THE POST-WAR PERIOD (1944-1984)
With the slackening of military tension in Europe by mid-1944, the BPA began to receive many enquiries regarding its future plans and, encouraged by these indications, the skeleton committee then in being decided to re-open the club on the 10th November 1944. The initial get-together, in the form of an annual general meeting, took place at 30, Hamilton Square, but not in the pre-war clubrooms on the second floor, as the lease for these had previously been terminated and much of the club’s equipment disposed of.
Once re-established, the BPA promptly drew up a syllabus for the ensuing session, and, most fortunately, secured the services of Lancelot Vining, ARPS, for its opening lecture. Being a keen Leica fan, and having used this camera extensively as a wartime photographer, Lancelot not unexpectedly talked to the large assembly about 35mm. photography which at that time was becoming all the rage. In point of fact, it was not long after this event that a separate 35 mm. section was set up within the club to study the development and application of small-frame photography, and it is understood that this section remained in being for quite a number of years before being discontinued. As 35mm. photography increased in popularity and became more or less the main interest of the average club member, the operations of the section were merged with those of the Association as a whole and the section was wound up.
For a few months after the re-opening in 1944, meetings were held in the old Methodist Church in Grange Road (now the site of a shop), but from the outset this was not intended as a hard and fast arrangement and, eventually, a move was made to permanent accommodation at 65, Argyle Street where, following the usual legal procedures, re-decorating, etc., the members took up occupation on 16th April 1945.
By the end of 1945 almost ninety new members had been enrolled. This number, when added to the existing members remaining from before the war, brought the total membership to just on two hundred and, notwithstanding the initial belief that the new headquarters would offer adequate accommodation to meet all reasonable needs, this proved not to be the case. A waiting list had therefore to be introduced to regulate the inflow of new applications. Alongside this trend was the impact of rising prices on subscriptions which, to be economic, had to be raised to: Full Members 25s/-, Juniors 12s/6d, Lady Associates 5s/-. A further rude shock for the BP.. was that in December 1945 the rating assessment of the new clubrooms suddenly shot up from £10 to £27 without any prior warning.
An obvious result of the influx of new members was that many of them were newcomers to photography, so, in May 1945, the Council decided to introduce weekly training classes for which, quite naturally, a number of the ‘old school’ in the shape of Geoffrey de la Mare, Norman Crawshaw, Jack Trace and Bert Shaw offered their services as tutors. These classes proved most helpful to the novice members, and they continued in operation until the general level of proficiency within the club had reached a satisfactory standard.
October 1946 saw the re-introduction of a popular pre-war club feature, namely, the ever welcome tea and biscuits served during the interval, on Wednesday evenings, by the Ladies’ committee. These devoted and willing helpers, as many of us will know, have never ceased their efforts from that time until the present – a continuous period extending over almost forty years. Among the original members of this committee must be mentioned Life Member Mrs. Gertrude Trace (widow of Jack Trace), still going strong and in good heart, and Life Member Mrs. Dorothy Cheers (widow of Reg Cheers), who sadly died in 1978.
A life long member of the BPA, often referred to in the early days as “Father” of the Association, died in January 1945. He was TJ Smith, a fine amateur photographer and well known sportsman. Being an acknowledged authority on the history of Wirral he had amassed a unique collection of lantern slides prepared from his own photographs of local scenes and landscapes, and many were the illustrated lectures on this subject which he presented to amenity societies and the like during his lifetime. It is ironical that only a month before his death the honour of the BPA life membership was conferred on TJS in acknowledgement of his service to the Association and his being its oldest member. He was seventy nine.
Apart from the usual run of syllabus subjects during winter sessions, the BPA suddenly found itself, in 1946, caught up in arranging a brains trust jointly with the Liverpool Association (LAPA). The latter, being the senior club, would obviously, it was felt, be fielding a strong team, and the BPA had to draw on the best brains among its members to avoid letting the side down. In the event, a panel comprising Jack Trace (Chairman), TLB Revis, GJ de la Mare, DG Cooper and JS Davies was put up against Liverpool and, although no record can be traced of the result of the contest, the fact that quite a number of further brains trusts were held would seem to indicate that Birkenhead did not disgrace itself on this first occasion. Other clubs later to be involved in these contests included Chester, Ormskirk and St. Helens.
