In 1948 Bert Hardy shot a story for Picture Post on the Gorbals, a deprived working class district of Glasgow. Hardy’s picture of the two boys was taken on the long since demolished Clelland Street. Hardy had no recollection of the moment the picture was made, so the identities of two boys remained unknown, until an Evening Times campaign traced them in 1985 when Les Mason (boy on the left) and George Davis were reunited for the first time since primary school.
Back in 1948, Mason and Davis, both aged seven, were running to the chemist on an errand for Mason’s mother. Davis died in 2002 and Mason died in 2011.
The Gorbals was often referred to as Europe’s worst slum, and the most dangerous place in the UK and Bert encountered poverty far greater than he ever experienced growing up in Blackfriars. Curtains of grimy rags hung over filthy windows and in the slum tenements, vandalised and damp, the misery was only lifted by the cheeky playfulness of the children.
“The ideal picture tells us something of the essence of life.” says Hardy. “It sums up emotion. It captures the feeling of movement - thereby implying the continuity of life. It shows some aspect of humanity, so when a person looks at the picture they will at once recognize it as startlingly true.”
Hardy left school on a Friday at fourteen years old and started work the following day, in a photographic printing lab, for 10 shillings a week. If he was lucky, and work demanded it, he also got sixpence-an-hour overtime!
By the time he was twenty, he was one of the top photographers at Picture Post and one of the first to start using a 35 mm Leica – a camera which served him well during the Inchon Landings during the Korean war.
At the time the Picture Post was still a highly regarded source of truthful news.
“The landings were delayed until the early evening” said Bert. “It was getting pretty dark – not good if you were an American photographer – they were still using 5 x 4 speed Graphics!” Designed in 1912 there wasn’t enough light for them to make their exposures. But Hardy could with his Leica and he was the only photographer present who managed to get a record of the Inchon Landings.
Tom Hopkinson, the Editor of Picture Post published an edition of the magazine which showed other pictures taken by Hardy - the Korean prisoners of war in Pusan, the only town under the control of UN forces. Hoskinson, had been at the helm for ten years, was fired for refusing to tow the political line.
“The UN didn’t give a hoot about these ‘political prisoners’ and North Korean sympathisers. Some were as young as fourteen. They were all being mistreated, tortured and eventually shot by the South Korean military - all with the connivance of the Americans.”
“After all” said Bert, “our bloody American bruvvers were supposed to be the good guys and Lord Hulton, the Conservative prick who owned the Picture Post, didn’t want the Yanks to be shown up in a bad light - so he fired Tom Hopkinson and replaced him with a ‘yes man’ editor.
Hulton always blamed the demise of Picture Post on the introduction of television - but very few Britains had TVs in those days. In truth the magazine had had its day and deserved to close - it became irrelevant once it started publishing vacuous stories on starlets and kittens.”
Bert Hardy died in 1995, he was 82.