Terence Spencer: From prisoner of war to iconic photojournalist

PUBLISHED: 08:00 05 June 2017

Terence Spencer Archive: Skinheads at Borehamwood, football field. Picture: Terence Spencer/Camera Press

Terence Spencer Archive: Skinheads at Borehamwood, football field. Picture: Terence Spencer/Camera Press

© CAMERA PRESS

A new exhibition of the photographs of celebrated photojournalist Terence Spence opens at Proud Camden

British actor Sir Roger Moore. Picture: Terrence Spencer/Camera PressBritish actor Sir Roger Moore. Picture: Terrence Spencer/Camera Press

The genius of war hero and photojournalist Terence Spencer is celebrated at a retrospective exhibition featuring his photographs of the Swinging sixties and more sober seventies.

He may have snapped musical icons from The Beatles to Freddie Mercury, but Spencer was born in an entirely different era - during a Zeppelin raid in 1918.

Before becoming a dynamic, hardworking photographer for Life, Time and People magazines, he served as a Hurricane and Spitfire pilot in the RAF during World War II.

Rising to Squadron Leader he won the Belgian Croix de Guerre and Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery which included being twice shot down and captured. The first time, in February 1945, he spent just one month in a POW camp before undertaking a daring motorcycle ride to rejoin the Allies. The second involved a record breaking bale out when he survived despite deploying his parachute at just 30 feet. Post war, Spencer ran a successful aerial photographic business near Johannesburg with his actress wife Lesley Brook whom he met on a blind date in 1947.

British fashion designer Mary Quant. Picture: Terence Spencer/Camera PressBritish fashion designer Mary Quant. Picture: Terence Spencer/Camera Press

Reinventing himself as a photojournalist, by 1952 he was covering events and conflict across Africa for LIFE, from the Sharpville massacre to Nelson Mandela on the run and war in the Congo. He later documented numerous conflicts across the globe including the Vietnam war and the Cuba’s Bay of Pigs.

But Spencer was also adept at photographing celebrities and fashion icons after his return to England in the early 60s. At the urging of his then 13 year old daughter Cara he chronicled the early rise of The Beatles taking 5,000 shots over a several months which he later compiled in a book It Was Twenty Years Ago Today.

He once said the only time he was injured on a job was when Paul McCartney attacked him for discovering his Scottish retreat.

Spencer’s ability to put his subjects at ease, his human honest images of youth culture, musical revolution and the dynamic social change of the era led to memorable images of models and fashion designers, entrepreneurs, actors and sportspeople,

Hairdressers in London in the 1970s. Picture: Camera Press/Terence SpencerHairdressers in London in the 1970s. Picture: Camera Press/Terence Spencer

Possessed of a young spirit that belied his age, he documented Mods and rockers on Brighton beach, Dylan a the Isle of Wight and Skinheads in Borehamwood. He died in 2009, aged 90, less than 24 hours after his wife of 62 years.

A Lasting Impression runs at Proud Camden until July 16 proudcamden.com

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