Roger Bamber, photographer extraordinaire

Thursday 15th September 2022

I’m dedicating today’s blog to a quite remarkable man I had the privilege to work alongside for over a decade in the early 2000s.

Roger Bamber sadly died on Sunday in Brighton’s Royal Sussex County Hospital aged 78.

He was the most amazing photographer; one of the most creative perfectionists of his trade you’d ever meet. Unsurprisingly he was a multi award winner, receiving the coveted British Press Photographer of the Year, as well as News Photographer of the Year, both twice. He was also awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree from the University of Brighton “for his distinguished photo journalist and the wealth of images of Brighton inspired by the city”.

I knew of his work over many years admiring his incredible thought provoking, cleverly crafted photographs which appeared regularly in The Guardian newspaper. They often had a Brighton connection which was Roger’s home city. He made Brighton his home as he had a love of steam trains and wanted to be near the Bluebell Railway. He used to describe the city as “the best place in the world” and had a particular affection for the city’s buses as well as the beach which he described as a great big studio for him.

Prior to freelancing for The Guardian as well as The Observer and Independent, Roger’s career began in 1965 when he worked for the Daily Mail and, when Murdoch bought The Sun in 1969, he moved to that tabloid. He had a wealth of stories to tell about the many celebrities and famous people he’d met during that time.

Our path’s inevitably crossed in 2001 due to not only being namesakes but sharing a mutual love of Brighton, buses and trains and it became a natural evolution to our friendship to use his skills and talent to provide the cover photograph for our twice a year hugely popular Bus Times publication which at its height had a print run of many tens of thousands.

Roger told me the background to the famous photograph he took in the late 1980s, shown above which had appeared in The Guardian, of the novel Sinclair C5 which had naturally caught my eye at the time with its bold image of one of our recently delivered East Lancs bodied Scanias. Roger explained he’d been taking many shots (this was pre digital) as the C5 driver reached the brow of the hill on the busy A259 Coast Road with all sorts of other vehicles getting into the frame too. The project entailed the C5 owner having to drive up and down tens of times for Roger to get the perfect shot. After many hours of this routine, suddenly and unexpectedly a Brighton & Hove bus appeared heading to Eastbourne on route 712 with Roger chuffed he’d by chance shot the image exactly at the right moment with the bus centre stage alongside the C5. He knew he’d finally got the photograph he needed for the paper and a successful day.

A decade later the memory of that photograph led to our enduring friendship and his subsequent work on Bus Times.

Roger’s cover photograph was eagerly awaited as every edition was published. He never let us down providing the most superb images for 21 consecutive issues for over a decade. Each photograph was planned up to a year in advance to ensure it was topical for both the summer and winter edition. It would take many hours for this Photograph Maestro to ensure he had an image to meet his exacting requirements and the staff who became involved had tales to tell of being with a perfectionist at work.

The first cover photograph Roger took for Bus Times for Winter 2001/02 showed a reflection of Brighton’s Royal Pavilion in the distinctive curved windscreen of a Marshall bodied Dennis Dart

Thanks to my former colleague Marketing Officer Mike Cheesman at Brighton & Hove, who was involved in many of Roger’s photo taking days, here’s a collection of those 21 Bus Times covers as well as some of the actual photographs so you can appreciate just how superb they are. Mike reminded me he was involved in the very first photoshoot of the Dennis Dart shown above remembering it took over two hours to get that one shot and “I think he used one of the first he’d taken!”. Mike recalled “he always had a plan in his head and succeeded in getting the special photo he’d envisaged.”

The 21 Bus Times covers

One of my favourite photographs is SeaBus from 2006. Roger’s idea was to produce an image showing a Dennis Trident on the beach as the tide came in at dusk. But the twist was he used a recently produced model bus and got down on his knees in the water on the beach to snap the perfect shot as the sun went down, or was it dawn and the sun rising – I can’t remember now!

Camera Obscura was another clever idea of Roger’s. It was taken at Foredown Tower with the curator along with a party of 11 to 13 year old students from the nearby then called Portslade Community College studying the image of two buses parked up on a country road towards Devils Dyke and within the orbit of the camera.

