THE life of a press photographer can occasionally be a bit dangerous, usually because some Herbert or other doesn’t take a shine to what they’re doing. But what came out of the sky one day and landed on Jeremy Pardoe’s car was as hazardous as it was unexpected.
Driving through Kidderminster having taken a picture of the Town Hall clock, Jeremy was passing a construction site when a 30ft steel girder slipped off a lifting chain and crashed onto his bonnet and roof.
The accident came within inches, probably less, of killing him, but having been on numerous assignments with Jeremy’s response to the trauma was: during his 23 years with the Worcester News and always been reassured by his laconic approach to life, I wasn’t surprised by his response to the trauma.
“I’d only taken the car because I thought I might be late. I suppose I could have walked and been hit by a bus!”
With 23 years at the Worcester News under his belt, Jeremy’s approach to life is somewhat laconic, and it is not surprising to learn that in his retirement, he takes pictures of teddy bears.
So, I’m also not at all surprised to learn that in his retirement he takes pictures of teddy bears.
There is an ulterior motive and that’s to create a range of cards for all occasions, but there seems to be a natural affinity between this Father Christmas lookalike and toy bears.
In fact, Not only does Jeremy photograph them and turn them into a range of cards, he also makes them too.
Which is something of a right angle skills move for the award-winning 66-year-old from Tenbury Wells, who spent his working career on the boundary ropes or touchlines of major sporting events, taking pictures of presentations, fires and murder scenes or 1001 school Nativity plays.
His previous haberdashery experience, he freely admits, has been limited to sewing on the odd button or “some amateur trouser turning up”.
The credit/blame/whatever for this project to his wife, Maureen.
“My wife has always been a collector of toys and dolls,” Jeremy said. “We have lots of pictures of teddies around the house. I’ve always felt they’re pretty stiff and uninteresting, they’re always inanimate and not doing anything, just perhaps sat on a chair or looking at a book.
"I thought it would be good to have pictures of animated teddy bears enjoying the great outdoors.” At which point he set off in a direction totally foreign to anyone at the Worcester News who remembers Jeremy Pardoe as a master of the action photograph.
He started making teddy bears, cutting, stitching and stuffing each one to give it the character he really wanted.
“It was a bit of leap in the dark but I wanted to have a go at making the bears myself,” he said. “They were fairly rudimentary instructions: lay out the pattern, cut out the arms and body, lay it on the fabric, cut it out leaving a margin then sew up with a sewing machine.
“Using the sewing machine is a bit like cutting a piece of wood with a saw. You just have to follow the line, leaving a gap to put the stuffing in.
"It was the hand sewing at the end which was the hardest part. I thought the purists at my wife’s dolls club would say it wasn’t good enough if they looked closely, but they said it wasn’t bad.”
It took Jeremy six months to make his first bear, which he called Brian. For no particular reason.
However, his second really started the ball rolling. He named it Billy, after a cousin Bill, who died unexpectedly two years ago and this led Jeremy to name his embryo company Billy Bear Cards “because I thought it sounded nice and flows off the tongue”.
Eventually he created a family of five bears, which he takes out into the Worcestershire countryside to photograph. The results cost £10 for a set of five cards or £3 each.
“I like the idea of one playing football, another fishing,” he added. “When the weather picks up, I’d like to take one to the coast and have him knee deep in the surf, holding a couple of mackerel with a smile on his face.
"I’ll have to make sure it’s a calm day otherwise he could get washed away.” It takes Jeremy a day to create each image as he has to use lots of the tricks of the trade to make his bears actually look capable of doing the activities he’s photographing.
“I have a big frame I put over the bear and then I string him up with wires to get him to the position I want. I suppose it sounds a bit cruel really,” he said.
“I then do a picture of the background on its own and merge the two photographs together, getting rid of the wires on the computer to make it look like he’s really doing the activity.
"I made the bears with a rigid spine from neck to bottom and their heads are on a threaded ball joint which means they can move in any direction. But I don’t like cute bears. They needed to look man-ish, capable, not girly and cuddly and fluffy. They’re outdoor bears with attitude.”
Sort of Bear Grylls style. Or has someone nicked that name already?
More information can be found at billybearcards.co.uk