On the Wire – how many people does it take to send a picture?

It’s amazing how easy it is to take and send high-quality photos these days. You can pick up an iPhone, take a snap and with a couple of clicks send the image around the world. It wasn’t always that simple – here’s a tale from 1985 (just over 25 years ago) when taking and transmitting a picture was a little more difficult.

I’d just started EMPICS in the summer of 1985. One of my first actions was to write to every national newspaper picture desk. In those days, it was a laborious task – each letter was created individually on a typewriter (make a mistake – you had to start again!).

One of the most positive replies was from a picture editor at the Sunday Times, Bernie Neighbour. He asked if he could pay me to use part of my office (which was next to Trent Bridge Cricket Ground) to transmit pictures of the Ashes match between England and Australia in mid-July. The Sunday Times used Patrick Eagar – the world renowned cricket photographer – and they would send a support team to get the pictures back to London by wire. The first thing they needed to do was to install a 4-wire line from British Telecom. This was effectively a leased line that went to a BT exchange in Nottingham, could then be patched through the the London exchange – and then on to the Sunday Times. Installation of the line was £400 – and they paid a further £1,600 to keep the line available in my office for a full year so that they could use it for the next Trent Bridge Test. Two thousand pounds was a lot of money in those days – and they paid me a couple of hundred quid to use my office too. Already quite a bill to get one picture on the back page of the Sunday Times in black and white!

Anyway, the Saturday in July arrived – and I had the kettle boiled to make tea for the “support team” as they arrived. Patrick Eagar was already installed at the ground, and around mid-morning there was a knock on the office door….

First in was Bernie Neighbour – the Sports Picture Editor. He’d decided he would be more use up in Nottingham editing Patrick’s film to make sure the best picture got on the back page.
Next was the “Wireman”. He was responsible for connecting a wire machine (high quality fax machine) to the line and putting the print on the machine to transmit back to the Sunday Times.
After that came the “Darkroom Man”. He was responsible for processing Patrick’s black and white films and then making a print in a portable darkroom tent on an enlarger.
I only had a small office, so this was becoming a crowd. Next man up was their “Driver”. He was responsible for getting the team to my office.
Well, I couldn’t work out who the 5th guy could be. He turned out to be the “pilot”. They’d decided it would be best to fly up to a private airfield in Nottingham so they could get back to London quickly at the end of the day’s play!

It seems unbelievable some 25 years on – but this was how a combination of technology and union practices combined to make a simple process complicated!

England's Ian Botham catches Aussie skipper Allan Border

As you might expect, the irony was that after all this effort, the Sunday Times decided to use a picture taken by one of our photographers on the day, Paul Delmar (doing a little freelancing in between training most of the UK’s best photo-journalists)! C’est la vie….

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