Steven Berkoff, Covent Garden 1993.

Friday, 6 May 2011 So far in this blog, I've told several stories about times when someone rich or famous has incurred my chagrin.  But these things aren't always one way.  Despite appearances to the contrary, I'm not perfect and have, on several occasions, upset my subjects.  For a variety of reasons, some known, some unknown.

Once, five time Academy Award winning composer John Barry indicated to a colleague, by means of a simple, universally recognised hand gesture, that my approach didn't appeal him too much.  Said colleague (the writer Gavin Martin) duly informed me about this but only after we'd left.

Obviously an apology would be a bit too late now.  I really loved John Barry's music and he’s genuinely one of the greats.

I sincerely regret whatever it was I did to disconcert him.

It also seems I didn't impress Steven Berkoff too much either.

He told me that he'd "never been spoken to like that" in his life. He comes from Stepney, in London's rough East End, so I found that one a little hard to believe.

Other than the time I went to a hillside in sunny Spain, to photograph a chap in a sweltering rubber inflation suit (the story of which I will have to leave for another time) it was my strangest ever shoot.

I was with the journalist Barbara Ellen.  We'd arranged to meet Steven Berkoff in an office (I think it was his agent's) in Covent Garden.  It was a bright sunny day - for anyone who doesn't know London, Covent Garden is always packed with tourists on days like this - and I'd had to park some distance away.

Barbara and I were asked to wait in the office reception area and, after Steven Berkoff hadn't arrived for nearly an hour, I realised I was going to have to go out and put a little more cash in my parking meter.

I couldn't have been gone much more than about about ten minutes but on my return, I walked into the room I'd just left and found Steven Berkoff had arrived.  But he was simply sitting in a chair next to Barbara silently staring at the wall opposite, as was she.  Neither of them looked at me, neither of them said anything and they both had the appearance of patients in a doctors waiting room.

I suppose I assumed they'd spoken and probably already had a disagreement about something.  Barbara could certainly, at times, be a little spiky, so it was not beyond all possibility.

Certainly neither of them looked very happy.

Nevertheless, since I still had a photograph to take, I walked over, held my right hand out and attempted to introduce myself.  Twenty years on, I can't remember my exact words but they were very probably "Hi, I'm Derek Ridgers, I'm here take your photograph".

For some reason which, to this day, completely escapes me, this form of words seemed to upset him.  This was when he told me he'd never been spoken to like that before.  He stood up to his full height of about five and a half feet and informed be that he was cancelling the shoot and, what's more, he was going to ring up my editor and make a complaint.

It's an understatement to say that I was gobsmacked by this odd reaction.  I'd photographed him before and he'd been sweet.

But actors can be wild and crazy people and Steven Berkoff certainly has this sort of reputation.

So... I was faced with a decision as to whether to respond in a similar manner, have a row and then get thrown out.

Or to apologise, grovel a little bit and do whatever it took in order to get the job done.

It was really no contest, I chose the latter option.  99 times out of 100 I would do so again, though I do know a couple of photographers, actually very good ones, for whom it seems to work better the other way around.  That’s just not my style.

For me it's always just a case of trying to be a professional and coming away with at least one decent photograph.

So I did my bowing and scraping bit.  Steven Berkoff eventually came around and I got my shots.  When I left, we parted on good terms.

Barbara never said a word, not then or since.  Maybe she'd been rude to him before I got there and that was what he was on about?  She got her interview but seemed not to want to talk about what had taken place beforehand.  I still can't understand it.  I haven't seen her now for many years but if I do, I'll ask her exactly what happened and post it on here.

Maybe he was still in character for a part.  That might make sense.  Some actors do stay in character for weeks whilst they're preparing to play some roles.  It's the only explanation I can think of.

So if he looks a little sour in my photograph above, this is the reason.  I don't mind that.  He plays a lot of villains in films.  I didn't really want him looking too happy.