'A great humanist - Don loved seeing people in context'

We were never more than about 15ft apart. We did lots of stuff, ranging from the news story of the day to feature and travel pieces. We did a lot of wandering in Ireland, where we would sometimes be allowed to just go to Ireland and come back with a few features.

It wouldn’t happen now, but it was great fun then. Whether it was news or features, Don McPhee’s old-fashioned industry and application was always impressive.

He was more than a slightly gormless bloke with a camera strapped round his neck saying: ‘Tell me where to point it’.

He always wanted to know what the story was, and because he did that, he often made a major contribution to the story.

It could be in terms of simply asking a good question, or in helping to put at ease someone who was slightly frightened by a reporter and a photographer turning up to ask questions.

He could be as hard as nails on a politician who knew the rules of the game, but with someone who wasn’t very experienced he would be gentle.

He often wouldn’t pull out a camera for some time – he’d chat to someone and relate to them as a person before he retreated behind the camera, which can be a barrier between you and the person.

His personality shaped the way he looked at things and shaped the way he photographed things. Don was in many ways a great humanist – he loved seeing people in context.

One of his rampages towards the end of his life and career was the restrictions on photographing children under 16 without their parents’ permission. He just felt that the whole area of street life was being lost.

There’s quite a lot of documentary material from previous eras of what children did in the street, and now we won’t have that for the ’90s and onwards.

He could be wonderfully dismissive if you got him somewhere and it was crap, and he’d ask you: ‘What have you brought me to this for? It’s rubbish!’, and you’d find yourself jibbering an apology.

It was all part of the fun – he respected your professionalism and knew that by and large you would be trying to deliver the goods.

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