British Airways photographer Bob Tracy on Concorde’s legacy
PUBLISHED: 14:26 01 July 2019
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It was 50 years ago that Concorde was revealed to the world at the June Paris Air Show. As senior photographer for British Airways Lewes’ Bob Tracy saw its legend grow
Bob Tracy learnt his craft as a newspaper photographer - and puts his unique take on photography down to one man.
"I had a mentor on the Braintree and Witham Times who used a 35mm camera," he remembers from the café of Lewes Depot. "I realised that with a 35mm you could take interesting, more visual stuff with wide angles and perspectives that other people weren't doing." At the time most professional news photographers used speed graphic or twin reflex cameras rather than 35mm.
In 1969 Bob took his varied portfolio, gathered from stints working with the Braintree and Witham Times, Portsmouth Evening News and West Sussex Gazette, to British Airways where he became a senior photographer in their film and photographic office for eight years. His brief covered everything from technical shots of BA's fleet to travelling to places which were just opening up to tourism. "It was the early days of holiday brochures," he says. "We had to be inventive. There weren't guides readily available so we had to explore the country quickly. When we went to Sri Lanka we couldn't go to the north of the island because the Tamils were fighting a civil war, but the tourist board lent us a gunboat and a helicopter so we could fly all over the island."
Concorde played a big part in his job. Bob documented the first flight of BAC 001 in March 1969, and took iconic shots of the plane which were seen all over the world. He also flew on the supersonic plane several times, both for travel shoots and fun news stories. "We used to come up with stunts with the Daily Mail's [legendary sportswriter] Ian Wooldridge," he remembers. "One day we decided to play some golf - half the round at a course in Richmond in Surrey, then we got on Concorde and played the remainder at a course at the Pentagon's golf course in Washington DC before coming back. We did a putt down the middle of the Concorde aisle, which for a time was the furthest and fastest putt in the world.
"I remember going on a press trip from Heathrow to Canada - I was living in Amberley at the time. I got in my Volkswagen Beetle and travelled the 65 miles from Amberley to Heathrow, parked up with my airport pass by the pier, got through immigration and the check-in lounge and onto Concorde. We got to Newfoundland, did the job and flew back on Concorde. I got back to Amberley in time to go to the pub and tell everyone about my Canada trip that day."
Bob left British Airways in 1977 to set up his own international news and travel photographic agency SKA, which is still in existence today. Having travelled the world, he has now settled in Lewes, although he still leads photographic safaris in Tanzania four times a year, helping amateur wildlife photographers sharpen their skills. "The technical side is changing," he says. "Everyone can take photographs these days, and so much can be changed in computer programmes. I don't find that as interesting compared to true photography."
Now 72, Bob misses the days of Concorde. The end came in 2003, three years after an aircrash in Paris in 2000, which killed 113 people. Despite improvements to the plane there had been a general falling off of interest in supersonic flight especially post-9/11 - the day when the new improved Concorde took its first flight. "The problems started with the noise," says Bob. "It couldn't fly over towns. When it flew to Australia it was met with a lukewarm response because of the noise. Flights were always fully booked to the US though."
Now Concorde 002 lives in Brooklands Park in Surrey. Visiting will be the nearest any of us may get to experiencing supersonic flight today.
"It came from an age of technical advancement," says Bob. "I don't see anything replacing it - I can't see Richard Branson's moonshot flights being the same. Concorde was supersonic travel for the masses, which has been taken away from us. We've lost our dream that one day we might be able to take a supersonic flight - it's sad in a way. It feels like a bit of a backward step."
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