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'Take your photo, sir?'

Seafront in the 1950s
From the private collection of Sue Loveridge

A blank shot trick

In most summers in the 1950s, there used to be at least one photographer, on the seafront, waiting to take a snap of you. Their ‘trick’, if they had one, was to appear to take your photo, without your permission. He took aim and then you heard a click. It seemed as though he had caught you on camera. Then he would say ‘let me take another one, just to be sure.’  If you said ‘no thanks’, he quickly lost interest. Presumably, the camera was fixed to take a ‘blank shot’, as an opener. 

Do you remember these photographers? Please share your memories by posting a comment below

How did it work?

I often wondered what happened if you said you would like your photo to be taken. These were the days of films and darkrooms. There was quite a gap between a photo being taken and seeing the result. How did the exchange between subject and photographer take place?  Did you pay him, up front and hope he sent the photos?  Did he send you them alongside an invoice? On reflection, it all seemed to have involved a lot of trust. Was it a money-making scam or do some people still have photos, sitting on shelves, showing them enjoying their holiday in Brighton?

Comments about this page

  • I’m not sure about this, but weren’t some of the snappers licensed by Brighton Council to make sure only bone fide people operated on the seafront? Of course that didn’t stop rogues stepping in, and taking your cash under false pretenses, which would then probably have ended up at the racecourse, or in the local betting shop!

    By Stefan Bremner-Morris (24/04/2016)
  • I think you are probably right, Stefan; I think the photographers were licenced in some way. I wonder where you applied for a license and what the registration involved? Unless the photos were very expensive, I can’t imagine it was a great way of making money. 

    By Philip Burnard (24/04/2016)
  • My wife and I had a photo taken by one of these photographers by the Palace Pier in the 1980’s. I still have the photo at home in a frame. I can not remember how much I paid for this photo.

    By John Leach (25/04/2016)
  • I have a black and white photo taken on Brighton seafront of me with a parrot perched on my arm, taken around 1958.  I was about five. Dad paid about 6d and the photo was posted to us.  I also have one taken at the entrance to the Palace Pier and I’m sitting on a model of a horse or a cow (not sure which) taken about 1955. Dad had paid the same way with the same result. No scam there.

    By Marilyn Bright (25/04/2016)
  • We used to say yes take our photo and then let them take a couple of poses, and then walk off. Some of them were a bit cross about this as you can imagine.

    By Ken Ross (25/04/2016)
  • In 1957 I was one of those beach photographers. The licenced ones were run by a guy called Eddie Lush. We had  pink pig, a large stuffed bear and other props. The unlicensed ones were called fly pitchers. I they were caught (which wasn’t often) they copped a fine. There were some real characters among both groups. Joe Baker, ex boxer and Johny the nose..were a couple of them. People mostly did receive their photo, even from the fly pitchers. It was quite a fun sort of job … but nobody made a fortune.

    By Roger Johnson (06/07/2016)
  • For a summer holiday job (I was a student then) in about 1960 I worked as a photographer on the promenade in front of the West Pier. We were provided with a Lieca 35 mm camera and shot in black and white.

    Also provided was a beautiful Macaw which I endevoured to place on the shoulder of the male of the young couples promenading. If  I could do this, then there was seldom a refusal and I took a quick shot collected the fee and gave the couple a receipt to collect the photo later in the day. I don’t recall there being any problems with the shots taken which was pretty remarkable as the camera was not automatic and we estimated the exposure and focus!  There was no problems with this work and I don’t recall any trouble about a license. In another year I worked on the oval wooden track on the West Pier where the boys could show the girls how they could drive a miniature version of an MG TD. Very few young people had cars in those days.

    I also work as a temporary postman at King Alfreds, Hove over the Christmas period for several years even delivering on Christmas morning. This helped fund me through a Civil and Structural Engineering course at the Brighton Tech. Later in this course my summer jobs were more directed to Civil Engineering.       

    By John Tapsell (28/10/2018)
  • My father, Martin Murtagh was a street photographer in Brighton throughout the 50s and 60s…a fly pitcher to begin with (and yes, he was caught…once!). I met a few of his ‘colleagues’ in the 70s and 80s, the guys who used the parrots (macaws?) and the papier mache animals. He loved this summer job and his Irish gift of the gab helped him make a good income in the summer seasons. All done on trust. Would you now pay a stranger who approached you in the street, takes your pic, ask for money and tells you to come back later? Different times!

    By Paul Murtagh (12/04/2020)

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