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Simon Clyne

Posted: May 11th, 2011

by Ray Weaver

Simon Clyne, the premier Fleet Street picture editor of the 1950’s and 60’s has died aged 102.
Simon began his career as a reporter in his home town of Hull, had jobs in Liverpool and Manchester as a sub-editor before moving to Fleet Street in 1936.

Prior to joining the Daily Mirror he was picture editor of the News Chronicle. In 1950 he became the picture editor of the Mirror, and retired from that post in 1968.

He developed in the ‘Matt Busby style’ a team of young photographers. By the mid sixties he’d recruited Kent Gavin, Peter Stone, Alistair Macdonald, Monty Fresco, and Tom King- all in their early twenties- from picture agencies and local papers. He also employed the first woman photographer on the Mirror, Doreen Spooner. A bold move at a time when few women were employed on Fleet Street nationals.

Simon Clyne was a gentle, kind man with a soft Yorkshire accent. His strategy was to give each young photographer demanding but rewarding assignments home and abroad. Kent Gavin, who became the Mirror’s chief photographer takes up the story:

“I first met Simon Clyne in January 1965 when working for Keystone Press Agency. In the previous year I had bombarded him with pictures, portfolios and letters requesting a staff job on the Mirror . In March 1965 I was sent on a Royal Tour of Ethiopia and the Sudan for Keystone. The Mirror sent their royal photographer Freddie Reed on the same tour, however during that assignment Freddie was dispatched home by the Queen’s doctor with gall stone problems.

The Mirror published all my pictures of the tour from Keystone Press Agency. On returning home I contacted Simon Clyne reminding him that the Mirror has used my pictures. I went to see him and the rest is history.
He told me, “It looks like you have the job by ROYAL APPOINTMENT” and joined the staff in April 1965. Simon phoned me during my notice period with Keystone and asked me to cover a football match at Wembley: England v Scotland. When my pictures of the game were published I noticed that The Mirror had run the pictures with a byline ‘Pictures by mirror cameraman Kent Gavin’.

I was slightly confused; my name is Kenneth Gavin. I explained my dilemma to him. He replied in his smiling way ‘No lad I have changed it. Gavin is a great name. Ken is to short and Kenneth to long. Everybody will remember Kent Gavin.’ So the legend was born.
He did ask me if I minded. I replied, ‘ Simon, with the staff job you can call me what you like!’

Simon helped me throughout my early years on the Mirror by sending me abroad on assignments often weeks and months at a time. On one occasion for three months in Russia with an exchange for a NOVOSTI agency photographer. Simon sent me food parcels on a two weekly basis to help me over the Russian style food!

Simon Clyne will be remembered as a truly great picture editor and I would think, the longest serving on any national newspaper. I was delighted to see him in his 100th year at my retirement party. He was still talking about photographers and their work.”

And Mirror photographer Bill Rowntree adds some memories of Simon Clyne and Churchill’s funeral:
“From memory Churchill died early 1965 and at that time I had just left Keystone and was freelancing for both the Sunday Mirror and the Express. I had seen Simon Clyne in the darkrooms, and may even have had a word or two with him, but certainly not a proper

From the moment it was clear that Churchill was on his last legs Simon had started planning his coverage of the funeral. We all knew it was going to be a major event, and I recall someone saying afterward that it was such a good show the Duke of Norfolk should take it on tour!

Anyway,Simon was plotting away organising windows around St Pauls and alongthe expected route when Churchill died and it was announced that the funeral would be on a Saturday after the Lying in State.

In those days Derek Jameson was Picture Editor of the Sunday Mirror. Derek was just wondering how to go about organising his first major event when Simon arrived with the complete game plan. Probably a little chagrin from Simon, and great relief for Derek!

Through the NPA all the newspapers had agreed to leave the family alone at Bladon Church for the burial after the St Pauls” service. My small part in this operation was (at Derek’s suggestion) to infiltrate the village and if possible the churchyard along with the faithful retainers. If observed taking pictures I was to put on my Kiwi accent and pretend to be a tourist, or working for the New Zealand Herald. One body, one lens, and not too many pictures.

It seemed a good idea to Derek and me, but Simon went apoplectic when he heard. I was forbidden to even contemplate “gatecrashing” the ceremony!

Unfortunately by this time all the good positions had now been allocated so, on funeral day I went out in the streets looking for faces. Some quite good stuff, but the funny (to me at least) thing was when Simon saw me back in the darkroom. He came over and apologised profusely for not letting me get my first scoop. He went on about how the Mirror would never live it down if it came out they had broken their word after saying they would not go to Bladon.

What a “nice” world it was in those days!”

Simon Clyne married Ena in 1936. She died in 1997, aged 82. They had a son, Jeremy and a daughter Adrienne. Simon Clyne died at his home in Israel.

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