By late 1948 it was patently evident that the premises in Argyle Street were not proving satisfactory; the approaches were dark and restricted, the toilets were unhygienic, and the accommodation inadequate. Various alternative premises were inspected until, finally, what was thought to be the perfect answer to the club’s requirements was discovered at 23, Market Street. In due course a suitable lease was drawn up but, unfortunately, due to legal difficulties and other problems, it was not until June 1949 that the keys were finally handed over. The annual rental was £75.
The Market Street club rooms on the whole served the members well, and the BPA remained tenants up to 1970, a continuous period of twenty one years. But, once again, with the ever expanding membership, the lecture room frequently became over-crowded and, as had happened before, a waiting list for new members had to be instituted. Notwithstanding this drawback the new rooms in their striking livery of black walls and red woodwork provided excellent accommodation comprising kitchen/servery, lecture room and toilet on the first floor, and committee room, studio, darkroom and library on the second floor. The studio in particular, promoting as it did a keen interest in portraiture, was put to very good use which led to the ‘Friday Portrait Circle’ being started, soon to be followed by the ‘Monday Night Circle’. But if the reader is left wondering about the reason for this sudden interest in portraiture, he need look no further than to the fact that Durrie Blades, leader of the Friday Circle, had made an arrangement with the principal of a Liverpool charm school whereby she allowed her young lady students to be photographed at the club rooms as part of their training in modelling. The benefits from this arrangement were twofold; it provided valuable experience for the models, and gave the budding young portraitists in the club an opportunity to try their hand at glamour photography.
It was in the portrait studio where Durrie Blades revealed his true genius. Often, when a timid and shy young model posed before the cameras, Durrie, by his gentle manner and softly spoken encouragement would gradually build up her confidence, all the time making subtle changes in lighting and pose, so that at the moment he was ready to press the shutter the model was already feeling and looking just like a queen. And the result, of course, showed up every time in the finished portrait.
A natural corollary to the popularity of portraiture was the introduction in 1949 of the Portrait Competition, an evergreen annual favourite which has continued without a break up to the present day. This competition, initially the idea of H. Southern Laws, a well known portrait photographer of the time, needed a trophy to go with it, and the following little story shows how this came about. Soon after the formation of the first portrait circle Waiter Nurnberg came to the club to present his lecture “Lighting for Portraiture”, He expressed surprise that the BPA had no plaster head on which to demonstrate portraiture lighting so, at the conclusion of the lecture, he called for a hat and, going round the audience, collected the sum of £3/10s/- whereupon, giving this to the Treasurer, he ‘commanded’ that a plaster head be bought forthwith and christened “Belinda of Birkenhead”. This instruction was carried out with all speed and the new Belinda was to provide many hours of interest to both Circles in their exploration of lighting techniques.
But to complete the story of the portrait trophy, some time around 1950 Norman Crawshaw and Durrie Blades happened to be photographing a Miss Joyce Ross, an amateur sculptress, who offered to fashion a small replica of Belinda which might form the basis of a trophy. This offer was accepted, but it immediately became evident that to convert the replica into a polished metal trophy was likely to be an expensive business. It so happened that a passable casting in brass was produced by an apprentice metalworker (recommended by Miss Ross) who charged a mere 15s/- for his trouble and, after a smoothing and polishing operation by Norman Crawshaw, the new Belinda at last shone forth in all her glory. The plinth for the trophy, again the handiwork of Norman, was fashioned from an old oak pile which had once supported the foundations of Bert Shaw’s public house at Leasowe.
At about the same time that the portrait competition was set up, a new challenge cup was presented to the club by Mr. H. Halt for an annual “Landscape” competition. Appropriate rules were formulated and the new cup was first competed for in December 1948. A further annual club competition was inaugurated in October 1949 by the anonymous donation of yet another challenge cup to be called the “Specific Subject” Cup. The donor of this trophy wished it to be known that his gift was to mark the successful opening of the new premises in Market Street.
The introduction of three new annual competitions into the club calendar meant a corresponding reduction in the number of improvised contests which hitherto had characterised the club’s winter programme, and this trend has continued until, at the time of writing, the BPA has six permanent competitions with handing-in dates at roughly monthly intervals throughout each winter.
