THE ART OF PHOTOJOURNALISM Image of the month

The 40th of a second that changed a life, 14th June 1958, by Roger Bamber.

Former Fleet Street picture editor Alan Sparrow introduces this month’s image

It's June 14th, 1958, and a 13-year-old boy stands anxiously on the platform of the down-line at Grantham Railway Station. The imminent arrival of a train was eagerly awaited as he clutches a Kodak Brownie Cresta ll - not an expectant passenger but a train spotter thrilled by steam engines.

Roger Bamber was ready for any circumstance, but as luck would have it the train that was racing towards Grantham was the A4 class loco, The Golden Plover, which entered service in October 1937 and finished her work in October 1965. It was on the non-stop Elizabethan service from London to Edinburgh, and travelling at around 70mph the Plover took about 6 1/2 hours to make the journey north from King’s Cross to Edinburgh, not dropping its speed as it passed through Roger’s station.

This was just one of the 35 A4 class Locomotives designed by Nigel Gresley and the sleek engine was built for speed. Another of the A4 engines, The Mallard, broke the world speed record on July 3rd, 1938, and still holds the record for the world’s fastest steam train at 126 miles per hour.

So, it was just the one shot that the keen train spotter was able to take as it hurtled through Grantham Station, and his notes for the day tell him that he recorded the exposure at a 40th of second.

Unsuspected by the teenage Bamber, this was a life changing moment. He was expecting to become a statistician when he left school, but this picture set his career on a different path and was part of the portfolio that enabled him to enter Leicester Art College, where he studied graphic design. He went on to become a photojournalist, and from 1965 his pictures were published in every British national newspaper and many magazines. Bamber has twice been British Press Photographer of the Year, and when he was travelling the world covering everything from wars to rock and roll he was twice News Photographer of the Year.

But Bamber’s interest in steam engines did not wilt after his teenage years, and he built a collection of steam engine nameplates that now adorn the walls of his Brighton home (above). Now in his 8th decade he is putting together a collection of his favourite pictures for a book to be published soon, exhaustively searching though thousands of negatives to whittle his massive collection of pictures to a manageable portfolio.

It was during this research that he came across the picture of The Golden Plover. “To be honest“ he tells me “I had forgotten all about it and was surprised to find it.  But here it was” .

It was only by checking the engine number 60031 against available records that Bamber discovered that the steam train he photographed more than 60 years ago was the Plover, and by an extraordinary coincidence that picture he took as a boy was of the very same train whose nameplate now hangs on the wall of his home, part of his collection of steam engine name plates and bought just ten years ago.

This picture and other work by Roger Bamber  are available from Fleet Street's Finest at https://fleetstreetsfinest.com/product/the-40th-of-a-second-by-roger-bamber/

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