What the snapper saw...

THE Evening Star's longserving photographer John Kerr retires today after more than 40 years spent capturing the events of Suffolk. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING reports on a remarkable career.

By Tracey Sparling

THE Evening Star's longserving photographer John Kerr retires today after more than 40 years spent capturing the events of Suffolk. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING reports on a remarkable career.

ON his 65th birthday, the 'father' of the Evening Star's photographic department is calling it a day, after a career spanning 41 years.

Over the decades John Kerr has become the photographic face of Felixstowe, and got to know many of the area's residents when they have hit the headlines.

“I'm just surprised that my retirement has come round so quick!” he said today.

“When you've been working somewhere for so long, it will feel strange not coming in to the office any more. I like newspapers, I like the bustle, and the not knowing what's going to happen each day.

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“A good picture still gives me a buzz, and I get just as much pleasure from meeting the punters who I photograph.”

His career started at the Cambridge Daily News (now theCambridge Evening News) as a reporter in the Ely office. He said: “I used to illustrate stories with a picture occasionally, got that got me interested in photography. Eventually I found I enjoyed it more than reporting, and I found I had an eye for it. I loved the idea of going to fires for example - the excitement and the drama of it.”

So John started as a trainee reporter in Luton, and moved to Watford to be a chief photographer, but craved a return to the country life.

He said: “I've always been a country boy at heart and I wanted to get back to East Anglia, so when a job came up in Bury St Edmunds, I applied and they said 'you can choose between Bury and Felixstowe.'

“I didn't even know where Felixstowe was! They told me about it, so I drove down on a beautiful sunny day. The sea was blue, the boats were glinting in the sun at Felixstowe Ferry, and I thought 'that will do me.'”

At the age of 24, John was signed up in March 1965 to take pictures for The Evening Star, East Anglian Daily Times and The Felixstowe Times, and Felixstowe became his home.

By August of that year, a spoof article where he was supposed to have photographed the Felixstowe Carnival Queen's secret dress through a door lock, resulted in the nickname “Keyhole Kerr”.

Working in Felixstowe over the years he meant he's seen the docks change beyond recognition, and enjoyed going out to the 'pop ships' to picture events at Radio Caroline.

He said: “The highlights have come in all shapes and sizes of job. You can go into the office one day, and someone you meet might make your day. It might be chatting to an old guy and hearing his memories, or going out on a big exciting news job.

“Even a routine picture of a couple celebrating their golden wedding can be interesting; one man revealed to me that he used to be a friend of Lawrence of Arabia and they used to ride their motorbikes together around Suffolk! I just love talking to people, as well as taking pictures.”

He also got in on the action, taking up parachuting after covering an event for the paper, and becoming a hang glider pilot. He's flown in jet planes, and ridden in racing cars in pursuit of the perfect picture. Within two months of a heart operation, John was flying in a stunt plane over the Orwell Bridge.

He's also been down potholes to take pictures, and he accompanied the Army to the jungles of Belize.

John recalled: “We were sitting in the middle of a jungle eating dinner, with white linen tablecloths and regimental silver, listening to the sounds of the jungle as geckos ran up the walls to the thatch. I mean, what a fantastic experience. You couldn't buy it, and I would never have done it otherwise.”

But closer to home, the country lanes and remote villages of Suffolk provided a challenge. The Evening Star's political editor Paul Geater who was a reporter in Leiston in the past, recalls John driving to meet him at the district office before heading off to jobs.

Paul said: “Whenever we had a particularly remote destination he would follow me there, but he always used to think this was a dodgy arrangement because he could never keep up with me!

“I think I only really lost him about twice. Then one summer weekend we had a run of jobs and he turned up on his motorbike because he knew the way. He left me standing, just to get me back!”

The 1960s was John's heyday, when as a young man he photographed all the big pop names including The Beatles, and the Rolling Stones.

He said: “I've also taken pictures of royalty, writers and painters, this real kaleidoscope of interesting people. It's been a very rich pageant, especially when you consider this is all as a local press photographer. You are in a very privileged position as a press photographer; you walk into a place and are straight to the front of the queue, and get to go backstage.

“You are reminded of the downside of course, when you are standing outside court in a November rainstorm, waiting for some n'er-do-well to come out! But it's really been terrific fun, and I wouldn't have wanted to do a 'proper' job!”

Over the years John has adapted to all the new photographic methods which came and went, from using 5in by 4in plate cameras in the 1960s, to being one of the first local photographers to love using 35mm film with interchangeable lenses. He said: “Digital cameras are by far the biggest and best thing to ever happen in photography.”

He added: “We have the best team of lads you could employ, and they are so talented. I have also seen some smashing reporters as well.”

Now John's trusty Nikon will be passed on, so he can finally sit back and reflect on a career that has made him a legend among colleagues and in his home town Felixstowe. You can be sure that along with his faithful spaniel Gunner and wife Chris he will have plenty planned - and he revealed involves heading for the other side of the world.

He said: “I'm going to have some time off for a bit. Then there are several things I want to do, like travelling to New Zealand where we have friends, but we'll wait for the summer to do that.”

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