Where have you been? - Queen's photographer arrives from the UK

By Peter Malcouronne

Peter Malcouronne meets new arrivals at Auckland Airport

Sisters Jackie Viskovich (left) and Nina Cryns with their aunt Joan Cleary at Auckland International Airport. Photo / Natalie Slade
Sisters Jackie Viskovich (left) and Nina Cryns with their aunt Joan Cleary at Auckland International Airport. Photo / Natalie Slade

"What background are you going to use?" she asks our photographer. "You want the trolley in shot? Really? Are you sure? Hmmm. Well. I'd better hide the duty-free booze, then."

Joan Cleary likes to control the shoot. The former photographer has just arrived from the UK for a wedding.

"Nina's eldest, Simon, is getting married," she says.

This would be her niece, Nina Cryns, who's here with her sister, Jackie Viskovich, to collect the aunt. Jackie smiles: "You've picked a very interesting lady here."

Joan is of indeterminate age, but her story starts at the BBC, perhaps in the 1940s. Joan was 16, straight out of school. She started as a runner, moved to the photographic library, then became a photographer's assistant. For the next five years, she attended night classes at university.

"Of course, the BBC were determined never to have a female photographer. And I was determined to be the first. It took a long time, let me tell you."

Joan's not one to big-note, but a niece whispers that she photographed the Queen.

"I worked on the Royal Family documentary in 1969. Afterwards, the Queen asked us to film her annual Christmas message. So I took the stills from 1970 to 1992. Twenty-two years."

We sit down. Well, Joan doesn't - she'd get bored. We race through some of her "greatest hits". John Thaw, aka Inspector Morse. Morecambe and Wise. Lenny Henry. Dawn French. The Pythons - Michael Palin, John Cleese. ("Miserable devil that he is.")

And Sammy Davis Jnr. "He came in with six burly minders: I was told we had 20 minutes. You see, if they don't like you, they say, 'Oh, I've gotta go'. Old trick.

"Anyway, he walks in and one of his minders asks, 'Have you got a tumbler, honey?' So I found a glass and put it on the desk - and Sammy Davis pulls out a bottle of gin from his pocket and fills it right to the top. My heart sinks: I think, 'God, I'm in for a boozy session'.

And then ... he takes his glass eye out and pops it in the tumbler. Leaves it on the table. Now remember, we only have 20 minutes. So I say, 'Would you like to pop that back in please and we'll start?' He ended up staying an hour and a half. We had a ball."

And the eye thing? "One of his minders said to me afterwards, 'He does that with anyone he's not sure about. It's his party trick."'

PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
"Be quick. Know what you're doing. Have charm. Be pleasant to the sitter."

- NZ Herald

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