A picture of days gone by on the waterways
PUBLISHED: 11:37 12 December 2014 | UPDATED: 11:37 12 December 2014
AS only dedicated photographers use “proper” cameras, most of us taking snaps on mobile phones and tablets, our pictures stored digitally – or widely circulated instantly like the current “selfie” trend. The family picture album once lovingly maintained is as outdated as the wooden-roller mangle and penny bags of broken potato crisps.
No doubt countless long-unused roll-film cameras are out of sight, out of mind, resurfacing at car boot sales. A trip to the chemist to deliver films for developing and printing is a thing of the past, as is the gloom when the film failed to transport through the camera, light had crept in or a precious view was out of focus.
During the pre-war and post-war decades, holidaymakers and day-trippers without cameras in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston could still have pictorial reminders of their visit here. Not only was there a range of scenic postcards on offer but also numerous professional photographers were ready and waiting to record their presence among us.
Recently I mentioned in this column the race against the clock when these snappers pictured passengers boarding the excursion pleasure craft sailing down-river and out to sea, and up into Broadland; they had two hours in which to get their film back to the processors for the pictures to be finished ready for sale to the disembarking trippers on their return to their quayside moorings.
That column resulted in a letter from one of those photographers, Robert Jordan, now a Norwich resident but a member of a Yarmouth family: his brother was the late Aleyn, well-known in music and quiz circles locally, and his sister is Elizabeth (Mrs Giles).
Bob Jordan, aged 76, clearly recalls those happy yet hectic years when his summers were spent touting for business and shutter-clicking relentlessly alongside rival photographers working for his employers’ competitors. At the age of 13 he got a job with Barkers “but I wasn’t old enough to do cameras so I worked in the darkroom on St Peter’s Plain, washing prints in running water for six to eight hours at a time.”
He graduated to photographer, and enjoyed the cut-and-thrust of snapping sea-front strollers he hoped would buy the end product later in the day. “You photographed absolutely everybody and gave them a ticket to collect and pay for the prints later at the shop. If they were moving, you took their pictures!”
There was scarcely a salient point in the holiday areas where these cameramen were not stationed, mingling with the crowds in search of business: near the Britannia and Wellington Piers, Jetty, outdoor bathing pool, the open-air Marina amphitheatre... Some took people walking, others photographed stationary folk.
Over at Gorleston, photographers like those with Jackson’s Faces were also active in its promenade area.
But working the various pleasure boats was a favourite assignment despite operating feverishly against the clock. Bob Jordan remembers clearly his association with the two converted former Royal Navy craft - the Eastern Princess sailing from Hall Quay for Scroby Sands where there could be seals, and the Golden Galleon going up-river from Stonecutters Quay across Breydon Water.
Two vessels included occasional musical trips, the Golden Galleon advertising “Dancing on Deck” and the Queen of the Broads a “Riverboat Shuffle”. One night in the high summer of 1957 Bob’s wife Margaret accompanied him on the Golden Galleon so they could enjoy a moonlight dance after he had finished taking his pictures.
The Golden Galleon sailed up to Reedham but, on her return voyage, thick fog suddenly clamped down and she groped her way back as far as Breydon where her skipper decided to anchor for safety in case she strayed from the channel and ran aground on mud. Gorleston lifeboat sailed upstream in the murk to find the pleasure tripper, evacuating some child passengers and returning them to Yarmouth.
The rest of the passengers stayed on the Golden Galleon, singing and dancing into the small hours. She was able to sail back to Stonecutters Quay the next morning when visibility improved. For the passengers, it was a night to remember, the highlight of their holiday.
When I interviewed Bob recently, I was accompanied by Paul Godfrey, a photographic researcher who has made a special study of those commercial snappers and the dark-room crews who processed their output, and he and Bob enjoyed discussing the technicalities of the equipment as it evolved with the decades. Paul presented him with an autographed copy of his 2014 illustrated book, Snapped at Gorleston-on-Sea, chronicling those cameramen of yesteryear.
Bob Jordan originally wanted to join the Royal Air Force as a boy entrant but was rejected as medically unfit. After becoming proficient as a photographer and spending summers capturing holidaymakers on film, he specialised in covering weddings off-season and took on other assignments.
His horizons widened, and he is proud of his comprehensive album featuring the massive reconstruction of Yarmouth parish church of St Nicholas necessitated after it was fire-bombed during a German air raid in 1942. The album covers the work from its outset in 1957 until the reconsecration of the church in 1961.
Another facet of Bob Jordan’s life was his swimming. Taught by the martinet “Bandsman” Jack Blake, a former British middleweight boxing champion who was a local schools’ swimming instructor for many years, Bob took part in competitive inter-club galas.
But when he was not racing, he was a member of Henry McCarthy’s Crazy Gang which thrilled and amused spectators at the open-air pool on Yarmouth’s Marine Parade during the interval at Thursday inter-club gala nights (the professional George Baines’ Water Follies, featuring high-diver Perry Blake, presented aqua shows on other evenings).
Bob recalls that his Gang colleagues included, among others, Nat Plane, John Bales, Fred Kruber and Billy Masterson. There was plenty of pushing and shoving and falling off diving boards into the unheated water, but Bob featured in one of the most popular stunts: usually dressed as the baby, he was in a pram pushed off the five metre (16ft) fixed diving board!
On reaching 50, Bob retired from photography and, living in Norwich, became a night shelf-filler at a Tesco supermarket. He and his wife Margaret, who was raised in the Hemsby-Caister area, have a son and a daughter.