An amazing life behind the lens

Joe Bangay. EMN-170409-125733001
Joe Bangay. EMN-170409-125733001

One of Britain’s most creatively diverse photographers, former Carres Grammar School pupil, Gerald (Joe) Bangay, has died, aged 87, at home in Marlow.

Born in 1930 at RAF Cranwell Hospital, Joe was the eldest son of RAF College Director of Music, ‘Bill’ Bangay and his wife, Marjorie.

They lived in Cranwell Village and Joe attended Carre’s Grammar School, where he became Head Boy. He broke several school athletics records on one sports day and was in line to compete in the 880 yards at the 1948 Olympics but a typhoid infection ruled that out. He had a trial with his favourite football club, Arsenal, but did play for Sleaford Town and, with brother John, for Sleaford Wanderers.

He joined the RAF, serving as ADC to the Commandant in the Canal Zone in Egypt, where he met his wife of 61 years, Janet. He was later posted to Singapore, where he worked for RAF Intelligence during the Malaysian war and coached the Changi Combined Services football team to the Malaysian Cup final.

He returned to RAF Digby before leaving to begin a new career as a London-based freelance news, show business and sports photographer with the Daily Express. He developed a friendship with Lincoln City football manager, Graham Taylor during the promotion year and photographed and wrote about many other sporting stars including Muhammad Ali, George Best, Brian Clough and Bobby Moore.

In 1971 he became the news when he was beaten up by Russian ‘minders’ while photographing the expulsion of Russian spies from their London Embassy. He pictured Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in her kitchen, and scooped Flying Cadet, Prince Charles at Cranwell, biking to a flying lesson.

Joe often photographed ballet stars Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev during their famous partnership. Developing an interest in rock and pop music, he was the first British photographer to promote and work with a young American rock singer called Madonna, created the music page for the Daily Star and was a regular contributor, both as writer and photographer, for the wider music press.

“Joe had a tremendous charisma and personal charm and this allowed him to work easily alongside sometimes difficult rock stars,” said his younger brother, artist, John. “While partying in a New York bar, he met, interviewed and photographed an ambitious young Irish group called U2.”

He built friendships with stars including Status Quo and Jools Holland who he worked with on the legendary TV rock programme ‘The Tube’. Film Star Robert Mitchum was a good friend he often photographed at Pinewood Studios.

Joe became a TV music panel pundit and judge and had a blog as the oldest working rock music photographer.

His thousands of images, beginning with early pictures of young actress, Helen Mirren, as well as The Who performing at Grantham Drill Hall, have created an important archive of the entertainment and rock music scene through the years.

He leaves wife, Janet, and daughters, Deborah, Louise, Julie, Georgina and Rebecca.

His funeral is at Marlow church on September 15, but he will be buried near his father and mother in Cranwell Village churchyard on Saturday, September 16, preceded by a short interment service, beginning at 12noon, to which friends and acquaintances are invited. Family flowers only, but donations are in aid of the RAF Benevolent Fund.