“Paris Match only had about six photographers, and they needed something like 46, so they engaged our entire photography school as stringers, just to see what would happen. The photograph I had in my head was to show the war memorial Cenotaph in Whitehall — there was a space next to that, and then Downing Street, where all British Prime Ministers live. So I had a frame in mind with the Cenotaph on the left, the Duke of Wellington’s gun carriage carrying Churchill’s body, and Downing Street on the right. I went to Whitehall with a 28mm lens, and I stayed rooted to the spot until six in the morning. I didn’t move, I didn’t pee, I didn’t eat, even though there was nobody there but me — it was just deserted. Finally, at sunrise, I saw the police sweeping the street for security purposes, and I was sure they were going to kick me off my carefully chosen spot. But then I saw 30 Frenchmen in berets laying lilies on the Cenotaph for the funeral; the lilies represented the people of France and the Resistance. And as they walked toward me I said in my schoolboy French, ‘I’m working for Paris Match, and these flics are going to kick me off the street.’ They said, ‘Come with us.’ They let me stand there with them, and I wound up getting three pages in Paris Match.”
Goldblatt soon found work as a summer intern at a magazine called London Life, which was published by the Sunday Times. There, he met his future agent, Banks, and began compiling a portfolio. The editor at the time was Ian Howard, a tabloid-minded veteran of Fleet Street with an intimidating presence. “He was a 300-pound Scotsman and he had me scared to death,” Goldblatt says. “Eventually I told him I had to go back to school, and he said, ‘Are you crazy?’ I felt I had to finish, so I did go back to Guildford, but then I decided Ian was right — I already had the Paris Match spread under my belt, plus the three months I’d already done at London Life, and he hired me back to join his staff.”
The job led to many adventures, including one daring gambit that paid off when Goldblatt scored exclusive photos of England’s national football team after their famous victory in the 1966 World Cup. “That was a real coup for me,” he says. “I’d been dispatched to the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington by Ian, who told me to try to get into the team’s party.” Before the festivities got started, Goldblatt did finagle his way into the hotel, where he landed in a reception line for Prime Minister Harold Wilson. “As I got close to Wilson, I was sure the game would soon be up,” he says, chuckling at the memory of his youthful chutzpah. “But before I could be presented to the prime minister, I followed a waiter into the party through the kitchen, just as I’d seen in the movies. I was the only photographer in the world who got in!”
Goldblatt is living testament to the benefits of such intrepid initiative, even if it did mean flouting protocols from time to time, or telling a fib. On the White Album shoot, for example, “George Harrison kept giving me the side-eye,” Goldblatt says. “I was supposed to be a complete unknown who hadn’t photographed them before, but I actually had already done a shoot with them — I’d been among the 50 photographers at the press conference for Sgt. Pepper! Eventually, George approached me and asked, somewhat suspiciously, ‘Haven’t I seen you before?’ Naturally, I lied: ‘Oh no, sir, I don’t think so.’ Fortunately, he just let it go.” Or, perhaps, just let it be.
His memories of working on Fleet Street reflect Goldblatt’s work ethic and tolerance of long grinds. “Ian Howard would call me at five in the morning, which was usually when he was going to bed, and tell me what he wanted that day. I was sometimes covering three or four parties a night, five or six nights a week. I slept during the day. But I didn’t mind, because this was London during the ’60s, and Twiggy was there! I didn’t care if I was supposed to be at a party or not, or if I got kicked out, but more often than not I got to stay, because I looked the part — I wore a nice, dark jacket, with nice pants. The stereotypical Fleet Street photographer of that era was a sleazy-looking guy in an old raincoat and a hat, smoking a cigarette with a Rolleiflex around his neck.
“Those guys always used a flash, but I never did — it was a big mistake. In parties with rich or famous people, shooting without a flash was more discreet — if you weren’t aiming a big flash in their faces, they liked having their picture taken. I had a Nikon 35mm camera with a Nikon 35mm lens and Tri-X film; I might carry a second camera with a 75mm lens on it. Zoom lenses weren’t popular then, because they were very expensive, and they weren’t very good. I developed my own film, and I had a notebook to take down all the names — the Marchioness of this, the Duke of that. I’d leave the party at 11 at night and go back to Fleet Street, where there was a darkroom, and I’d develop my rolls of film. It was all contact printing.”
Goldblatt says he had a “fire in his belly” to shoot that helped him endure the grueling hours. “Some friends of mine I’d hired from photography school only lasted a week, because the work was just too hard for them.” His ingenuity and cunning in pursuit of the shot also set him apart: “That’s the secret, in the end — you’re not given access, you’ve got to get it.”
In 1969, he was hired to shoot the Isle of Wight Festival, a massive rock concert featuring some of the biggest musicians of the era. He’d already done the Beatles shoot, and the event was being organized by three brothers — one of whom had been a classmate of Goldblatt’s at the Royal College of Art. “I had exclusive access to shoot onstage, but to keep things exclusive, I planted three big Alsatian dogs under the stage so no other photographers could creep through,” he says. “The dogs actually caught [famed photographer] Richard Avedon’s son! He gave me his camera, and I opened it up and ripped the film out. He was lucky he didn’t get eaten!”