John Downing RIP: Multi award-winning Fleet Street photographer who was jailed by Idi Amin

Former colleagues have paid tribute to six-time British press photographer of the year John Downing who has died aged 79.

The former Daily Express chief photographer was the only photographer at the Grand Hotel in Brighton when it was bombed by the IRA in 1984.

He was jailed by Uganda dictator Idi Amin in 1972 and interrogated with a gun against his head. And he captured dramatic pictures of the IRA Balcombe Street siege in 1975.

One of his most famous pictures showed Margaret Thatcher being driven away from the Grand Hotel at 3am in the morning on the night of the bombing.

“They got in the car and I knew this was it,” reported The Times. “I had one chance. She went past me and I banged the window with the camera.”

“We got the exclusive that night. It’s not a great photographic picture, but it was a really important picture on the night. I phoned the Daily Express, and it was the only time I was able to say: ‘Hold the front page.’

“They stopped the presses and got it in the last edition.”

Downing began his career at the Daily Express in 1963, when it had 64 staff photographers and 14 freelances.

Kim Wilsher writing in The Guardian said: “In the often cut-throat world of Fleet Street, he commanded not just respect but a deep and lasting affection even among professional rivals.

“He was dependable and unflappable on the most challenging assignments; reporters .”

Photographer Peter Dench said: “One of the best of his generation and an inspiration and mentor to others.”

Journalist Peter Hitchens said: “Brave, funny, superb at his job, whose companionship and calm courage in a nightmare few days in Mogadishu I shall never forget. A privilege to have met him.”

INP Media interviewed him for its Life Behind the Lens series:

John Downing – Life Behind the Lens from INP Media on Vimeo..


1 thought on “John Downing RIP: Multi award-winning Fleet Street photographer who was jailed by Idi Amin”

  1. He left school at 15, missing his exams, to start a 5 year photography apprenticeship at the Daily Mail…
    Those really were the days. Where has it all gone wrong?!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *