Posted on


The Ramblings of An Old Snapper

Colin Rowe is, in his own words, an ‘old snapper’ and for the uninitiated that means he’s a former photographer, and a somewhat senior one!  He was also the BBC’s first full time cameraman in the South West , filming news and general interest stories all over Devon, Cornwall, the Channel Islands and the Isles of Scilly … and working with some of the best known names in local telly, many of whom went on to work on the Beeb nationally: Hugh Scully, Angela Rippon, Fern Britton, David Lomax, Sue Lawley and many many more.

Born at the beginning of the 1930s he spent the early part of the war in Plymouth with his parents, before being relocated to Scotland soon after the Blitz.  Colin’s father worked in Devonport Dockyard and the move came when Mr Rowe senior was relocated to Dunstaffnage to work at the temporary dockyard base created there.

Returning after the war and completing his schooling at Plympton without ever sitting a single exam, Colin fancied following something of a family tradition by becoming a press photographer.  A spell of National Service intervened, and his entry into the profession was anything but easy – the Unions then operated a sort of Catch 22 situation whereby you couldn’t join a trade union unless you had had pictures published, but you couldn’t get pictures published in the first place unless you were a member of a trade union.

It was a dilemma eventually solved by being in the right place at the right time and taking some shots of the stricken Scandinavian liner Venus, which had become stranded on the shore of Mount Batten Bay in 1955.  The other photographers had all left the scene, when the RAF began a rescue operation and Colin was able capture images that almost every national newspaper was desperate to have, and for once they didn’t care if he was in a union or not!

Setting up his own photography business in the late fifties he soon developed an interest in film and managed to pick up some interesting jobs working for the BBC in Bristol.  It was a contact there who tipped him off about the BBC’s intentions to set up a regional news programme in the 1961.  He applied to become a cameraman on what started out as South West at Six and which relatively soon afterwards morphed into Spotlight Southwest.

The world was changing rapidly, a decade earlier television had yet to reach the area, now it was beaming local stories into people’s homes and more often than not Colin was the man capturing those images:  Chichester’s successful circumnavigation; the Torrey Canyon disaster; the Beatles filming Magical Mystery Tour and much much more.

Filming from helicopters, small planes and massive RAF aircraft he covered the stories with a wide variety of BBC journalists.  Not everything went according to plan – after days of searching Colin and his BBC colleagues were the first to spot Chichester on the last leg of the journey.  Pulling alongside in a small boat for an interview Peter Crampton tapped on the side of solo yachtsman’s vessel, Gipsy Moth.

Peter introduced himself as a BBC man and asked ‘How does it feel to on the final stretch?,’ to which the celebrated adventurer replied “B****** off, I’m under contract to the Sunday Times and ITN.

It was one of many colourful incidents and accidents witnessed by and recollected by Colin in his newly published autobiography, The Ramblings of an Old Snapper.  Lavishly peppered with laugh-out loud anecdotes featuring many famous faces, it’s a book that reflects a lifetime that has seen huge changes in the industry, from old-school tripod mounted mute film cameras to the dinky hand-held digital devices of today, it is a fascinating account of regional television before the arrival of the internet.

Alongside the fascinating work-based narrative Colin finds space from time to time to update his domestic situation, which essentially is built around a long and happy marriage (last week he and Peggy celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary), his two happily married daughters, three granddaughters, one great grandson and a great number of friends.

Colin Rowe:  The Ramblings of an Old Snapper is published by Pen & Ink Publishing

Colin Rowe is available for interview on 01752 224826