Memories of Peter O'Toole


THE LATE Peter O’Toole might be best remembered as a master thespian.

But for many years, just before he was propelled to international stardom, he was a cub photographer in Leeds – and relished the job.

Semi-retired photographer and freelancer David HIckes, who has run a well-known photo agency in Leeds for more than 40 years, says Peter saw David’s father, Jack, as his photographic mentor.

Jack Hickes worked for many years on the now defunct Yorkshire Evening News before starting a photo agency in 1962.

It was while at the YEN that he took under his wing a young man who expressed an interest in photography and the arts.

David, now 70, says:

“It’s very sad to hear that film star Peter O'Toole has died and his passing provokes many memories of both him and my father in their heyday.

“My father was a photographer on the Yorkshire Evening News in Leeds and Peter worked there as a darkroom assistant, and they became close friends.

“In the days before digital, in fact before film, photographers used glass plates, and my father would take Peter to Rugby League games to 'run' the plates from the ground to a driver, to take the pictures back to the paper.

“As it would take quite a few minutes to get enough pics to send back, he would 'place' Peter near the corner flag, sat on a camera case, with a camera of his own.

“My father would then run up and down the field, following the action trying to get as many 'shots’ as possible.

“On one occasion, my father was at the other end of the ground when a 'try' was scored right in front of Peter, who 'clicked' at the right time and Peter got the picture that appeared in that day’s sporting paper, the Green Final.

“Years later, Peter visited my father’s house in Middleton a couple of times – after he had become famous thanks to Lawrence of Arabia. I have three sisters and I’m sure you can imagine the reaction among them when an internationally famous film star turned up on more than one Sunday for tea.

“I was away at the time working as a photographer in York – but the famous visit has never left our collective memories.”

“Many years after that, I was covering a charity cricket match at Headingley where Peter, a cricket fan, was playing.

“After the match I bumped into Peter and introduced myself, thinking he wouldn’t recall the event or my father.

“Quite to the contrary, he swore in his distinctive way and said: ‘Come with me.’

“He took me into the dining room of the pavilion and announced to the room full of diners:

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is David Hickes, son of Jack Hickes, the greatest photographer that ever ******* lived, and who I scooped at Parkside in Hunslet, Leeds, when I got the best try picture ever taken of a player called Lionel Cooper diving over in the  ******* corner. Have a nice day, I'm ****** off.

“And so he did.

“When you have been in the photo industry for so long you get used to meeting ‘celebrities’  - some of whom are really nice, others who are downright objectionable.

“Peter was the exception  - a showman and artist in every way – and would probably have made a good photographer. But what an actor. Happy memories of a different age.”