Halfway to Paradise


...Having been demobbed, Hammond returned to Fleet Street, this time in a freelance capacity, seeking to place his work with news agencies and publications, both at home and abroad: amongst his regular outlets was the Melbourne Argus, for whom he became the London photographer. Other work came with illustrations for the trade press, but primarily he concentrated on his pre-war subject of the rich and famous, frequenting fashion shows by the likes of Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies, garden parties, race meetings and exclusive nightclubs.

Although photographic materials were hard to come by at a time of austerity and rationing (he remembers working with ‘vintage cameras, limited emulsion speeds on glass negative plates, with screw-in flashbulbs’), the change in his modus operandi from studio work to location work was to open up a new avenue. For increasingly he came into contact with the jazz musicians and bandleaders employed to provide the entertainment for such events. They in turn took him to Tin Pan Alley (Denmark Street in the West End of London, home of the British music industry), and there was born Hammond’s most celebrated incarnation as a music photographer.

‘Between 1946 and 1951,’ he remembers, ‘I was selling photographs for use on sheet music, and to Jazz Journal, Melody Maker and the Musical Express, which was then just a single sheet of newsprint, folded in half.’ The latter publication, struggling for survival, was subsequently bought by music promoter Maurice Kinn and relaunched in March 1952 as the New Musical Express (later known more commonly as the NME); it proved to be the most durable of all the British music papers, even incorporating the venerable Melody Maker when that title folded in 2000. And key to its resilience was the introduction in November 1952 of the first-ever British record chart. For the first two years the size of this chart wandered between eight and 12 records, before finally settling down as a top 20, but the revolutionary implications of its existence were there from the outset.

‘I worked with Maurice Kinn at 5 Denmark Street for several years during that early period,’ Hammond recalls, ‘and I knew him as a dedicated pioneer of the early pop scene, upholding his belief that gramophone records would outsell sheet music – a theory not accepted at the time.’

The effect of Kinn’s staunch belief in the record charts was ultimately to create a new readership for music papers, shifting the focus away from the musicians – at whom the Melody Maker was aimed – and onto the consumers. The NME was thus much quicker in picking up new tastes and, in particular, at identifying the teenage market that emerged over the next few years, endorsing the arrival of rock and roll with considerably more enthusiasm than its rivals. ‘We went for stars in the hit parade,’ remembered Kinn. ‘If somebody was in the charts, that was our signal to give the people what they wanted. The success of the paper started when I made that policy.’

The resultant sales figures inspired the emergence of other titles, including Record Mirror and Disc, later in the decade, but the NME remained very much the leader of the pack, with, as Hammond points out, ‘a little help from me and my camera, of course!’...

Harry Hammond
Self-portrait with Alma Cogan
Harry Hammond (© V&A Images)