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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

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The Story of Plymouth Barbican DVD launched with the fishes – at the National Marine Aquarium

Chris launches his new DVD at the NMA

Pic © Alexander Thomas Photography 2013

The spectacular Eddystone Reef tank made a stunning – and appropriate – backdrop for the launch of the new DVD ‘The Story of the Barbican’ this week.

The evening was introduced by Dr David Gibson, the Director of the National Marine Aquarium who said he was delighted to be hosting the event and he was followed by the film-maker Alan Tibbitts, who has recently relocated from Exminster to the Barbican. However it is not the first film about Plymouth that he has been involved with, as, over the last 20 years, he and his friend and colleague Chris Robinson have now made ten full-length features on varying aspects of the City – many of which have been based around Chris’s books.
Chris first opened his Barbican studio workshop 35 years ago this very week and has written over 20 books on Plymouth, including the Historic Barbican.
Responding on behalf of the City at the end of the showing, the Lord Mayor, Councillor Vivien Pengelly, said that as a former schoolteacher, she often took parties of children around the Barbican and was amazed at how little they knew about the area. “I only wish I there had been a film like this to show them then, I thought I knew the area quite well, but I’ve learnt a lot watching it. Everyone will enjoy learning something from this, we are lucky to have Chris and to benefit from the knowledge he has built up.’
Chris himself says that learning should be fun: “as Marshall McLuhan once put it ‘anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either’.”
The Story of Plymouth Barbican traces the history of the area over the last 1,000 years, from a small ‘inhabitation of fishers’ through a booming Tudor town and then a crowded commercial harbour, to a bustling tourist destination, populated by pubs, restaurants, independent shops and artist’s studios.
The film plots this heady transformation and, through the use of extensive archive material and contemporary footage, clearly demonstrates how much of the Barbican survived the war … but not the post-war planning.
Featuring the Elizabethan House and Gardens, the Merchant’s House, Plymouth Gin, the National Marine Aquarium and much much more, the Story of Plymouth Barbican also includes a very rare – and a very candid – interview with Robert Lenkiewicz.

You can buy The Story of Plymouth Barbican on this website here and watch the opening sequence to the new film below: