THE ART OF PHOTOJOURNALISM Image of the month (36)
Lenny Henry in Burkina Faso by Kenny Lennox for the Daily Star, 1988
Alan Sparrow on the charmed life and work of Kenny Lennox
If you were to ask what picture is Kenny Lennox’s favourite picture most of those who know his work would point to the photograph of Mrs Thatcher. It was her last day at No 10 on 22nd November 1990, leaving in the back of the Jaguar. She looked towards the windows of No 10 at the press team at the window, her head bowed, and Lennox could see that she was about to cry. Then Dennis, her husband, came out of No 10 and climbed in beside her. Annoyingly for Lennox who had been waiting for this pic for some time, Mrs Thatcher was now obscured by Dennis. As the car pulled away Mrs Thatcher leaned forward and looked at Kenny, straight down the barrel, as it is known in Fleet Street parlance, and bang, one frame, and the job was done. The picture was the News Photo of the Year and Time magazine said it was one of the 20th century’s greatest images.
But surprisingly this is not Kennys' favourite image.
His 60+ years in the industry have provided many adventures and he has faced death on many occasions. He had a wound to his groin while riding on a British Challenger Tank in Gulf War 1. He fell from the tank “like an 18-year-old but hit the floor like an 80-year-old” a witness said, a blue-on-blue incident that was explained and apologised for when he met with the soldier who fired the rocket that hit the tank on which Lennox was traveling. He gathered his wits and the bits of photography kit he could find and followed the trail of the tank until he caught up and then realised, he was bleeding heavily from the wound. In fact, the shrapnel stayed in his body until 22 years later when he visited a hospital to be inspected by his doctor son who asked why he was limping and removed the shrapnel.
He was medivacked out of Beirut on April 18, 1983, when a suicide bomber attacked the embassy while Lennox stood in the queue waiting for a visa. Sixty-three people died, many more were injured, and Lennox suffered two broken eye sockets, a broken jaw, and brain damage. Unconscious for six days he awoke at the British base at Akrotiri, Cyprus, unable to remember his wife’s name and facing months of plastic surgery before he was able to return to work.
He was travelling in a Shackleton aircraft with the RAF searching for a missing trawler over the North Sea when the plane developed engine problems and had to ditch. As it began filling with water he was able to escape through a window that the radio operator kicked out, to be rescued by an RAF helicopter.
And while working in the Gulf he was traveling in a helicopter with undercover forces at night when it flew too low and ploughed into a sand dune. Lennox was propelled forward out of the chopper and survived along with the pilot, the only survivors.
Lennox learned his trade as a 13-year-old in Paisley in Scotland, with a Saturday job working for the Glasgow News Agency. The company’s owner gave him a camera and encouraged him to try his hand. He took a photograph of a local barracks being demolished and noticed the regimental sergeant major watching from the side as the buildings were tumbling down, who agreed to pose as the walls crashed around him.
The Scottish Daily Express was impressed and used it large and paid a princely £22 pounds for the picture, a week’s wages for many at that time. The picture editor asked to meet the photographer and was astonished to find a schoolboy, still in blazer and shorts. “Come back later” he was told, but he was back every week with offerings until he was banned from the building. But his persistence paid off and the paper eventually offered him a job, leaving university to take it up. The Express then had a circulation of over 4 million and over 100 staff photographers, more than 20 based in Glasgow, and Lennox worked there for the next 22 years.
Lennox’s style did not go unnoticed and in 1989 he joined the Daily Mirror. In November 1991 he flew to Tenerife when Mirror owner Robert Maxwell died in an accident on board his yacht and stood beside Maxwell's daughter Ghislaine as she delivered a press statement from the deck of the yacht named after her. He then accompanied the widow and Maxwell's body on a private flight to Israel for the burial.
After the Daily Mirror and worked at the Daily Star and then Today newspaper before he was enticed him to join the Sun. The proprietor Rupert Murdoch asked Kenny to change the look of the paper bur met resistance from the staff, and Lennox moved on to become the executive picture editor for the News of the World from which he retired in 2002 aged 76 after 63 years in the industry.
He had made many friends including members of the royal family, travelling with the Queen, The Princess of Wales and Princess Anne (his least favourite royal).
For the Daily Star he travelled to Ethiopia and photographed the famine there, but The Star was reluctant to use the pictures he took without some celebrity involvement. Lennox was on talking terms with Bob Geldof whom he had met when Geldof was a music journalist he was persuaded him to accompany him to Ethiopia to help draw attention famine. Then when the Red Nose appeal was launched Lennox was asked to accompany Lenny Henry to Burkina Faso where a pre-conceived image was quickly taken.
But Lennox tells us that Henry was shocked by what he had witnessed in Africa, he had never seen poverty like it, and they agreed and the picture they had already done no longer matched situation This image of the melancholy Lenny seemed more appropriate, and, from his many years in photography, this is his favourite. “I am a perfectionist and the Mrs Thatcher one is not sharp, but this picture has it all’’.