Star man Ken was at forefront of a revolution

As picture editor with the Express & Star, Ken Wood, who has died aged 80, was at the forefront of a technological revolution which was to sweep the newspaper industry.

Ken Wood
Ken Wood

With the Star leading the way, Ken's place at the heart of one of Britain's first electronic colour picture desks led to him being sought after to train others in the industry and share his expertise.

Ken Wood

Ken, from Wellington in Telford, also photographically charted the rise to stardom of a group of Wolverhampton area lads who were to become one of the biggest bands of the 1970s, and away from journalism was a former president of Telford Lions and captain of the then Great Hay Golf Club.

He is survived by widow Margaret, children Glenn and Joanne, and two granddaughters.

His 37-year career at the Star group both as a photographer and picture editor gave him a grandstand seat at key events during a tumultuous era, and among the photos of which he was particularly proud was one of the wedding of Charles and Diana, with Ken leaning out of an office window to get the shot just as confetti rained down from a window above.

Miner's son Ken hailed from Horden, near Hartlepool, but his father did not want him to follow him down the pit and his parents got him a place in grammar school. His hobby of photography shaped his career, starting as an apprentice photographer on the Hartlepool Mail.

After a spell on the Newcastle Journal he headed south. A good friend, Gerry Anderson, had just started working for the Express & Star in Wolverhampton, and Ken successfully applied for the job of chief photographer on the Wolverhampton Chronicle, part of the group.

In memoirs written for his grandchildren he recalled: "In October 1964 I left Hartlepool for the Midlands riding on cloud nine with a fantastic salary of £1,000 per year. I had made it big time. It would turn out to be the best move I ever made but also my last one. Although many years later I did have the opportunity to get to London, I never realised my ambition to join a 'national'."

One of Ken's many striking images. This was taken in the old grammar school at Wolverhampton in 1964.

Soon afterwards he joined the Express & Star and in the heady 1960s rubbed shoulders with some young local lads who, it turned out, were to go far.

"In 1966 I met a group of lads who came together to form a group called The ‘N Betweens. They were a young rock group and played at a lot of the social events I covered as a photographer. They played everywhere and anywhere and built up an enthusiastic live following in the Wolverhampton area.

Stars in the making – Ken charted the rise of a local group called the 'N Betweens – who became superstars Slade.

"I spent many an evening sharing a pint with them and taking their pictures to give them as much publicity as possible. I never thought they would make it to the top but how wrong can you be.

"In 1970 they changed their name and launched themselves as Slade. They became far and away the most successful chart band of the 70s chalking up no fewer than six number one hits between 1971 and 1976.

"I’ll never forget the day their first record reached the top. They all piled into the front office of the Express & Star asking for me and off we went to take celebration pictures."

Among his proudest moments was covering the Pope's visit to Ireland in 1979.

Glenn said: "About 30 people from the press were invited to an audience with the Pope and he was given that chance so he went. The Catholics kissed the Pope's hand while the non-Catholics, like my father, took the Pope's hand. The Pope asked who he worked for and he said he worked for the Express & Star. The Pope thought he was very fortunate because he worked for two papers!"

"Later he became picture editor. The Express and Star got one of the first colour picture desks some time in the mid 1980s and he was at the forefront of the colour picture desk and was training people and giving lectures to people from around the country. He was one of the first to do it."

Ken on the Express & Star picture desk showing the ropes to Wyre Forest MP David Lock.

Ken was also treasurer for the Wolverhampton press charity ball, recalling in his memoirs: "I would wander around during the ball with over £2,000 in my pocket to pay cash to the various cabaret artistes. Stars like Paul Daniels, Roy Castle, Jim Davidson, Tom O’Connor, and Janet Brown, to name a few, came looking for me for their money."

In one incident comedian Bernie Clifton, who had an act in which he wore a giant ostrich costume, mysteriously failed to appear on stage when introduced by the compere.

"I legged it round the front of the stage and burst into his dressing room wondering what was wrong. The idiot was perched on his ostrich costume and couldn’t reach the door handle to get out."

Highly popular in its day and raising thousands of pounds for charities, Ken said the press ball was eventually killed off when bands and cabaret artistes started charging more, meaning more was being paid in fees than went to charity.

He retired at 60 in 2001.

Ken, right, becomes president of Telford Lions Club at the club's annual installation dinner at the Charlton Arms Hotel, Wellington, in 1991. He is receiving the chain of office from the retiring president, Bryan Heaven.

Glenn said: "He basically put his camera down and didn't pick it up again, other than taking family pictures. He was president of Telford Lions from 1991 to 1992 and was golf captain at the Great Hay Golf Club – it's now Telford Golf Club – around 1986."

In retirement Ken continued to enjoy his golf, along with travelling and going on cruises.

Ken took this picture showing how the closed Wolverhampton to Stourbridge rail line at Wombourne was becoming a dumping round in the late 1960s.
Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.

Top Stories

More from the Shropshire Star

UK & International News