Tributes to John Downing

THE FINAL SPREAD: Daily Express, 9 April, 2020

TRIBUTES have been made to legendary Daily Express photographer John Downing who died on 8 April, 2020, nine days before his 80th birthday after a long and brave battle with cancer.

John Downing was a consummate professional said ASHLEY WALTON

There was always a moment after being briefed by the desk on  a major assignment when you wondered "Who will I get?"

On the Express for my three decades,  you never worked alone. There was always a snapper at your side and you knew it was a big story when you were told that John Downing was with you.

Together we went round the world on some wonderful, and sometimes dangerous assignments.  But he was always calm, collected and thoroughly professional and his "snaps" as he called them, were works of art.

In the tiny and extremely dangerous border village of Crossmaglen we went on patrol with the British Army accompanied by a dog called Rats, a stray who had adopted  the squaddies and was on an IRA hit list. John's stunning double spread went round the world.

John was a perfectionist whose plea for "just another tour of the village" where women spat at us in the street, terrified me, but John was fearless in getting the shot he wanted.

We went on a complicated tour of Africa and India with the Queen and Prince Philip and were given a privileged lift on the Royal flight from Nairobi to Dacca in Bangladesh. "This is the only way to fly," said John, champagne and caviar to hand as we received the ultimate first class experience.

At a reception in Dacca the Queen turned to John and hoped he'd enjoyed the flight. It was the only time he was lost for words. 

John was a very agreeable companion on long trips and endless nights in often terrible hotels and camps. Always up beat. "This is the best job in the world," he would say. I would certainly agree with that, and he was a fine, professional companion to experience it with.

With John at your side you were almost guaranteed to be on page 1 or better, a centre spread.  Thank you John.


MELANIE WHITEHOUSE wrote on Facebook: A brilliant photographer and a truly lovely man who achieved some great and important things during his life and was loved by almost everyone who knew him. Not many achieve that. Rest In Peace, dear John. I always felt I’d won the jackpot when I went out on a job with you.


ROGER WATKINS: I handled many Downing pictures over the years and this one, taken on Southend sea front is one I remember so well.

The viciousness of a ritual Bank Holiday clash between skinheads is summed up in this great shot, which, I believe, won an award.

The combination of Downing, Lloyd Turner and Tim Holder turned it into a great spread. My modest contribution as chief sub? I wrote the one-line caption.

But my favourite Downing pic is of him not by him.

Who took the evocative Is There Much More Of This? showing John waiting for Kim Willsher to finish filing copy? I think we should be told




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