David Walker talks to the 1960s photographer Jeremy Fletcher about his life, work, dropping out and of course, taking snaps at the Flamingo.
First up – how did you get started in photography?
I left Bryanston (Public) School at the age of 17 with no qualifications or known skills to my name and absolutely no idea what I was going to do with my life. My parents had just divorced and my mother used the settlement money to open a restaurant. I helped out with washing up etc. Lots of people used to come down from London to the south coast for sailing weekends. One of these was a certain Gordon McLeish, commercial photographer.
I had recently taken a photograph on a box brownie (my first camera) of a plane landing at Thorney Island Military Airport, procured whilst lying on the grass at the end of the runway. I was taken in for questioning as a result. My mother, with amazing foresight, showed the picture to said McLeish who offered me a job as his assistant at his studio in Queens Gate Mews, off Gloucester Road, London. That’s how it all began.
How did you make the move from there to ‘celebrity’ photography?
Not sure that I did make the jump into ‘celebrity photography’. I just dabbled in it a little. The studio moved to Clareville Street, next door to the Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art and I started photographing a lot of aspiring actors/actresses from there and elsewhere. When I left the studio to go freelance in late 1963(I think), I got into music photography as a result of a cousin’s girlfriend who knew one of the members of Manfred Mann and also through Hamish Grimes who worked for Giorgio Gomelsky, manager of the Yardbirds.
So I did a bit of work for the bands themselves as well as working for ‘Fabulous’, a 60s weekly colour magazine devoted to the the music scene. I also photographed a few celebrities at the time but regrettably, not as many as I should have. I was never very good at going out and getting work or selling myself. So jobs came my way from various sources, either through contacts I knew or by word of mouth. But the work wasn’t confined to the entertainment industry. I did quite a bit of advertising photography, P.R. and even industrial. Whatever came along really.
We’ve all seen the film view of photography in the 60s from the Blow Up movie. Did your life ever get like that?
I loved ‘Blow Up’. No, It would not be true to say my life ever became quite that exciting!!! But I certainly photographed a few absolutely gorgeous members of the opposite sex. The relationship between photographer and subject can easily become very intense and intimate. I don’t mean physically intimate necessarily. Wonderful things did happen from time to time!
Which of your subjects really caught your eye in the 60s?
That’s hard. Georgina Hale was one. No pics of her on my web site. I’ll look out for them one day. Jennie Runacre was amazing…none of her either. Julie Driscoll was fantastic. Suzanna Leigh was another. Louise Jameson (from Dr Who) had a wonderfully photogenic face (not sure if she was 60s or 70s). Julia Foster (pictured right) was absolutely gorgeous. There were many others but mostly unknowns. If I think of any more, I’ll let you know. Michael Crawford and Screaming Lord Sutch if you want blokes.
Anyone you missed out on?
The list of people I missed out on runs into several pages. The Beatles obviously. I would love to have photographed Ralph Richardson and countless other actors. But top of the list is probably Marianne Faithfull. A huge regret not ever having the chance to photograph her. She really was the most heavenly looking creature.
So out of all the pictures you took, which remains your favourite?
Probably my favourite picture is one of Michael Crawford. Early winter’s morning in a misty St. James’s Park was such a great location and he was a joy to photograph. I’ve always been very fond of the Manfred Mann picture taken in Kensal Green Cemetery too.
What was the most ridiculous location for a shoot?
The only ridiculous location I can think of was the top of an unfinished Post Office Tower where I photographed a rather obscure band, so obscure that I cannot now remember their name! That was a bit hairy. Oh, I photographed a gas meter in a dark cellar on infra red film for a record sleeve. Can’t for the life of me remember why!
For many on the mod scene, the photos from outside the Flamingo are iconic. Were they spontaneous or was that a planned shoot?
The Zoot Money pictures outside the Flamingo were not really planned. As far as I can remember the session involved shots inside the club as well as at various other locations. The boys were just hanging around outside and I snapped a few quick pics. We then went on somewhere else. There is a pic of them walking in a line down the street towards the club. I probably asked them to do that. Iconic eh? That’s news to me. Rather nice though.
I love your Avengers photos you took. Did you get commissioned to do many film and TV shoots?
No, I didn’t get commissioned to do many film and TV shoots. Not sure how The Avengers one materialised although it was the TV company who employed me. There were two photographers present, me and another. The weird thing was that I was asked to do the fashion photography and the other guy the general stuff. Something of a joke given that I’d never taken a fashion picture in my life! I felt extremely inhibited working alongside another photographer, especially as we were basically taking exactly the same pictures. Glad you like the stuff though.
According to your website, you drifted away from photography as the 60s ended. Any reason why?
Re. the drifting out (or off) – it wasn’t a complete drop out. I was married with two young children and we decided rather foolishly to move out of London and live in the country, 100 miles away. I carried on with photography but the work dropped off substantially, not surprisingly. After 4 or 5 years (in 1977) the marriage came to an end and I went back to London where I lived in and worked from a photographic studio in Goswell Road, EC1. In 1979 I met my present wife who is Australian and in 1987 we came over here to live. I then gave up photography for 7 years but returned to it in 1994. Still at it now though I’d call myself semi-retired!
Did you really forget about all those old photos until the late 90s?
Yes, I really did forget about the pictures until about 1996 when I began going through all my old stuff. A friend got to hear about what I had and she decided that I should do an exhibition in Melbourne. This happened in 1998. I discovered shots I had no memory of having taken! The Rolling Stones at The Mod Ball for example. A lot of the pics had never been printed before. It was an exciting time. I am now, with the help of another friend, trying to do a book. Hard to get a publisher though.
Are you surprised that your pictures are still creating a buzz 40 years on?
I’m not aware my pictures are creating ‘a buzz’ 40 years on. I realise that there is a general obsession with the 60s and some of my stuff from that era holds an interest for a lot of people but I’m not sure about a buzz! Of course, if I’d realised all those years ago that it was such a special time and the bands would in fact stand the test of time, I’d have been a lot more pro-active and taken many more pictures. But I really wasn’t serious enough about it.
Finally, what piece of advice would you offer a budding photographer starting out?
I don’t think I’d presume to offer advice to a budding photographer other than to get out there and do it and carry a camera at all times.
Since conducting this interview, I have lost touch with Jeremy Fletcher despite trying to re-track him down. However, I did notice a book appeared a few years back called The 60s – A Photographic Journey, featuring some of his most famous work. I haven’t seen a physical copy and it isn’t easy to find, but this website seems to be selling them on the photographer’s behalf.