Doug Luke was a stills photographer in film and television who shot many memorable images for the Thunderbirds creator, Gerry Anderson, and of the Beatles. He was born in Sunbury-on-Thames in 1929, one of eight children. Luke's father was a tailor and his mother was a housewife. As a child, it was his older sister who introduced him to the world of photography with an old box camera.
Luke left school at 14 and worked at an engineering factory towards the end of the Second World War. After the war he worked as a labourer on building sites before deciding it was not for him. He sought employment elsewhere, and a neighbour suggested Shepperton Studios. He got his foot in the door as a post boy, and from there became an assistant to George Cannons on the film London Town (1946). He learned how to load 10x8 film plates in the dark room until he could do it with his eyes shut – and he was also given a Leica to use.
When Luke turned 18 he was called up for the RAF and went to Singapore as a flight mechanic. After completing his service in Malaya, he returned to the film industry as the head printer in the darkroom at Denham Studios. It was during this period that he met Jean; they married in 1954. He left Denham after a few years to become a freelance stills photographer at Twickenham Studios. Soon he was working at other film and television studios, as well as advertising houses in Soho.
Luke had the chirpy personality to chat with directors and artistes, which opened up further work. One such person was Richard Lester, director of the Beatles film Help! (1965). Luke had worked with Lester on a couple of television advertisements, so when it came to Help!, Lester hired him as stills photographer.
"The Beatles were a bit nervous of me at first," Luke recalled in a 2013 interview. "They looked and pointed at me playfully, saying, 'Look, he's got a camera, hide!' ... Once they got to know me, they were all right. I just worked on Help!, taking photos on set, location shoots and anything in-between … It was good fun."
Luke's charm paid off when it came to working for Gerry Anderson on Thunderbirds in 1965. It was another photographer, Laurie Turner, who introduced the pair. "For some unknown reason, they liked my face and started to ask me back for more shoots," said Luke. "Gerry then asked if would like to work for him on a regular basis for all the publicity material and comics that were needed. I said OK, thinking the job would only last a few weeks – but it lasted for a few years."
From Thunderbirds to UFO (1970), Luke was hired to shoot hundreds of photos for Century 21 Merchandising for use in comics, annuals, toys, games and for general publicity. The most valued images are the behind-the-scenes shots he captured at the studios. It is through Luke's photos that we can see the true "magic" of Century 21 – G-clamps holding puppets in position, special effects technicians balancing on top of ladders and the remains of exploded puppets and buildings.
"Some miniature models were a bit fiddly," Luke recalled. "Derek Meddings and his team would set it all up and I would go in and take the shot. Most of those shots were of inanimate subjects like cars and planes. But it would take time to wire up a plane with a few wires; one would snap and the model would tip forward.
"The explosions would require perfect timing when taking shots of those. There were a lot of flames, too, as they used to put petrol or something in the mix. With water effects, when a plane would crash into the water, it would be tricky to catch the impact before the splash. So they would do it a couple of times for me to catch it. I used to get a bit wet."
"Attack of the Alligators!" was one of the most memorable Thunderbirds episodes. Luke had his work cut out for him when it came to photographing a live alligator and Lady Penelope together. "They were little ones, but with big teeth!" he recalled. "We had to be careful. I remember one escaped and they had to run across the floor to catch it. When they bit stuff, the handler had to shake them off ... We wanted a shot with Penelope beside an alligator. The alligator was sitting there with its mouth shut. When we put Penelope beside it, the alligator went snap! and took her leg off! The handler had to catch the alligator and get it back out again…"
As well as working on the TV series of Thunderbirds (1965), Captain Scarlet (1967), Joe 90 (1968), Secret Service (1969) and UFO (1970), Luke was also the photographer on the comic Candy (1967) , a concept devised by Anderson. This featured two puppet children called Candy and Andy, who lived with Mr and Mrs Bearanda – a pair of adult panda bears. The comic was aimed at young readers and with its surreal imagery is now humorously considered the stuff that nightmares are made of.
When the Century 21 studios closed, Luke carried on working throughout the 1970s and '80s on advertisement and on films such as Superman (1978), The Tempest (1979) and Santa Claus the Movie (1985). He also photographed many actors over the years, including Orson Welles, John Cleese, Peter Cushing and Ian McKellen. He returned to work with Gerry Anderson one more time, on Terrahawks (1983), to shoot the press and publicity photos for the new puppet series. Luke retired in the early 1990s; he was interviewed for the 2014 documentary Filmed in Supermarionation. Sprightly in his eighties, Luke revealed that he was enjoying retirement and playing bowls once a week. He had recently been suffering with dementia.
Douglas Luke, photographer: born Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey 10 January 1929; married 1954 Jean (died 2001); died Melksham, Wiltshire 3 January 2015.Reuse content