The Daily Herald, precursor to the Sun, collected a lot of photographs over its lifetime from 1911 to 1969. This massive photo library is now archived at the National Science and Media Museum. As of the beginning of this month, we have started to catalogue every file in the collection onto a database. So far we have reached the entrants with a surname beginning Ad. Like Adams.
There are 150 individuals with the surname Adams, not including alternative spellings. From the very ordinary doing extraordinary things to the very extraordinary doing quite ordinary things, the Adams ‘family’ (some may have been related—it is a small world after all) is quite a good sample of what kind of person might have been of interest to the picture editors at the Daily Herald.
So what did the Adams get up to in the 50s and 60s? First and foremost, they were a sporty lot. There were 29 footballers, tennis players, sailors and one madcap in training to swim the English Channel. But being a sports personality was not a full-time occupation, as Billy Adams demonstrated. This championship-winning heavyweight boxer earned his keep looking after elephants at the Phoenix Zoo, Arizona.
In the next largest group, 20 actors graced the silver screen to treading the theatre boards and living the celebrity lifestyle to the full in their spare time. Like Edie Adams, married to Hollywood actor Ernie Kovacs, who fought a vicious custody battle for his two daughters after he died to keep them out of the hands of their birth mother. 13 young men and women turn up as beauty queens or models, a figure which is very representative of the kind of people who interested Daily Herald photographers.
One story I particularly want to share is of Maureen Adams. This unfortunate 13-year-old managed to set her skirt on fire when some fat spattered out of the pan as she was cooking. Maureen’s brother, Brian, dragged her outside, tore off her skirt and wrapped her in a sheet, smothering the flames on that side. Considering that he had been in bed with a cold, that deserves some recognition.
The real hero of the story, however, was 6-year-old Stephen Robinson. Maureen’s screams coming through the open kitchen window attracted his attention. He saw the kitchen curtains on fire and, despite his mother’s warnings not to play with fire, grabbed hold of them and tore them from the window. His actions prevented the fire from spreading to the rest of the kitchen, even if he did manage to set his hair on fire in the process.
While neither child escaped without burns, the extent and severity of which was not mentioned, Stephen at least didn’t have to spend the night in hospital. His mother, who fondly, but quite rightly, described her son as a ‘little terror’, said “I don’t know whether to give him a hiding for playing with fire or to buy him a present for being so brave.”
Files in the Adams collection also give some insight into how things were run behind the scenes at the Daily Herald. When collecting biographic details about suspected murderer John Bodkin Adams, one editor wrote a letter to his colleague attached to a photograph of John aged 21 that had been donated by an old ‘friend’ of the family.
I enclose a minute picture of Dr John Bodkin Adams taken, I understand, when he was 21 years old. It may come out OK.
The picture was handed to me by a Mr McDowell of 38 Broughshane Road, Ballymena (County Antrim) on the condition that we make him a fair offer for it before using it. I must say this surprised me because the family is obviously well-to-do. I said I couldn’t put a value on it, but that it is probably worth “a few pounds” for which I got the reply that if the other paper was allowed to bid for it, it would fetch more than that!
However, we have the picture, and I would suggest that if we want to use it, we might be well advised not to rush into saying what we’re prepared to pay. I’ll explain on the phone presently what’s in my mind.
P.S. Anyhow, for heavens sake don’t lose the thing!
As it turned out, they didn’t use the picture. But neither did they lose it.