see also on this page : The Beale snap
by Keith Harris

It was my third visit to the rock pub cafe's weekly open mic gig evening close to Kendall Square in Boston. I'd trudged through snow several feet deep in places in Boston's memorable winter of 1996 to get to the cafe with my guitar and small amplifier strapped on a barrel gurney.

I'd been busking daily on the Boston subway supplementing my regular job as a fundraiser and had been invited to the cafe by the organiser, Steve, a busker himself and who'd heard me play.

A small crowd was in the joint and a small stage area had been prepared with microphones and amplifiers — it was a plugged in session. I'd played on the previous two occasions and had also appeared at most music clubs of consequence including Club 47 in Harvard and the House of Blues close by, but this time I didn't have a clue in my head as to just what I was going to play.

Several performers took the stage and gave their short performances to the enthusiastic audience, many of whom had travelled a good few miles to attend what was a well known event. Then I was approached by the organiser.

"Keith, I wonder if you'd like to do me a favour. I'm supposed to be helping a friend on a job tomorrow but I'm not able to make it. I thought you might like to stand in – it will earn you a little money," he said to me.

"Sure, what do I need to do?" I asked.

"The guy will be in soon, I'll introduce you to him," he said.

So I came to meet Mike. It turned out he worked for a private Jewish charity that aided people by providing furniture – cookers, sofas, beds, chairs, refrigerators – you name it, they had it.

It was co-ordinated by a woman who kept the goods in a large garage and who would send us out with whatever we needed to deliver.

Mike only had a small pickup truck but it was amazing just how much stuff we could pack onto it. Sometimes we'd start work at 10am and would still be working at 1am in the morning.

It was hard graft, humping heavy items into quite often almost inaccessible locations, but it was rewarding work and not least for the $12 an hour that Mike would hand over to me at the close of each shift.

Then we had a change of job. We had to move a gentlemen who was living in a retirement complex close to Wonderland. We called out to visit him and check out the requirements.

He lived in a small apartment by himself, with two bedrooms, no living room, a kitchen and bathroom and long hall and no view to speak of. We were to move him into another, more comfortable single bedroom and airier apartment in the building with a fine view over the ocean. But there was a problem.

Meeting with his daughter, she explained how over the years he had hoarded stuff in the apartment and we would simply have to sift through it all and discard what we considered was surplus to his needs. It was quite a responsibility, stripping someone of their possessions so what was left would fit into the new apartment.

And possessions there were in duplicate dozens. There were unopened cooking sets, dozens and dozens of packs of unopened towels, clocks and gadgets and radios — it seemed he wrote off for every free or reduced offer available and every corner of the apartment, including underneath furniture, was cluttered with every conceivable knickknack and gadget you could imagine. It was a huge task.

A lot of the stuff was thrown away into the garbage chute, but what could be saved was put into an office in the home ready for a jumble sale to the residents. It was bit like opening a general store.

Four days later we were still clearing out his amassed possessions and had not even started transferring anything to the new apartment when Mike said he would not be in until later the next day and asked me to make an early start until he arrived.

Mike usually collected me in his truck. It was not far for me, I was staying in Revere, just one stop away on the Boston 'T' and a short walk from Wonderland station. I said I'd be there the next morning.

True to my word I started without Mike and decided to concentrate my efforts in the smaller bedroom, which was still overflowing with excess items. I noticed several photographic items, including an expensive boxed Hassleblad camera and many boxes of photographs.

The old man hovered around me like a protective hen as I worked at sifting through his stuff, trying not to think too much about just what I was doing in separating goods to be kept or discarded and telling myself that it just needed to be done.

He was curious about me and asked me questions about where I came from and what I did. I said I used to be a journalist in the UK but decided to take a break and had arrived in the US after living in Ireland for a while.

In turn he told me about himself and how for many years he had been the official US Presidential photographer, following US presidents around the globe and the USA on their travels. He dug out a few A4 sized prints and showed me some of his work. It was a remarkable story.

I turned my attention to a dresser – there was enough stuff underneath it to open a small shop and I began hauling it out item by item to sift through it all. Then I found a small bundle of banknotes tied with an elastic band, perhaps several hundred dollars in all. The old man had gone into his other room and seemed a little down. I took him the roll of banknotes and told him where I'd found it and he thanked me, putting the roll into a pocket.

Then Mike arrived. After a few minutes he asked that I continue sorting through another part of the apartment and he would continue from where I left off in the small bedroom.

Two hours later, as I was stacking stuff ready to be moved to the new apartment, Mike approached me a little nervously.

"Look," he said, shielding his hand with his body and showing me a big fat bundle of bank notes tied with an elastic band.

"There must be over $5,000 dollars here," he said incredulously. I didn't doubt it, looking at the roll. At the time I suspected the figure was more like $50,000.

"It was under the dresser. What am I supposed to do? Do I tell him, or do we keep it?" he asked.

After a moment I replied: "Mike, I can't advise you on that. You found it, you'll have to do what you think is right. Okay?"

He looked at me a moment, then said OK and went back into the other room. I carried on with my work, thinking about the cash. I needed money badly, I'd about run out, had not been busking for a while and had temporarily quit my fund-raising job and now had telephone and rent bills outstanding. I just remember thinking to myself that if the old boy could afford to 'lose' such a fat wad and not be concerned enough to find it, would he even miss it?

An hour later Mike returned to me. "I gave it to him," was all he said.

The job took us six full days, but at the end we'd ensconced the old man into his new home and he seemed happy enough. It was nicely laid out, comfortable and clean and he was short of nothing. I doubted he'd even miss any of the stuff we didn't bring from the old apartment. His daughter dropped in to check everything out and seemed pleased and left again, telling Mike that her father would settle up the bill.

Mike did some calculations then told the old man that the bill came to $1,750. Without batting an eye, the old guy pulled out a bank roll from his pocket, I was sure it was the same one Mike had shown me, and peeled off the cash. It didn't even dent the roll. Mike had estimated it at about $5,000 — I would have put it closer to $50,000. The notes had handed to Mike were all $100 bills and just one fifty.

We parted on the best of terms and the old man asked if I would return and visit him sometime for a chat. I said I would, but had to leave the United States before I again had a chance to do so. Before I left his home he gave me an old Parker fountain pen and a small magnifying glass that he used to use to touch up his developed photographs with, as keepsakes. I still have them to this day.

But the money? Well, you'll have to decide for yourself about that.



The Beale Snap
by Keith Harris
Princess Anne’s fiancé Commander Tim Lawrence lived in a small terraced house in a residential part of Winchester city in 1994, just a few minutes walk from a small pub owned by a former Stringfellows nightclub manager. The quiet street had already made headlines when Princess Anne’s cohort—then with the Admiralty and also working as a Queen’s equerry—allowed some personal documents belonging to the Queen to be made public.

The episode rapidly developed into one of those not so rare royal controversies and the world's press descended on the quiet Winchester street looking to get photographs of the commander at home.

Almost opposite the commander’s house lived a local freelance photographer, Geoffrey Beale, a likeable and pleasant enough fellow who would often carry out assignments for the local press. I know, I ran the news room of one Winchester newspaper. How he managed with the meagre payments extended by the paper for freelance photography only he will ever know. I only know the budget did not extend to much and when Geoff had to travel to the location as well...

Geoff—as he preferred to be called—had watched the comings and goings of the world’s media and in the course of doing so had taken one shot that quite soon became world famous. The Sunday News of the World’s reporter and photographer had climbed onto the low front garden wall at the house and were manoeuvring a camera on a long extension pole, trying to get a picture inside the upstairs rooms of the commander’s house.

The episode sparked a spate of well publicised argument relating to press intrusion into personal privacy and Geoff’s picture made headlines. It was used for several years whenever the topic of press intrusion arose, and was often used as a backdrop at major conferences on the subject, particularly by the National Union of Journalists.

As far as I know Geoff never made any money from this use of his work—he had not had the foresight to retain the copyright to his photograph.

I was aware that Princess Anne would quite often visit the local pub with the commander, where in the main they were left alone and afforded welcome privacy. In fact the locals at the pub would go out of their way to protect the couple’s privacy. It was that kind of neighbourhood. I would often call into the pub myself to collect any news items going and enjoy the odd pint, but never actually encountered the couple there, though it was the occasional haunt of a good many well known personalities including Cynthia Lennon, who had a shop close to Stringfellows club at the time that the publican was manager there.

One afternoon my newsdesk phone rang. It was a tip-off that the Princess and her cohort, who were by then engaged to be married, had been spotted at the commander’s house, where the couple were loading furniture into a horsebox drawn by a landrover.

It was too good to miss, equestrian Anne loading her furniture belonging to her husband-to-be into a horsebox, presumably to transfer to their new Dolphin Square home in central London.

By the time I'd made the short journey in my car to the commander’s street there was no sign of either the couple or the landrover, but a few questions to neighbours revealed that they had indeed been there.

Geoffrey was not answering his mobile phone. I made it back to my office and filed the story to the nationals. Within minutes the editor of the Sunday Express was on the phone asking if I had pictures. I explained that I was trying to contact a freelance who lived in the same street opposite the house.

“Its a great story, but its nothing without pictures,” said the editor. I knew what he meant.

Within the hour I was able to get hold of Geoff. He’d watched the whole episode take place from his window, he said, but had not taken any pictures. I was dumbstruck.

“Geoff, for fuck’s sake, why not?” was all I could think of at the time.

“Nothing to do with me. None of my business,” was his only reply.

“Tell this guy he’s a fool,” said the editor when I told him the outcome. “He could probably have retired on what he could have earned from some pictures like this.”

I had no doubt he was right either. So, does honesty pay?


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