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Cheeky Charmer

For half a century, photographer Harry Benson has been talking his way to the top of his game

During his formative years on Fleet Street in postwar Britain, there were ten or more daily papers racing to cover the same story. Because of an efficient rail system, many of the London papers were national newspapers as well, so their readership exceeded that of all but the largest American dailies.

In this cauldron of competition a photographer needed agility, persistence and a badgerlike cunning to survive. There was no place for artifice; no time for permissions (better to beg forgiveness later, after the paper had gone to press). With a pack chasing every story, the successful photographer was the one who got there first, and when that was not possible, the one who managed to get something different. And if that meant convincing an apprehensive World Chess Champion to sit in a field of lava boulders on a rainy day outside of Reykjavik, that’s what you did.

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