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Antony Barrington-Brown (1927-2012)
- Published 26th January 2012
Antony Barrington-Brown FRPS and his wife Althea were tragically killed in a car crash near their home in Warminster on 24 January 2012. Antony joined The Society in 1951, becoming an Associate in 1958 and Fellow in 2003. Although he was an accomplished photographer and film-maker Antony will be best remembered for his 1953 image of the co-discoverers of the structure of DNA in James Watson and Francis Crick with the DNA double-helix model.
Antony described how the image came about: “An undergraduate friend of mine aspiring to be a journalist sought out stories on his own account. One day he gave me a tip-off that someone at the Cavendish Laboratory had made an important discovery, so could I take a picture to go with his story which he wanted to offer to Time magazine? So it was that I set off on my bicycle towing a two-wheeled trolley which carried my tripod and lights. I dragged the trolley up several flights of stairs and knocked at the door of one of dozens of similar rooms where research students worked.
I was affably greeted by a couple of chaps lounging at a desk by the window, drinking coffee. "What's all this about?" I asked. With an airy wave of the hand one of them, Crick I think, said "we've got this model" indicating an array of retort stands holding thin brass rods and balls. Although supposedly a chemist myself it meant absolutely nothing to me and fortunately they did not expose my ignorance by attempting to explain it in terms I might just have comprehended. Anyway, I had only come to get a picture so I set up my lights and camera and said "you'd better stand by it and look portentous" which they lamentably failed to do, treating my efforts as a bit of a joke. I took four frames of them with the model and then three or four back with their coffee.
My 'snaps' came out well enough and my friend fired them with his story off to Time, but they never used it and sent me half a guinea (52p) for my pains. Several historians have spent a lot of effort trying to establish when the pictures were first published, but I have never known.”
In the words of one academic writing in Science in 2003 Barrington-Brown's images: 'have come to symbolize the Nobel Prize-winning achievement of the two researchers and its far-reaching impact, as well as scientific achievement more generally. The restaging of the classic photograph, nearly 40 years later, with Watson and Crick adopting the same poses, bears testimony to the iconic status of the image'.
Antony Barrington Brown was born in 1927. Following three years' Army service in Egypt he went up to Cambridge in 1948 to read chemistry. He did not do well academically, but perhaps the main reason why he only achieved a third class degree was that he spent most of his time as a photographer for the student newspaper, Varsity. This was a very professional weekly which acted as a training ground for many later journalists and politicians. During his time as picture editor, in his own words “a certain Antony Armstrong-Jones asked to be taken on, but after a few weeks I fired him as unreliable. He later became the world-famous photographer Lord Snowdon, and married Princess Margaret”.
After a short spell with Esso he returned to Cambridge as a freelance photographer from 1951 to 1958, where he undertook college portraiture and photo-journalism. He became a 'stringer' for all the national press as well as the BBC and Movietone News. Antony was the sttills and film photographer on the 1955 Oxford and Cambridge London to Singapore Far East Expedition that is now known as the ‘First Overland’. The expedition was sponsored by Land Rover to promote the marque.
He later worked for Dexion Ltd, where he invented the Speedframe construction system. In 1967 he moved to Wiltshire, and started a company that designed and manufactured school and industrial furniture.
At the time of his death Antony was working with the National Portrait Gallery on a display of his 1950s Cambridge portraits.
Dr Michael Pritchard FRPS