Dope in search of a Pope



Looking back over any career we can talk of “scoops” and “big stories” we may have been involved with. At the time they would have been very serious with many connotations, not least deadlines, but what about those incidents that now seem very funny?

When Pope John Paul II visited to London during 1982 a lot of background work had taken place during the weeks and days before he arrived. In those days, before digital cameras, every member of the press involved in the visit had to have special passes, including dispatch riders and any messengers required to collect the films. 

Photographers needed Press Cards, and a privileged few had “rota passes” which gave that photographer and newspaper access to areas with limited space. The pictures taken by that photographer had to be made available to all the other media if requested. Freelance photographers were booked weeks ahead to give coverage in areas where the Pope might meet the public or be faced with some type of incident.


On the day of the visit the editorial floor of the Daily Express was exceptionally quiet. The team on the Picture Desk sat watching the television so we had some idea what to expect when the films were brought back to the office … and then the phone rang.

It was one of our freelance snappers asking if the Pope had arrived or had something gone wrong? I was a little worried because he should have been working at that moment. I explained the Pope, pictured right, was going past his position even as we spoke. The photographer explained that he had been on site since 7am and he was the only person there. No crowds, no media … not a soul!

I suddenly had a vision, as you do when the Pope is in the area, I suggested that there might be a crowd further down the road and he might even hear some cheering to which, in a rather surprised voice, he agreed.

I made the point that the Pope was head of the Roman Catholic church which is why he was visiting Westminster Cathedral and NOT Westminster Abbey. I suggested the photographer went home and neither of us would ever mention it again because I felt it might have  a future effect on his career.


Anyone who had the pleasure of working with Chris Djukanovic, former Picture Editor of the Daily Express, will know he was not the greatest conversationalist, so after moving into the new, modern, open plan, carpeted Ludgate House where the old fashioned noisy telephones and clattering typewriters had been replaced by pot plants, apologetic whispering phones and silent computer screens, that few understood, you can imagine my surprise, when, on about the third day, Chris cleared his throat and words came out. 'Do you know the problem with this place Maurice? Nobody talks anymore!'

I think the only time I have laughed more was when colleague Mick Lidbury was on the phone telling the caller that the Picture Editor was “Chris... C-H-R-I-S and Djukanovic is spelt the normal way”.

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre