The Man Behind The Camera…
Martins Bank Archive is incredibly lucky – we have not only the wealth of images from 96 issues of Martins Bank Magazine, there are countless pictures donated by Barclays, former Martins Bank Staff and other friends of the Archive that help us to tell the amazing story of our Bank. Barclays’ generous contribution of its stock of Martins Branch images may not have been possible without the work of the man featured on this page. To many he was just Bill Robson of Birkenhead, but to all of us who look with nostalgia at fantastic images of Martins in the 1950s and 1960s, he will always be the Man behind the Camera….
If you have taken part in an inter-District sports match or worked at a new or modernised branch, almost certainly you will have come face to face with this man and his camera. For twenty years Bill Robson has worked for Martins Bank, not on the payroll, but commissioned to take photographs—photographs for publicity or record purposes of staff at work and at play, of branches inside and out, and of innumerable people and places and things. You name it: he's shot it. A typical itinerary might be a trip to the North East where three new or rebuilt branches need photographing; back through Yorkshire where there may be an agricultural scene suitable for the cover of the next edition of Finance for Farmers and Growers; across to the Craven District to photograph the staff at a branch to be featured in the magazine; and home to Birkenhead via Manchester where an inter-District hockey match is being played. Stocky, sandy-haired Bill Robson looks younger than his fifty-four years. He has the ruddy complexion of the industrial photographer, out in all weathers, photographing from air, land and sea. Our cover picture shows a sample of his colour work for a wide variety of clients who include Liverpool Corporation, Shell, and the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board. At the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board Bill Robson had his first job—but not as a photographer. He left school at sixteen and joined the staff of the Board's timekeeper's office. The chance to work on the site as a clerk and messenger while Bidston Dock was being built gave him the open-air life he wanted, but once the dock was complete and he had to return to office work he became restless.
Even before he left school, aeroplanes were his passion. He made model planes—and photographed them with a box camera obtained with coupons cut from John Bull. So in 1933, dissatisfied with his desk job, he answered the call of an advertisement in The Aeroplane to 'join the Royal Air Force'. Once in the Service, and working in Lincolnshire in various ground jobs including fireman, he made it his ambition to be selected for photographic training. At that time the RAF had an extensive two-and-a-half year course in photography that gave a man skill in every aspect of the art. Two years after joining the Service Bill Robson achieved his ambition and packed his kit-bag for Farnborough. By the time his course finished aeroplane design was being made to fit into a definite scheme of warfare. Soon he and his cameras were in the air with Fighter Command, Bomber Command and Coastal Command. A good deal of his time he spent in research as there was a vital need to improve cameras and photographic techniques. When the war ended, W/O Robson chose to return to civilian life. He joined a well-known Liverpool firm of industrial photographers and was soon making his name. His work featured in the 'twelve best pictures for 1950' reproduced in the Institute of British Photographers' annual; he was elected an Associate of the Institute; and he gained the 'Colour in Industry' award for 1954-55. From the day in 1948 that he was sent on his first job for Martins Bill Robson began to deal with most of the Bank's commissions. When, in 1960, he and Gerald Baxter decided to set up their own photographic enterprise, Robson & Baxter Limited, it seemed logical that the man who had shown such understanding of the Bank's varied needs should carry on with the job. Twenty years' work for the Bank has produced its amusing incidents.
Bill Robson's favourite story is the memorable occasion when he was taking the opportunity, while the building opposite was being rebuilt, to photograph the frontage of our office in London's narrow Lombard Street. Two policemen, spotting him climbing over the rubble in search of a suitable vantage point, wanted to know the reason why. Satisfied with his explanation and sympathetic to the difficulty of taking the shot while so much traffic was in the street, the law offered its assistance. Stepping into the road the constables halted the traffic, leaving a view of our office without a vehicle in sight. At a whistle from the invisible photographer they waved on the stream of mystified motorists, held up for no apparent reason. At his home in his native Birkenhead Bill Robson and his wife are bringing up what they call their 'second family'—three boys at school, the youngest aged nine. Three girls, all in their twenties, comprise their 'first' family; one—Sandra—is on the Bank's staff working in London on branch computerisation. Away from his work Bill Robson devotes a good deal of his spare time to his job of secretary to a local cricket club. While in the RAF he played cricket and hockey so he brings both a camera and a practised eye to the Bank's cricket festival and hockey matches. And you golfers at the Directors' Challenge Cup finals: don't be put off by that chap with the camera who is studying your five-yard putt at the sixteenth. He's only there to take photographs even if he is a seasoned golfer too!