Image maker puts his quirky world in focus

Climbing high: The Top - at 10.30am on June 20, 1986, the Union flag is unfurled on the summit. Success is ours!
Climbing high: The Top - at 10.30am on June 20, 1986, the Union flag is unfurled on the summit. Success is ours!

A keen photographer’s old slides are set to go on show once more and thrill new audiences. Virginia Mason reports

THERE can be few people in Halifax - or even Yorkshire - who haven’t enjoyed one of John Campbell’s illustrated, quirky talks over the years.

cold feet! FRom John Campbell's collection of photographs

cold feet! FRom John Campbell's collection of photographs

John spent decades as an avid photographer, capturing scenes around Halifax and turning them into captivating slide shows.

His clever and humorous snaps were made into little stories and adventures which have entertained countless audiences at social clubs, old people’s homes, groups and societies.

Now 87, John may have stopped giving his slide shows - and these days he leaves the photography to his wife, Marian - but thanks to grandson, Adrian Campbell-Howard, new generations could be set to enjoy his work.

Adrian is in the process of turning the slide shows into a series of books a task he has undertaken as a surprise for his grandfather.

Photographer John Campbell, Norton Close, Halifax.

Photographer John Campbell, Norton Close, Halifax.

“Many years ago my grandfather was an avid photographer and he became well known for his slide shows which were loved and enjoyed by lots of people. I just thought it would be a lovely idea for my grandfather to have a bit of recognition so that’s why I thought of making his talks into books,” she says.”

Adrian has completed the first - an hilarious account of climbing Beacon Hill, Halifax.

“It’s a quirky take on Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Everest. I can’t remember exactly how old I was at the time but probably around 10 or 11. It was fun shooting it though.”

The book - The First Ascent of the North Face of Beacon Hill - uses John’s slides and captions.

“I must admit I was as surprised as anything when the book arrived in the post. I had no idea what Adrian was up to and I’m really touched,” says John, who lives at Norton Tower.

He and Marian both recall shooting the story back in 1986.

“We always got all the family involved in these photographic adventures and they were always willing. We had a good time and lots of laughs,” says Marian.

“We shot it over three or four weekends and had to make sure that the weather was good each time and that we were all wearing the same clothes for the sake of continuity,” adds John.

Marian recalls carrying all the “props” which included tents, cooking utensils and even medical equipment - all of which were snapped by John to give the photos complete authenticity.

“I was working at the Royal Halifax Infirmary at the time and I bought a load of old surgical instruments. I think they wondered what I was doing with them.

“I also remember for the Beacon Hill film having to carry a suitcase. It weighed a ton but I only thought to look in on the last day of the photography and it was full of books. I’d been lugging them all the time,” she laughs.

The book - as John’s slide show used to - opens with a view of Everest followed by the great north face of the Eiger before moving on to a view of Beacon Hill with John’s caption: “this is the story of an epic feat of climbing, of weeks on the slopes of this inhospitable mountain enduring the heat of the day with temperatures soaring into the 60s and plunging as low as 50 in the bitter nights.”

Hilarious photographs follow each with John’s original caption. A view of Halifax’s famous chocolate factory is accompanied by the words: “On the third day out, the large monastery of Ma-Kin-Tosh is passed.”

The Beacon Hill adventure was photographed in 1986 and was just one of many shot by John and enjoyed as a slide show by audiences throughout Yorkshire.

“There was one entitled a Year In My Garden which had all kinds of amusing incidents and then we made one about a car rally at Savile Park which was meant to mimic Monte Carlo,” says John.

“I remember that clearly because the local police got involved. They even closed a road for us and when someone tried to move the cones they had put down, the police inspector intervened,” says Marian.

“One photo involved a cow putting its head through the window of our car and eating a cake. We borrowed a friend’s cow which was used to the treat of a weekly Victoria Sponge. The cow did everything we needed right on cue,” she says laughing.

John reveals that his passion for photography began as he came out of the RAF as a young man.

“I had been stationed all around Wiltshire and Dorset and I thought the area was beautiful, so I got a bicycle and a camera - my first was a German Goetz - and I started taking pictures.

“It was all black and white to start with and then I moved into colour slides.”

His passion continued when he moved back to Halifax and before long he became a member of Halifax Photographic Society.

“We had a public show and there was a little competition to come up with something amusing. That’s how the slide shows started really and they always seemed to involve the family. I once made a show of a family holiday called Photo Phun.”

Over the years John’s collection has amounted to thousands of slides.

“They are all over the house and we don’t have slide shows any more but thankfully we’re now putting them on dvd so our family can see them,” says Marian.

John now hopes family and friends will also enjoy the books being put together by Adrian.

“I think it’s a lovely idea and if they give people pleasure then that’s wonderful. I certainly had fun taking the pictures all those years ago.”

* The First Ascent of the North Face of Beacon Hill can be viewed at www.blurb.com/books/2225748