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PeopleJohn Page

John Page

‘I grew up in Surrey. My father was a postmaster and then went into the Civil Service. During the war he worked in the Cabinet Office for Winston Churchill. I wasn’t evacuated; I saw a doodle bug come down on the corner of our street.

I went to a convent school, and then a Catholic grammar school where I got a good education. Although I had the necessary A-levels I decided not to go to university. I suggested to my father that I would like to be a photographer. I had a small darkroom and had sold my first professional photograph in 1948 to a local newspaper; it was of Bernard Braden opening a local cycle track. Father said I should get a proper job, like accountancy. I followed that advice and had an exciting and interesting life in the publishing business.

My first five years were spent with a small firm in London doing my articles. We had lots of family firms as clients. I would go in and do all their accounts, sometimes with their children playing under the table. We also had clients like Billy Butlin, the holiday camps and Bertram Mills, the circus people.

When I finished my training, I had to do my National Service. I was a corporal, and then a sergeant, in the Pay Corps in Paderborn in Germany. During the Suez Crisis our unit doubled overnight when reservists joined us. Mind you, I couldn’t march and I was a hopeless shot, I was once credited with three bull’s eyes because the chap next to me was a worse shot than I and hit my target by mistake! But I did learn to play snooker. I was the youngest in the Sergeant’s Mess and there were really only three things to do, drink, go out with local girls or play snooker. I had a girl friend at home. I’d known her since I was two. At one time she was my boss. As a schoolboy I worked for a fish monger: I was the delivery boy, complete with bicycle and basket, and Dawn gave me my orders. We got married before I finished in Germany.

After National Service, in 1957, I joined Price Waterhouse. Four years later I became assistant to the Company Secretary with the Odhams Group and I stayed most of my working life in the publishing and advertising world. My boss there Henry ‘Hoot’ Gibson gave me some very good advice after I had written a long and careful report for him. “Summarize this onto one side of paper by tomorrow” he said as he dropped it into the waste-bin. While I was at Odhams I had my thirtieth birthday; I was the youngest member of the board. Two years later I became Managing Director and had my own chauffeur.

While I was working for Arnold Quick at I.P.C. I had a very tough eighteen months. Both my parents and then my wife died of cancer, leaving me with my young daughter.

I.P.C. was taken over by Reed International in 1970. I had remarried and decided to move on to J Walter Thompson, as Director of Finance.

Father and I were founder members of Chertsey Camera Club in 1950. In 1972 I joined Woking Camera Club and started taking photography seriously. I enjoy taking photographs, and, as I have travelled a lot, I currently have over 60,000 slides.

When I was 49 I was headhunted to join Charles Barker and was successful in floating the company on the Stock Exchange. I set up my own consultancy business when I was 55. I like to build; I’ve never been a destroyer or an asset stripper and I’m happy to use my skills and knowledge to help various charities.

At the same time as running my business I studied for a part-time photography degree at Westminster University but it was not for me. Like so many photography courses it was too essay based and there was not enough practical photography.

I had become involved with the Royal Photographic Society. I went to meetings and it was apparent that they had serious problems. At that time it was being run by well-intentioned people but they had no real business skills. The Society was almost bankrupt, and its headquarters had an onerous lease; and the priceless collection of more than 280,000 photographs – the largest and most significant in the world – was in danger of being split up and was certainly not being properly cared for. In 1996 I became Honorary Treasurer.

In 2002 I was made President of the Royal Photographic Society and was heavily involved in restructuring the Society. With the aid of Lottery Funding, the collection was moved to Bradford, the Society purchased Fenton House, Bath, now our new headquarters, and the Society became financially sound. I am particularly proud of having been president in the Society’s 150th year and during that year I represented the Society abroad, most notably in China and Hongkong. I still remain involved with the RPS Finance Advisory Committee.

By now I was spending a considerable amount of time in Bath and was thinking of moving to the South West. Originally I thought of Cornwall, but fate had other ideas. I saw an advertisement for an artist’s cottage, with studio in Crewkerne, Somerset. I moved in a few months later.

I really enjoy living in the West Country. The people are so friendly and the countryside, with its beautiful seascapes is still largely unspoilt. I especially like Burton Bradstock: there is such a variety of landscape, all within an hour’s drive.

I always have my camera in the car and have joined the Bridport Camera Club. I enjoy looking at well-taken and well-printed monochrome photographs. Good food and wine are also important to me. In 1963 I was invited to join the Union Society of the City of Westminster, the oldest dining club in London, founded in 1784. There are only ever thirty members and we meet three times a year, currently at the Dorchester Hotel. I’m not a bad cook. I like French country cooking and I enjoy fresh, nicely grilled fish very much. I met my partner Marjorie at a dinning club in 2005. We share an interest in the countryside and are members of the RSPB.

I have three daughters: Nicola lives in the Caymen Islands; Samantha is a forensic accountant in London and Susan lives in Zanzibar. I’ve had a wonderful life. There have been some hard knocks but I regret nothing. I’ve met lots of interesting people and been to many fascinating places. But I’m not done yet. Because of my links with Zanzibar, I am getting involved in education and poverty relief in Africa as well as some local activities back here in Somerset.’

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