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Dragon Book Review: The Darkroom Boy – Local Lad Does Good!

Published on: 21 Dec, 2016
Updated on: 21 Dec, 2016

The Darkroom Boy front coverThe Darkroom Boy – 40 Years in Fleet Street is a fascinating autobiography by local boy, Roger Allen.

It is incredible that a chance meeting with his schoolteacher ended up with him covering some of the most amazing stories, harrowing and glamorous, as a newspaper photographer.

His credits are astounding from photographing Muhammad Ali; Diana, Princess of Wales; and the loves and antics of Oliver Reed to doing a ‘paparazzi’ job on Princess Anne and covering war zones in Bosnia, the ‘troubles’ in Belfast and Iraq.

Lots of local  interest as well, the Nat West bank robbery in Guildford High Street, Shane the escaped Woking lion, the Surrey puma, the shocking scene of the aircraft crash at Dunsfold, the terrible Guildford pub bombings and even the first Indian restaurant in Guildford.

The scene starts in a small house in Woodbridge Road and moves through the tough life of long and unpredictable hours and hard drinking, ruthless newspaper men.

It seems hard to separate out the horrors from the comparatively trivial and wonder how it can be lived without leaving a permanent mental scar. To see and photograph dead bodies and wreckage at the Lockerbie aircraft disaster, to be forcing entry into a flat to photograph an alleged paedophile, or to be one of the first newspaper men to see the orphan children locked up in institutions in Ceausescus’ Romania, must leave a mark.

But it does not seem to have. He comes across as a ordinary but well liked working-class bloke who happily covers the celebrities as well as the sensational.

He tells us in sometimes lurid language about haggling with the desperate and often deluded people over stories, the highs and lows of Gazza, Robert Maxwell’s death off his boat the Lady Ghislaine, the 1992 election with John Major’s surprise victory and many, many more tales of the photographer’s life.

Not always nice but, in the days before mobile phone cameras and the internet, it was the only way to get the stories and the photographs that made newspapers sell in the late 20th century.

Is it really different now?

The book brings an inside track view into many of the stories that we have all read about over the years.

A cracking good read and highly recommended.

You can order The Darkroom Boy – 40 Years in Fleet Street by Roger Allen at all good bookshops and online – Amazon is offering it for £9.98 (paperback).

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