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Monte Fresco, MBE

Posted: December 7th, 2013

MONTE FRESCO, Daily Mirror photographer, died on December 5 (2013) aged 77.

His funeral will take place at 2:40pm on Tuesday, December 17 at Woodlands Crematorium, Brumby Wood Lane, Scunthorpe, South Humberside DN17 1SP.

After that mourners are invited to the Forest Pines Hotel & Golf Resort, (Ermine Street, Broughton, Brigg DN20 0AQ) for a small reception. If anyone needs to stay over at Forest Pines they can contact reception on 01652 650770.

Donations to Macmillan Cancer Support in Monte’s name can be made here:

Monte joined the Mirror in 1958 and covered seven football World Cups, including England’s 1966 triumph at Wembley.

Awarded an MBE in 1995 for his services to photography, Monte Fresco was described as “one of the finest photographers of his generation”.

He leaves wife Sheila and four sons – Adam, Matthew, Jonathan and Harry.

MATTHEW writes: I regret to inform you that MONTE FRESCO died this morning. He was a Mirror man through and through, having spent 25 years with the paper.

He was the first dedicated sports photographer in Fleet Street and was almost a permanent fixture on the back pages.

He never worked for another newspaper. His best work was published on the Mirror’s pages.

I doubt many staff there now will remember him but they will know his reputation and his photographs. In fact everyone knows his famous photograph of Vinnie Jones grabbing Paul Gascoigne but there were many other award-winning photographs.

With the Mirror to support him he was able to develop a unique, cheeky style.

The Mirror was Dad’s ‘home’ and he would have wanted me to pass on this message, sad though it is.

It is a sad day for the family and for Fleet Street, a loss to sports journalism. It is perhaps the end of an era.

He left four grown boys all with families and children of their own. Grandad will be missed by us all.

ROY GREENSLADE writes: Monte Fresco was a skilled, dedicated and innovative newspaper sports photographer. He was responsible for taking some of the most memorable sporting images during his 30 years working for the Daily Mirror.

By befriending footballers, boxers and tennis players he was able to persuade them to pose while doing daft things. He pictured one England footballer with a mop on his head and another sitting in a dustbin.

But he didn’t rely on staged photographs. He took one of football’s most iconic pictures, during a 1987 match between Wimbledon and Newcastle, by capturing the moment Vinnie Jones grabbed Paul Gascoigne by his testicles.

As a journalist friend quipped at the time: “It was the ultimate snatch picture.” It has since featured on t-shirts and coffee cups and was even used in advertising campaigns.

Once asked what made a great football picture, he said, with due modesty: “Being in the right place with the right lens and… luck! I know that I have been very, very lucky.”

But he also revealed how he made his luck: “I was always looking for an incident that had gone unnoticed, something off the ball, something to make the reader stop and take a second look and think ‘I didn’t see that!'”

It’s fair to say that Monte helped to transform sports photography into a separate discipline from news photography.

Renowned for his sense of humour, Monte is said to have coined the terms “smudgers” for photographers and “blunts” (“blunt nibs”) for writers.

What many people never realised was that Monte was almost blind in one eye. His friend Bob Thomas says he was only able to use his left eye for his camera work.

Monte, the son of a tailor, was born and raised in London’s East End. He left school at 14, joined agency Topical Press as a runner, and graduated to dark room assistant before becoming a “junior photographer” on his 18th birthday.

After the closure of Topical Press he moved to International News Photos, and in 1958 its chief recommended the 22-year-old Monte to the Daily Mirror.

By that time his uncle, Monty Fresco, was building a reputation as a photographer with the Daily Mail. In subsequent years, there would be some confusion about whether they were one and the same person. In Fleet Street, of course, everyone knew the truth.

For Monte, who was to cover seven World Cups, the 1966 final was a special moment – and not just because England won – as his friend and colleague, Kent Gavin, revealed in a Mirror tribute.

He told how the Mirror were not allocated any photographers’ passes in the draw for the final. “So,” said Gavin, “Monte called Stan Flashman, the famous ticket spiv, and the Mirror paid for two tickets. We smuggled our cameras in and shot the match from the stands.

“Monte got some fantastic photos that day and we were both such proud Englishmen. We were in tears because we had won the World Cup.”

That victory was Monte’s favourite assignment, closely followed by his coverage of Muhammad Ali’s 1971 title fight with Joe Frazier in Madison Square Garden.

Monte left the Mirror in 1988 to become a director of Bob Thomas Sports Photography (later merged with Popperfoto), but still covered major sporting events.

Thomas, in his Sports Journalists’ Association tribute to Monte, called him “a remarkable man with an abundance of skill, not just with a camera, but in his way with people”.

In a separate SJA tribute, Norman Giller recalls Monte being “a fiercely proud Jew, ready to fight for his faith” and also his “sharp sense of humour… Cockney, loud, in your face and always hilarious”.

* Monte Fresco, photojournalist, born 14 February 1936; died 5 December 2013

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