Bannister - and the story behind that picture
The achievement of Sir Roger Bannister, who has died aged 88, on being the first to run a mile in under four minutes on May 5, 1954, will never been surpassed – but it almost went unrecorded.
The story behind this picture is part of the legend. The weather at the Iffley Road Sports Ground that day was bad, and most doubted whether the much anticipated attempt by the team of Oxford students would happen. At the last minute it was decided to go ahead and in the event, as Bannister registered his three minutes 59.4 second world record, there was just one agency snapper at the finishing tape – Norman Potter.
Armed with an old-fashioned glass plate camera, he could only take one picture of the moment Bannister broke the tape. That image was wired around the world by his agency, Central Press Photos, and appeared in countless newspapers and magazines – going down in history credited to “Photographer Unknown”. It was more than 30 years before ehe could be accorded the credit he deserved, and the image is now part of the Getty Images collection.
Yet Norman Potter, now aged 86 retired, is famous among his colleagues, and his work is featured on the website dedicated to the art of photojournalism, Fleet Street’s Finest https://fleetstreetsfinest.com/interview-norman-potter/. He once had Frank Sinatra in headlock after the singer had attacked a fellow press photographer. Through the course of his long career, which ended in 1996, he made friends of his subjects, including boxers Freddie Mills and Henry Cooper, and the Great Train Robber Roy James. And, needless to say, he had been on duty at Westminster Abbey the years before Bannister’s historic moment for the coronation of our Queen.
But it was the photograph he took on a windy day in Oxford on May 5, 1954, that made the pro a legend, albeit for years an anonymous one.