Geoff Charles (1909 – 2002) was a newspaper photographer who dedicated 50 years of his life to portraying Wales through the lens of his camera. The contribution by Geoff Charles to Wales is unique and today his archive of 120,000 photographs is one of the treasures of the National Library of Wales.
Geoff Charles was born in Brymbo in 1909. He studied for a Diploma in Journalism at the University of London, from where he graduated with first class honours in 1928. For a short period he worked as a reporter for the Western Mail covering dirt track racing, greyhounds and inquests. He subsequently reported on court cases and council meetings for the Mountain Ash and Aberdare Express before moving to Guildford to work on the Surrey Advertiser.
Following a serious bout of illness he returned to Wales to work on the Wrexham Star, a paper established on a shoestring budget in February 1934. The paper was sold at a penny by street vendors and aimed to undercut the Wrexham Leader, which sold for two pence. Shortly after joining the Wrexham Star he reported on the Gresford Colliery Disaster. Having gained access to the lamp room, he ascertained that the official figure of 100 men underground was an understatement. Armed with this information, he rushed out a special edition of the paper.
Ironically an economic upturn spelled the end of the Wrexham Star as many of its sales force found regular employment. It was whilst working for the Wrexham Star that Geoff bought his first camera, a VPK Thornton Pickard using 6 x 9 cm. (2.5 x 3.5 inch) glass plates. In March 1936 the paper was taken over and amalgamated with the Wrexham Advertiser. It was here that Geoff Charles, now a competent photographer, first met the managing director, Rowland Thomas, and impressed him sufficiently to be offered responsibility for the photographic section of Woodalls Newspapers.
He moved to Newtown to run the Montgomeryshire Express where he met a promising young reporter called John Roberts Williams for whom he was to illustrate articles for Y Cymro. Occasional work for Y Cymro started in 1937 when the Reverend Lewis Valentine was interviewed shortly before being imprisoned for his part in the symbolic burning of the Penyberth Bombing School. His connection with Y Cymro almost ceased during the war years when he served on the Demonstration sub-committee of the Montgomeryshire War Agricultural Executive Committee helping to implement improved farming practices.
His work for Y Cymro resumed in earnest after the war when John Roberts Williams was appointed editor. Their work soon surpassed any other photojournalism hitherto seen in Wales.
Geoff Charles retired in 1975 but continued to contribute articles and photographs to Y Cymro and Farmers Weekly on a freelance basis. He donated his collection of 120,000 negatives to The National Library of Wales. All have been contact printed and cross-referenced to the publications in which they appeared.
For more information and to search the collection visit the Digital Mirror.