Monty Meth, Journalist & Photographer
Can you spot Monty Meth in this photograph of the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys Club Summer camp at Greatstone in Kent in 1939? Wearing the jacket in the front row, Monty is distinguished by his ear-to-ear smile – a distinctive expression of a generous spirit that still graces his visage seventy-five years later.
Already, when this was taken, Monty was attending photography classes given by Harry Tichener, Member of the Royal Photographic Society and Manager of the Boys Club, who took this picture recording that glorious fleeting moment in the last summer before World War II. Today Monty credits his experience at the Club as the first step towards his career in Fleet St, firstly as a Photographer and then as a Journalist, winning him the News Reporter of the Year in 1970. Yet he is equally aware that it could all have turned out very differently.
“There is no doubt that without the Club, I should have become a bit of a ‘tea leaf,’” he confessed to me,“We used to knock things off from shops – I’m not proud of what we did, but you had no choice other than to be one of the boys. Not only did the Club give me some principles, it showed me how to think and act.”
When I visited Monty this week at his home in Oakwood, North London, I found – even at eighty-eight years old – he had already been up since five-thirty and out for his morning swim at six o’clock at the pool, long before I arrived. Monty met me at the Underground station and we walked together through the suburban streets with their carefully-tended gardens to reach the well-appointed home he shares with Betty his wife, where we settled down to chat.
“I was born in Bethnal Green at 10 Columbia Rd, above a barber’s shop where two families shared a few rooms. It was opposite the triangle where taxis waited and my memory is of horses and carts. My mother Millie came to London from Newcastle as a domestic servant to a Jewish family in Stepney and my father Max came from Austria. He was a bread roundsman and that’s how they met. They married in 1918 at New Rd Synagogue and had three sons, Arthur in 1919, Ron in 1921 and me in 1926. We moved from Columbia Rd to a new block of flats opposite the Children’s Hospital in the Hackney Rd in 1938 and I used to go after school to learn Talmud and Torah at the synagogue on the corner of Chance St. Afterwards, at seven o’clock, I used to bunk into the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys Club in the Blue Anchor on the next corner, and I got thrown out regularly until I was twelve.
In 1938, when I was old enough, I join the Club but I only stayed until 1944 when I went into the Royal Navy, yet I am absolutely certain that my career as a photographer which followed came as a result of my experiences there. I worked on the newsheet with David Roxan who preceded me in Fleet St and became a reporter at the News of the World, and I attended Harry Tichener’s Photography Class. As a result of my contacts with Bernard Collier and Bobby Gray, who were also in his class but had taken jobs at a picture agency in Fleet St called Photopress, I joined the agency when I left school at fourteen years old as a Messenger Boy, delivering photographs to newspapers for ten shillings a week. A year later, the Topical Press Agency offered me double the wages and I stayed with them until I went into the Navy.
When I returned to the Topical Press Agency after the war, I worked first in the dark room and then as a Photographer. I won an award for my work from Encyclopaedia Britannica but, in 1954, I didn’t see a future as a Photographer in Fleet St. I was writing and doing photo-stories for magazines on subjects like the Cornish china clay industry, the trug makers of Herstmonceux and traditional bookbinders, when I took a job as a feature journalist in Leeds. Betty came down from Scotland and we decided to set up home there, until 1965 when I became Industrial Correspondent for the Daily Mail – which was much less right wing in those days.
I was made Industrial Editor and, in 1970, I won Newspaper Reporter of the Year, before being recruited by Beecham as head of Communications where I stayed seventeen years, leaving in 1989 when they were bought by the Americans and became Smith Kline Beecham. Then in my sixties, I started a consultancy business that I ran with a colleague from the Daily Mail until 1999 when I was seventy-four.
I was a good Photographer and a pretty good Journalist. I had a good education and, at ten years old ,we were writing essays – what the Club gave me was the confidence to stand up and speak, I learnt how to take minutes, be part of a committee and accept responsibility.”
Determined to apply his skills to benefit others, Monty took over the Enfield Over-Fifties Forum upon his retirement and built up the membership from seventy to six thousand, mobilising a significant campaigning group to advocate the interests of seniors in his neighbourhood. And, returning to where it all started, Monty became Chairman of the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Old Boys from 2000 until 2012, raising £37,000 for charities dedicated to maintaining the kind of youth club culture from which he once drew such benefit so long ago.
Monty Meth with his Macintosh Classic of 1990, from which he runs the Enfield Over-Fifties Forum
The ‘intruder’ at the Queen’s visit – photograph by Montagu Meth of Topical Press Agency, published in Daily Mirror 4th March 1951
Winston Churchill goes to vote - photograph by Montagu Meth of Topical Press Agency, published in Daily Telegraph 26th October 1951
10 Columbia Rd where Monty Meth was born above the barber’s shop (now a cafe) in 1926
Monty Meth when he joined the Royal Navy in 1944 at eighteen
Monty (centre) with his brothers, Arthur and Ron
Monty as Industrial Editor of the Daily Mail
Monty is News Reporter of the Year in 1970
Monty and Betty
Monty Meth has asked me to announce that this year’s 90th Cambridge & Bethnal Green Anniversary Dinner on September 1st, celebrating the foundation of the Club in 1924, will also be the last.
You may also like to read these other stories of members of Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys Club