John Smith was a “happy snapper” who made his name at The Daily Telegraph in 1950s and 60s as a man “who saw life through a unique lens”. Reporter CHRIS HOOK recounts the life of the award-winning news photographer in this obituary.
Legendary Daily Telegraph photographer John Smith has died aged 88, still laughing and telling jokes during his last days.
“John Smith was unassuming in name only. He was a distinguished photo journalist and editor who led from the front. Always bringing out the best in his colleagues and always with wry humour. Bulletproof until the end. (He was) a true legend of our industry,” former News Limited chief John Hartigan said.
Mr Smith began his Telegraph career as a copy boy in 1946, when the paper was owned by Sir Frank Packer. He was transferred to photographic two years later after swiping a camera to join a journalist one night to photograph an escaped convict involved in a shootout. The pictures failed but Sir Frank was impressed by his initiative.
Four years later, Mr Smith was sent to photograph the Korean War. Mr Smith spent the 1950s and 1960s on the road, developing a close friendship and rivalry with fellow snapper John Jones who would later become Sunday Telegraph picture editor.
“There was always this wonderful rivalry between the two of them, and both of them were unbeatable, they were the greatest practitioners of news photography of that era and they helped put The Daily Telegraph streets ahead of the opposition,” former colleague Ian Moore, Sunday Telegraph editor in the 1980s, said.
One story of their life on the road has the pair pulled over by police for speeding and being asked to give their names, which Jones did. “And I suppose you’re John Smith,” the police officer asked as he turned to Mr Smith. Of course he was and the amused police officer let them off.
Veteran journalist Mark Day, a close friend of Mr Smith’s, visited him last week and said he had not lost his sense of humour, even while ill in bed. “We left with him having cheered us up, making us laugh,” he said.
In 1970, Mr Smith moved to the Tele picture desk where he earned the respect of those working under him. It was a position he kept when Rupert Murdoch bought the paper in 1972.
“He was an excellent photographer and became an excellent administrator of all the photographers — he had the knack of being able to be a friend and a boss at the same time,” retired photographer Barry Norman recalled.
Mr Day, Mirror editor during the 1970s, recalled the military precision with which he went about his business.
“You had to have the picture, and getting the picture was a huge enterprise, you had to plan days in advance, and it was Smithy who did that planning, the working out of the logistics and how to get that page one picture,” he said.
Mr Smith retired in 1991 and spent the next few decades on the Central Coast where he pursued a love of sailing. Last year, Mr Smith received a lifetime achievement award at the Kennedy Awards, one of NSW journalism’s highest accolades. He’s survived by a daughter and two adult granddaughters.
This article was republished with the permission of News Corp Australia.