Mill Bus involved a local renowned artist painting a wonderful scene of a bus in front of a local landmark windmill. We subsequently auctioned the painting raising lots of money for charity. It was a case of two professional artists working together that day for the perfect shot.

Roger also took photographs for other projects including a superb Christmas card one year where he had the whacky idea of filling our preserved Bristol K bus, which he adored, with Santas and was particularly pleased to see the reflections in the lower deck ceiling. I’m sure I recognise the Santa Conductor!

Roger also liked to take photographs of ‘behind the scenes’ activities at the bus company which fascinated him, always displaying his unique creative style. Here are a few….

The lovely Dave Ireland affixing vinyls to new buses – note the reflections

An opportune seasonal photograph for the winter on a rare snowy day ….

… and another for the summer.

I know Roger loved the symmetrical design of these promenade shelters he captured in this photograph.

And finally what I know was Roger’s favourite photo combining his passion for steam trains and Brighton & Hove’s buses in a photograph taken at the Lavender Line at Isfield. One which took two separate days to complete to ensure he got the steam exactly right. And poignantly we included the bus named after Chris Moyes, the much missed CEO of the Go Ahead Group, following his untimely death in 2006.

What a wonderful atmospheric photograph and a fitting epitaph for a wonderful man.

My condolences and love to Roger’s wife Shan.

Rest in peace Roger and thank you for the wonderful pleasure you’ve given to so many from all your superb photographs throughout your long career.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

9 thoughts on “Roger Bamber, photographer extraordinaire

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  1. A wonderful tribute to a truly talented photographer, Roger. I moved to Hove from Sutton, south London in 2001, and being a keen bus and railway enthusiast, I was incredibly impressed with Brighton & Hove’s bus operation that, in my opinion, stood head and shoulders above the bus services provided in many of our large cities. In particular I really appreciated the ‘Bus Times’ publication which was so incredibly useful for travelling in Brighton and farther afield – all the bus schedules, including those for other operators such as Stagecoach, and ‘proper’ maps – not diagrams! I always had a copy in my rucksack. But what I loved most of all were Roger’s iconic creative cover pictures which elevated photographs to an art form, and served as another example of what set Brighton & Hove apart from other bus companies – that ‘attention to detail’. Roger’s work will certainly be missed, but he leaves an outstanding legacy. (I also miss ‘Bus Times’, publication of which was suspended due to Covid, but it now seems unlikely to return. This is a great shame, as online information cannot replicate such a useful comprehensive booklet. I hope the current B&H management have a change of heart, but I won’t hold my breath).

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  2. Superb! What a shame, that due to yet another disastrous marketing own goal by the industry, that ‘Bus Times’ is no longer produced. I was impressed on my first ever visit to Brighton that a big stack of them was available to pck up on the station- an instant encouragement to use buses.

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  3. Fantastic write up on dear Roger, was a pleasure working with him on these cover shots over the years. Shame Bus Times has been discontinued since I retired. Mike Cheesman

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  4. Wonderful tribute.

    But I’ll put my tin hat on… I think the south coast (with a few other areas) is extremely lucky, with its strong artistic tradition, which means the public appreciate it. I grew up in the northern Home Counties and East Anglia, with a more cold, scientific tradition. Yes, of course I thought it was a great missed opportunity to reflect the beauty of our buildings and the countryside, but quite frankly it would have been a waste of effort too, as no one would have appreciated it anyway. Instead, compare with our historic publicity of the time, which had all the beauty of an Excel spreadsheet. (if it was understandable to ordinary mortals anyway). Any more effort would frankly have been wasted.

    Too simplistic? Of course, but it has more than a grain of truth. I’ll merely be consoled that other people were, and still are, so much more lucky.

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  5. I’d always wondered how the sea bus photograph was taken. Never crossed my mind that it might be a model ! But the camera obscurer one was my favourite.

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  6. What an absolute fantastic tribute to Roger I worked with him at the Sun Newspaper for many years and we would sit in the photographers room and just new when Roger had done a fantastic picture very modest but you knew it was brilliant RIP Roger My condolences to Shan his beautiful wife.

    Dave Hogan

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