In the previous two chapters brief mention was made of the Autochrome process for making colour transparencies. First introduced in 1904, this was forerunner to the Dufay process which came a few years later. Both of these “reseau” processes gained only limited popularity among amateur photographers, and it was not until after the second world war that Kodak really ‘lit the flame’ of colour photography by introducing Kodachrome film for colour transparencies with trade processing included in the price. The expanding popularity of this completely new process giving greatly improved colour rendition was electrifying, and of great significance for club photography. It very quickly altered the whole pattern of competitions and exhibitions. From the late 1940s onwards colour sections had to be introduced into the general run of BPA competitions, each covered by a suitable award or trophy; a special Colour Transparency Trophy was in fact presented to the club in 1958 by W. Arthur Hodge who was President that year.
Looking back at the BPA exhibition scene we see that the rapid emergence of colour was even more marked. The original “Open” Exhibition for purely black and white work gave way in 1939 to the annual “International” Exhibition which, except for the war period, continued until 1958. The latter covered both open and members’ classes and, although starting as monochrome only, colour crept in by degrees and by 1958 it was the main ingredient. In 1959 the title was changed yet again, this time to the Annual International “Colour” Exhibition owing to its being 100% colour. The various venues for these exhibitions were: Shaftsbury Boys’ Club (1939-195, Little Theatre (1959-1963), and Williamson Art Gallery (1964 onwards).
At this juncture one might-well ask what had happened to black and white work since the BPA’s main exhibition became all-colour. The answer is that a separate exhibition, for members only, was set up ten years or more ago to remedy this omission, and is still in operation. It takes place annually at the Williamson Art Gallery, usually earlier in the year than the main exhibition, and caters for monochrome and colour prints, and colour transparencies.
During the late 50s and early 60s Reg Cheers, assisted by Desmond Cooper, was the main exhibition organiser and, in addition to handling all the entries, he set the town alight by hanging a large banner across Grange Road West opposite the Little Theatre with a message to all and sundry extolling the virtues of B.P .A. and its exhibition. This banner had the desired effect of attracting a sizeable number of the public to enter the exhibition – a feature noticeably lacking in more recent years regrettably.
Before moving on, we must not forget another exhibition incident which happened at the Shaftsbury Boys’ Club during Tom Grenfell’s presidency in 1955/56. For this occasion Tom, who at that time was Publicity Controller for Vernon’s Pools Ltd., had invited Miss Norma Sykes, otherwise known as T.V. star “Sabrina”, to formally open the proceedings. Now, Miss Sykes’s particular gimmick when appearing on stage or before the T.V. cameras was to remain completely silent – the perfect dumb blonde in fact. Her physical attributes were sufficient in themselves to provide all the glamour that was needed without any vocal aid. However, breaking silence for just this once, she delivered her opening address with a charm and graciousness which quite delighted the crowd and received warm applause. When the news got around that Sabrina was in the exhibition a mass of people gathered outside and, at the time of her departure, it took the combined efforts of five burly policemen to get her to her car. The reader will now know how to attract a record crowd to an exhibition.
An important matter which arose in 1971 must be referred to. During this year it was suggested to the exhibition committee that the BPA should consider joining the Photographic Society of America, this with the idea of stimulating interest and entries. Such a big step was obviously going to incur extra organisation and expense, but Fred Scott took up the cause and championed it vigorously in Council to such good effect that the plan was eventually approved. The BPA joined the PSA in time for the 1972 Annual Exhibition which Fred and his helpers promoted most successfully. Since that time the Exhibition has gone from strength to strength under the title “Birkenhead International Colour Salon”, with entries coming from upwards of forty countries all over the world. Since 1980/81 the BPA has additionally secured the patronage of the FIAP, the European equivalent of the PSA, and enjoys still further support from Europe and elsewhere in consequence.
