnight express from Perth crashed at speed into the rear of the 07.31 Tring-Euston commuter train, standing at the Harrow and Wealdstone station platform. Shortly afterwards, an Express train from Euston was heading north to Liverpool and was derailed by the wreckage of the other two trains on the track.

“It all happened in a second there was a terrible crash and glass and debris showered on me” said John Bannister, a commuter, told The Times, adding: "I blacked out for a moment, and when I came around I found I was lying on the line with debris on top of me. I managed to free myself and drag myself on to the platform."

The Rev Richards, vicar of St John the Baptist church, Harrow, arrived on the scene to offer comfort to those affected and was greeted by this nightmare vision.

George Phillips who was working for Planet News, then owned by UPI. He heard about the crash on the radio, and then from an American reporter based in London who offered George a lift in his car.

He had One 9x12cm glass plate on a Palmas camera left in his bag when he saw this picture, and it was George's last plate. George wasn't sure if it was one he had already exposed.

His father, Cecil Phillips, a London-based staff photographer for the New York Times, had said to George, “Don’t follow the crowd, find the crux of the crash and go from there".  He did, and got the scoop.

George worked for a year as staff photographer for The Sun based in Bristol before being joining the Daily Mirror as their staffer for the West Country. George was based in Bristol from 1971 and his career spanned nearly 50 years.

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