A Photographer’s Tale With A Clean Punchline

The Mayweather vs McGregor bout is this weekend’s sporting showpiece. We have Mike Conway formerly of London Express News, PA, Central Press, United Press International, Reuters and finally the European Pressphoto Agency, recalling his early experiences as a runner at the Cooper vs Clay (Ali) fight in ’63.

Much praise has been heaped on the sixties as the golden age of photography and deservedly so. But for those without bone fide credentials to cover the elite sports and show biz events – such as darkroom staff caption writers and editors – it deserves the accolade for different reasons. Back in the day thankfully no sophisticated scanning system existed.

Press passes, the equivalent in quality to home made biz cards, were the norm but duplication process wasn’t necessary. A simple variation of the old three card trick sufficed.

My introduction to the world of free entry to every top sporting event came during my first Fleet Street job at Express newspapers. A red haired freckle faced sixteen year old made acquaintance with a daily express photographer who pioneered sequence sports photography.

After a couple of messenger roles I regularly accompanied him on top sports events with or without pass.

The highlight of which unquestionably was the June 1963 fight between Muhammad Ali and Henry Cooper. It was a sell out fight at Wembley Stadium but I had a seat at ringside. My job was to take film to a despatch rider about 50 or more meters away. When a jobsworth came by the snapper just said he is with me. I could have had a wonderful memento from this night but when I returned from work the next day my blood-stained white shirt – from Henry’s eye – had been washed perfectly clean!

You may be asking how did I get into the stadium in the first place? I travelled up with a despatch rider and on arrival at the press entrance he went inside and returned with a pass from a dr inside. So simple. The same deception was applied at Wimbledon, F. A. Cup finals, test matches and at many boxing venues like Albert Hall and Earls Court.

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