St David’s Day, Wrexham, 1st March 1968, by Michael Brennan

Press photographer Michael Brennan is now retired and lives in Costa Rica. In conversation with Alan Sparrow he reflects on his career, and a St David’s Day prank

Sheffield-born Michael Brennan began his career as a newspaper messenger boy, and when his family travelled south to the London suburb of Croydon he joined the Croydon Times as a junior photographer.

One of the aspiring photographer’s neighbours was George Phillips (see the work of George Phillips on Fleet Streets Finest), a photographer who influenced Michael and gave him tips on photography.

Typically for a local newspaper, early assignments for Michael were group shots. On one, Michael was sent to take pictures in the local Catholic community and, in an attempt, to get the group closer together, Michael urged the presiding priest “to get a little closer to your wife’’.

Surprisingly, he survived this faux pas and worked for a further six years at the Croydon Times followed by stints at the Sunday People, the Daily Herald and later the newly formed Sun newspaper.

Brennan was working for the Sun newspapers when he was assigned to Coniston Water where Donald Campbell was attempting the world water speed record. His work from that day (one was our Image of the Month on 28 February 2019) won Brennan the British News Picture of the year award.

Brennan then took his talents to the Daily Mail who assigned him to New York where he lived for the next 30 years.

Brennan also accepted photo commissions for magazine such as Sports Illustrated where an assignment led to a series of photos of the boxer Muhammad Ali, and one of the pictures taken is in the collection of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

Another time Brennan was sent to Tampa Bay Florida. ‘’I sauntered into the Holiday Inn and headed straight to the bar’’ he tells me. “The tallest of the patrons turned to me and said, ‘if you are Mick then what are you having?’ There he was with his mates in full majesty - the great 1966 captain of England's World Cup winning football team, Bobby Moore......asking me what I would like to drink! Well’’ I thought ‘’what a way to earn a living this is. It doesn’t get any better than this’. A Heineken would be nice, thanks Bob."

Michael tells us of another meeting in a pub, the subject of our St David’s Day Image of the Month. “In the cause of earning a living with a camera I have sauntered into quite a few bars over the last 50-something years. However, a pub in Wrexham, North Wales, stands out as one of the strangest scenarios. Being St. David's Day, the birthday of the patron saint of Wales, I had quite expected most pubs to be busy and this one was no exception, packed with folk drinking pints and the odd customer eating a daffodil which, as it turned out is a custom on the great Saint Dave's birthday’’. They were having him on – daffodils are poisonous and eating one could make you seriously ill for a while.

Sport is never far from Michael thoughts and in 1978 he had been in Houston, Texas, photographing former Ali opponent George Foreman who had then reinvented himself as a roadside preacher. “On the plane back to NYC, I thought, 'If that's what George is doing, I wonder what the rest of his opponents are up to?' I set out to track down as many of the old guys as I could find" he recalls.

Brennan spent decades locating Ali's former opponents to discover what had become of them and produced a book, They Must Fall, Muhammad Ali and the men he fought  that was published in October, 2020, portraying Ali's powerful role in the world of sport and what happened next to his opponents.


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