Peter Thwaites: Photojournalist who started as darkroom assistant and finished career in academia

Former Swindon Evening Advertiser chief photographer Peter Twaites, who died on Friday 3 July 2015 aged 79, had a career that took him from a 15-year-old darkroom assistant on the Sunday Mercury in Birmingham to gaining a PhD and lecturing in Media Law and Photojournalism at Cardiff University until he retired at the age of 69.

Peter didn’t stay in the darkroom for long — his parents had bought him an Agfa Standard folding plate camera and Peter, who showed himself to be a talented photographer, was soon given a job as a photographer on the paper.

Peter’s career took him to the Wolverhampton Star and the Leicester Mercury and then on to the Evening World in Bristol, where he worked alongside Tom Stoppard.

Peter then came to the Swindon Evening Advertiser working from the Devizes Office until he was promoted to chief photographer and moving to Swindon.

Peter’s style of leadership as chief photographer was very relaxed, prompting one editor to accuse him of running the photographic department as a co-operative. His response was to say that he was the first among equals … and it worked, he led a happy and productive team who would have done anything for him.

His very quiet and supportive approach to colleagues — and his frequent confrontation with newspaper management — was all the more remarkable given that he served as a drill instructor during National Service with the Royal Engineers and, because he enjoyed his military life so much, after demob he decided to serve with The Territorial Army, where he was attached to the Parachute Regiment, making 38 parachute jumps.

In 1985 Peter decided to leave newspapers and he went to Ruskin College, Oxford, where he studied labour law. This was the start of a new and fulfilling academic career.

In 1988 he went to Cardiff University and studied for a BSc in Law and Politics and he continued there and got an MA for his dissertation on Privacy and the Press.

Peter lectured at Cardiff on Media Law and Photojournalism until he retired at the age of 69.

In 2004 he was awarded a PhD for his thesis “The Professors of Fleet Street” about the early days of photojournalism.

Peter was a committed and active NUJ member and he was on the union’s Area Council and the National  Executive Committee as well as being the FoC of the Wiltshire Newspapers Chapel.

Peter is survived by wife Ruth, children Chris and Helen and grandchildren Sam, Jessica and Sophie.  Peter’s oldest son Carl died a few years ago.

Picture credit: Bob Naylor

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