Mention of Fred Scott in the previous paragraph reminds us that not everyone may know of his keen interest and skill as a footballer in his youth, and of his being reserve goalkeeper for Everton for a period of years. Fred was massive in size - over 6 ½ feet in height when standing erect – and it is said that one newspaper reporter claimed that Fred had only to stand mid-way between the posts with his legs apart and arms outstretched and he could save 90% of the goals without moving an inch! Whether or not there is any truth in this story is anybody’s guess, but one thing beyond question is that Fred was throughout his lifetime a warm hearted and kindly man with a keen sense of humour and wide interests.
We must now go back a little in time and see what other things were happening in the 1950s. For a short period during this decade the then honorary secretary of the Association, J Stanley Davies (called “Young Stan” to differentiate him from H Stanley Davies, President 1949/50) organised a series of annual trips to the Continent, with photography as the main theme. Young Stan, having business connections with air travel, was able to fly BPA members to their destination and back at very reasonable cost, and for a time these trips proved most popular. Usually each trip lasted three days and the places visited included Amsterdam, Paris, Copenhagen, and one or two others. Regrettably the constantly rising costs of these excursions eventually sounded their death knell. This was a pity as all those who went on the trips said how much the variety and interest of the Continent had improved their photography.
1952 was a milestone in the history of the Association for in May of that year the club magazine “Highlight” was launched. Starting off as a handily sized 8-page booklet published three or four times throughout the winter session, it provided an excellent medium for passing on news of current events and happenings to the membership, also it gave individual members the opportunity to express their views on matters of topical interest by writing to the Editor and having their comments published. Happily, Highlight has been with us without a break up to the present day and, we hope, will continue so well into the future. As in other cases rising costs have extracted their toll and now, at the time of writing, Highlight is more in the form of a simple news sheet than the booklet it was originally. Over the years succeeding editors have been: Alan Basnett, Kenneth Clark, Bill Grosart, Norman Crawshaw, Stuart Brown and Ron Woodward.
Before leaving the 1950s it must go on record that a commendable success was achieved by the Association in gaining Second Award in the World Photo Fair Exhibition organised by the Yorkshire Evening Post in 1952. Upwards of a dozen of Britain’s foremost photographic judges were involved in the adjudication, providing ample proof that the BPA’s achievement was no ‘flash in the pan’. A commemorative certificate to this effect hangs in the clubroom for all to see.
During the 1960s club life within the BPA continued much as usual, but the direction of photographic interest was undeniably changing. Only too clear was the fact that the colour transparency was bringing about the gradual decline in black and white work and the complete demise of the lantern plate. The direct result of this was that a large proportion of the Wednesday evening meetings became devoted to colour portfolios, travelogues, topographical essays in colour, and the like. In this particular sphere of colour lectures a number of new exponents had come to the fore, and the BPA throughout the decade had visits from such notable people as Margaret Harker, J. Alan Cash, Harold White, Bertram Sinkinson, Lancelot Vining, Dr. Jouhar, and others.
On the social side regular events included visits to places of photographic interest, canal trips, dinner dances (at Quaintways, Chester), and Christmas socials (usually at the Victoria Hall, Port Sunlight). Important new trophies presented to the Association round about this time were the Grenfell Trophy and the Arthur Hodge Memorial Trophy. In 1960 the Trace Memorial Lecture was set up in memory of Jack Trace who died in 1958; also in 1960 the Cine Section of B.P.A. came into being.
During the early 1960s the BPA was having thoughts about trying to acquire a permanent building of its own to establish headquarters and club rooms properly adapted to photographic use. This was an ambitious project and, regrettably, it never reached fruition, primarily due to lack of finance and the difficulty of finding the right accommodation in the right locality. The BPA had therefore to soldier on in Market Street until 1970 when, quite out of the blue, Bob Barron came forward with the news that Birkenhead Corporation had available the top two floors at 24, Clifton Road, recently vacated by the Borough Engineer’s Department. Originally a boys’ school, No. 24 had great promise, and in no time at all negotiations were entered into and a long lease tenancy arranged. The saga of the move to Clifton Road would fill a book but, to be brief, the new tenancy involved extensive structural alterations as well as complete re-decoration. The contractor’s work was financed by members’ donations and the smaller jobs were carried out by the members themselves. In all, it was a daunting task conceived and executed with commendable skill and expediency by many willing helpers among whom were a number of specialist building advisers from the general club membership. The opening ceremony, chaired by the then President, Stuart Brown, took place on 16th September 1970, and was attended by a large gathering among whom the Mayor and Mayoress of Birkenhead, the President of the L&CPU, and the Presidents of Birkenhead Operatic and Dramatic Societies were present as official guests.
