Martin Elliott: Photographer whose iconic print adorned millions of bedroom walls

Martin Elliott, described as a "free spirit", was the photographer of the iconic 70s and 80s poster depicting the "Tennis Girl" whose skirt was hitched up to show the curve of her bottom. The unassuming student photographer had created the seminal poster that would adorn the walls of teenage boys' bedrooms the world over.

Born into a middle-class family in the Black Country town of Oldbury on 12 July 1946, Elliott, an only child, followed in his parents' footsteps and attended Oldbury Grammar School. Described as a "bright boy", he left school not knowing what he really wanted to do. As his father worked in insurance, he decided to join an insurance company, where he made rapid progress. He was, however, a clock-watcher and left within the year. Having a passion for photography, nurtured by his father, Elliott enrolled at Loughborough College of Art after having attended an open day which he described as a "sea of denim" due to the high number of girls' bottoms clad in short denim skirts.

Following the successful completion of his course, Elliott attended the Birmingham Royal College of Photography alongside Terence Donovan, who became known for his direction of Robert Palmer's video "Addicted to Love" and his 60s fashion photographs, as well as his pictures of the late Princess of Wales.

It was as a student in 1976 that Elliott came up with the idea for the photograph that would ultimately lead him to success. The shot was actually one of a series that he was working on at the time to be used for calendars. Elliott and his then girlfriend, Fiona Butler, an 18-year-old Fine Arts student, went down to the tennis courts to take the shots. Elliott took shots of Butler from behind as she teasingly lifted her borrowed white tennis dress to touch her bottom. However, he was not happy with the light. They returned the following afternoon and took the perfect shot.

It was alleged that Butler received nothing, but the two did remain together for another two or three years. She later married the millionaire businessman Ian Walker. Elliott and Butler remained friends and Butler is, nonetheless, still proud of her iconic status.

The photograph was first published as part of a calendar for the 1977 Queen's Silver Jubilee, the same year that Virginia Wade won the Wimbledon Ladies' Singles title. Retaining the copyright, Elliott sold the image to poster chain Athena, where it sold over two million copies before the company went bust in 1994. The poster, however, continued to sell. Sales netted him a small fortune, with royalties continuing to this day. It went on to be parodied by a raft of celebrities and was often seen in the background of the satirical puppet show Spitting Image. Over the years, others tried to lay claim to the photograph and to being the model, but all were eventually exposed.

Elliott graduated with a distinction and then carved out a successful career as a professional photographer in the advertising industry with a studio in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter. He developed his own style, which revolved around different lighting techniques, and thus his work became instantly recognisable. He was involved over the years in different types of photography, one such being dubbed as "tits-and-bum" photography. One series was entitled "Girls at Work", a colour sequence of shots with women posing as cinema usherettes, truck drivers or secretaries; all the sets were meticulously built and lit by Elliott at his studio. This work was published as calendars.

Elliott never allowed his early success to go to his head. He seemed to capture the essence of the 60s and 70s with his free-living spirit and spontaneity which followed him throughout his life. Over the years, he had a series of camper vans, the interiors of which he designed himself, and a Harley-Davidson motorbike. He also became well-known among the surfing fraternity in Cornwall, spending 49 out of 52 weekends a year, Thursday to Monday, on the coast. With his home sporting pinball machines and other boys' toys, he was truly a bachelor who enjoyed life to the full.

In 1987, at the age of 41, Elliott's life changed for good when he met Noelle Bott through a mutual friend in Birmingham. She became the love of his life. Bott was a successful computer sales rep and was about to depart for work in Sardinia. Elliott, however, was smitten and wrote constantly. Within months of their courtship, they married in Interlaken, Switzerland on 15 February 1988. Bott described the honeymoon as "the most divine 10 days of my life."

Tragedy struck the couple, however, in 1999, shortly after they had moved to Cornwall. Following a fall from a friend's boat, Elliott went to A&E for a routine chest X-ray only to discover that he had a very rare form of cancer in his chest which was believed to have been there for at least 10 years. Not one to dwell on the negative, Elliott was determined to fight it. As Bott explained, "He had a marvellous sense of humour and was a great joker. He always thought he would get better and was still playing jokes up to the end." After a 10-year battle, he eventually passed away peacefully in his sleep.

Robin Crowshaw, long-time friend and work colleague, said, "Although he had achieved early success, it never changed him. He was simply just a really nice guy who got on with everyone."

Martin Childs

Martin Elliott, photographer: born Oldbury, West Midlands 12 July 1946; married 1988 Noelle Bott; died Pulla Cross, Cornwall 24 March 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project