Harry Goodwin - 'Over the years I took photographs of the biggest names in pop'

Harry Goodwin recalls his glory years as the first Top of the Pops photographer, a time when he snapped The Beatles and Pink Floyd, and made Michael Jackson wait while he finished his cup of tea
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Iwas the resident photographer on Top of the Pops from 1964 to 1973, when it was shown every Thursday night on BBC1. I was paid £30 a week to start with, but in 1966, when Top of the Pops moved to London from Manchester, where I lived, I said, "No way. I'm not working for £30. The Beatles are making a fortune."

Then they offered me the title of official Top of the Pops photographer if I got six photographs – and I signed the contract and got a weekly salary of £35.

The only challenge was that I had to find a dark room in London, which wasn't easy. I knocked on the photographer Ron Howard's door and he let me use his dark room at the last minute. It was a bit of luck that he helped me because I then became very famous.

Over the years I took photographs of the biggest names in pop including The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart and David Bowie.

It all started on New Year's Day 1964, when the BBC broadcast the first Top of the Pops from a converted church on Dickenson Road in Rusholme, Manchester.

DJ Jimmy Savile, who is still my friend, was the presenter and for the first show, I photographed The Rolling Stones eating in the BBC canteen when they came to perform "I Wanna Be Your Man" as well as The Hollies, who performed "Stay".

When Top of the Pops moved to Lime Grove Studios in London, there were so many pipes in the background of the dressing room, that most of the pictures are taken in front of a white board we used as a backdrop.

The photographs were used in the chart rundown before the playing of the week's Number 1 single, shown as the presenter read out the name of the artist, the song title and the chart position.

I was born in Manchester in 1924, and I started my career working in my father's bookmaking business. Then I got some experience as an untrained photographer in the RAF during the war and after returning to Manchester I made photography my full-time job in the 1950s, working on the beauty pageant and boxing circuits.

I had been working as a scene shifter on the BBC show The Good Old Days to supplement my income, when I was approached about a new series, to be called Top of the Pops. I was told they needed someone to photograph bands – all of whom had long hair – and the Top of the Pops producer Johnnie Stewart gave me the job.

I have so many memories of working on Top of the Pops. Michael Jackson who was with the Jackson 5 knocked on my dressing-room door. He asked me when I was going to photograph him, but I told him, "Go away and let me finish my cup of tea first." Later I asked his father, Joe Jackson, if I could take an action shot of the Jackson 5.

When I first photographed The Beatles, John Lennon was quite aggressive. But after the band split up, I was asked to take solo photographs of him. I met him with Yoko Ono and I couldn't believe how much he had mellowed since those early days of Top of the Pops. He introduced me to Yoko as the greatest photographer in Britain.

I remember Jimi Hendrix coming to perform his first record "Hey Joe" and I said, "He is going to be famous." A week after his debut on Top of the Pops, I took a picture of him playing his guitar with his teeth on stage at the New Century Hall, Manchester, in 1967.

When Stevie Wonder came on, his handlers told me not to say a word and let him guess where he was. He felt the leather strap of my camera and said: "I'm in Harry Goodwin's dressing room." I couldn't believe it.

Pink Floyd were never happy coming on Top of the Pops because the BBC didn't get the sound right, but they were happy to have head-and-shoulder shots taken by me.

I was reunited with Mary Wilson of The Supremes in 2008 at the V&A exhibition of The Supremes' performance costumes. She made a bee-line for me because of our friendship from the past, when I photographed her on Top of the Pops.

When I left Top of the Pops I was so upset because I'd had such a great time. Marc Bolan and Elton John blocked me going out of the studio that last day. They said "It's a very big world out there. You always have us to fall back on."

The atmosphere was always such fun. The time flew past so quickly and I always wished each week's show lasted longer than it did. The only drawback was commuting from Manchester to London for eight years. But suddenly it was all over for me. The producers said, "We want it in colour now and most of your photographs have been in black-and-white. You've had a good run, Harry."

My Generation: The Glory Years of British Rock – Photographs from Top of the Pops 1964-1973 by Harry Goodwin at the V&A,until 30 August, along with an accompanying book of the same title produced by V&A Publishing