No.24 Clifton Road is a gracious looking Georgian building which, though old, is quite reasonably sound, even to this day. Now, after conversion, the rooms have served the Association more than adequately for the past twelve years or so. There can be little doubt that the excellent facilities provided have had a beneficial effect on the club’s morale, enthusiasm and achievement. For some years after the move patronage of the Association remained high, with membership at 150 or more. A decline in numbers then set in during the mid 1970s in common with the experience of other clubs, but since then increased recruitment has restored a ‘150 plus’ membership once more.
Among the many things which have taken place within the BPA during the past ten to fifteen years it is difficult to single out those for special mention. Items which might be regarded as innovations probably attract the most interest, and details of these are as follows. In 1970 the idea was first tried out of holding an interclub slide battle on the first Saturday of the Members’ Annual Exhibition at the Williamson Art Gallery. To this a single judge was appointed whose task, by a process of elimination, was to classify each set of slides of the competing clubs in order of merit, the winning club receiving a silver challenge cup presented by the BPA. This event has been a singular success over the years and around a dozen or so Merseyside Societies regularly meet at the Art Gallery each year to compete. This has been one of the most successful social events in the club’s calendar.
Another idea put forward in 1972 was the one of “Summer Projects”. This comprised the formation of a number of teams, each of six or so membrs, whose object it was to illustrate a particular subject or theme of their choosing and, later, to project it on the screen to the accompaniment of a suitable commentary. These projects, calling for considerable skill and imagination in presentation, aroused keen competition among the members, and it is only to be regretted that they were discontinued after only a few years. If they did nothing else they demonstrated that none of us can gain full satisfaction and fulfilment from what we do unless we exert our maximum effort and determination in order to succeed.
Other developments during the 1970s and early 80s have been, firstly, the widening interest in home processing of colour prints and, secondly and more recently, the trend towards audio/visual presentation of colour slides. Undoubtedly the amateur has been pressurised in both of these pursuits by commercial interests and modern advertising and, although a certain number of BPA members have achieved success in both of these ventures, the high cost of the necessary materials and equipment has been an obstacle to either becoming universally popular. In due time, of course. this situation may, and probably will, change.
High costs have likewise extracted their toll on the public relations side of the photographic industry. Whereas it was a common occurrence in past years for the bigger firms to have a panel of lecturers to go around the clubs, now most of the latter, including the BPA, have to provide their own lecturers – and judges – from their own resources or from neighbouring clubs. It has been a painful necessity to adjust to the consequences of inflation as in other walks of life, and the strength of regional organisation of photographic societies has been of great value in facing up to this problem.
For the past ten years or so three popular annual events held each summer have been the visit to Joe Platt’s farm at Thornton-le-Moors, Glynn Jones’s garden party at his home at Grange in West Kirby, and the portrait session at the Adult Education College at Burton Manor. Additionally, and more recently, the annual dinner party at the Hotel and Catering Department of the Birkenhead College of Technology has attracted considerable support. Such events as these have all combined to cement the bond of good fellowship among the members and have helped to unite the Association socially as well as photographically, and this is surely what club membership is all about.
We find ourselves in momentous times as the BPA approaches its Centenary and, whilst this history has necessarily dealt with past events, perhaps it may be permitted to take a brief glimpse into the future. In the years ahead, with design technology expanding at the rate it is doing, the ordinary club member must be prepared for great changes in the way in which he will take photographs, changes of a kind which at the present moment he has little or no idea. Thankfully, however, there will always be one aspect of photography which no-one can ever change, and that is the art of picture making. This will always remain the prerogative of the individual photographer; it is something which can never be taken away from him.
The BPA members recognise that their Association is strong at heart and well integrated. It has always had reserves of administrative ability and a flair for improvisation, both of which could be needed at any time in the future to carry it through difficult situations and dramatic changes. With such thoughts in mind we, the ordinary members, may justifiably feel a confidence and a security with the BPA in the face of whatever lies ahead.