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Harry Goodwin: Photographer acclaimed for his pictures of the stars of the 1960s and '70s


Harry Goodwin was the celebrity photographer who made his name with his pictures of virtually every major figure from the world of rock and pop during the 1960s and '70s during his decade-long residency at Top of the Pops.

Goodwin was born in Rusholme, Manchester in 1924 and grew up in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, a suburb of the city, where he worked with his bookmaker father. "It was in my family and in my blood," he recalled. "I used to be a tic-tac man, shouting the odds. You need the same quick reactions for that job that you need to be a photographer."

His first experience with photography was on RAF reconnaissance planes over Burma during wartime national service, capturing images of the Japanese occupation forces. "I've never read a book about photography or taken a course, it just came to me naturally, and I learned the rest on the job," he said. When his unit moved on to Kuala Lumpur he borrowed the RAF camera equipment, created glamour shots of local women and sold the pictures to his forces colleagues.

Following demob Goodwin returned to Manchester and took up photography professionally, specialising in his favourite sport of boxing. His first published pictures were of a beauty pageant, on the front page of the Daily Mirror. A session with the comedian Ken Dodd, his first celebrity shoot, soon followed. Dodd said during a presentation of a lifetime achievement award to Goodwin at Manchester Town Hall in 2009, "Harry Goodwin is to me a great, great photographer but more than that he's a gentleman photographer. When we did TV shows he was the official photographer, and you'd be stressed out, Harry always had a nice smile, a calming effect and you could trust him."

In between photographic jobs Goodwin had worked at the BBC's Manchester studio as a stage-hand on programmes such as Comedy Playhouse and The Val Doonican Show and had taken unofficial photos of guests on the programmes. It was in late 1963 that he received an offer to work on a new BBC weekly music show. Goodwin remembered the phone call that would change his life and make his name. "The producer Johnnie Stewart rang up from London, and said that they needed a photographer who was based in the North for this new show. It was going to be called Top Of The Pops, and it would be broadcast from this studio in an old church in Rusholme. So I took the job."

The wages, £30 a week, were certainly some incentive for Goodwin but it was the promise of a place in the programme's credits reel that had clinched the deal for him. Top of the Pops was launched on 1 January 1964 with an initial run of six weeks. The first programme opened with I Wanna Be Your Man by the Rolling Stones and was an immediate hit with audiences.

When the show moved to London in 1966, Goodwin went with it, continuing in the role until 1973. Stanley Dorfman, the programme's co-producer and editor, said "I'm as proud to have worked with him as I am to have worked with any of the great rock and roll stars because I think he's part of that whole Sixties scene...".

Goodwin met hundreds of stars during his decade at the programme, photographing every guest who appeared. In many cases the original videotape is lost and it is Goodwin's black and white stills that remain as sole testimony to their performances. Eleven of his portraits, including images of Sandie Shaw and individual photographs of each of the Beatles, are now part of the National Portrait Gallery collection.

Goodwin acknowledged his good fortune. "I'm certain the phrase 'right place at the right time' was composed just for me," he said. "I don't really regard myself as a talented photographer. There are some 'old school' photographers who have shot some brilliant images, but I would put myself up against anyone when it came to getting the right shot. Not many photographers could put John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, the Stones, Bob Dylan and the Bee Gees at ease, and be asked back. I had the knack with these people."

Last year he donated photographs to Salford University which will form the basis of an archive. His work was featured in the book My Generation – The Glory Years of British Rock (2010), with text by Alywn W Turner, to accompany a retrospective at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The show toured, most recently to the Lowry Gallery in Salford, from May to this month.

"The only problem was trying to find space in a book to do justice to the range and diversity of his subjects," Turner told The Independent. "Harry Goodwin had unrivalled good fortune as a rock photographer. Since he was employed to take photos of everyone who appeared on Top of the Pops for its first decade, and since every major star from Britain and America appeared on the show, with the exception of Elvis, he built up the kind of portfolio that other photographers could only dream of. He worked with everyone from the Beatles to David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix to the Jackson Five."

Marcus Williamson

Harry Goodwin, photographer: born Rusholme, Manchester 21 July 1924; died Manchester 23 September 2013.