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Tribute to Ian Jolly (1942-2019)

Ian Jolly with his beloved Lancia Fulvia Sport   -  © private

10 January 2020

Bill Mowat

Ian Jolly, who died at the age of 77 of cancer immediately before Christmas 2019, was for several decades, the best-known press photographer in the Northern half of Scotland.

Ian's heyday behind the lens coincided with the 'golden age' of Scottish journalism, when the circulation of the top-selling daily tabloid newspapers, and their Sunday sister-publications, was numbered in the high hundreds of thousands and their best broadsheet counterparts regularly surpassed the daily six-figure Scottish sales marks.

Although his photo-journalistic career commenced in Aberdeen, and included a short young spell in Dundee, most of his working life from the early 1960s onwards was spent in the Highlands & Islands.

Inverness was the ideal base for his extensive coverage of this large area from the Argyll islands to Shetland with key workplaces such as Dounreay in Caithness and the location of several key defence bases. Scotland's three main oil-rig fabrication yards were later to be established within range of the Highland capital, as were new North Sea oil tanker-terminal ports.

Most resident professional journalists there were necessarily 'generalists', so there was always a good proportion of self-origin subject matter in Ian's photo-coverage of the area. This was in addition to assignments from various picture-desk editors and photo-coverage of events such as the Fraserburgh and Longhope lifeboat disasters and the five-fatality tragedy in the Cairngorm mountains, plus coverage of Inverness High Court criminal cases.

So well-known was he that even HM Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother, whom he snapped on many dozens of occasions when she was on summer outings from her holiday homes at Castle of Mey in Caithness and Birkhall on Royal Deeside, used his first name to address him.

Ian was born to Bill and Muriel Jolly in New Deer in the Buchan area of Aberdeenshire in April 1942 at a time when bombs from Nazi German aircraft were being dropped on that part of Scotland's North East. His policeman father was frequently called out to the scene of explosions. Ian had two older sisters: after retirement from the constabulary, his father served as a club steward in Aberdeen, whilst his sister was later 'mine-host' at the Pannanich Wells Hotel in Banchory, Aberdeenshire.

Ian formed a strong bond with hoteliers and innkeepers and photographed many Scottish Licensed Trade Association events, such as golf-outings, award ceremonies, prize-givings etc.

As secular celebrant, Glynis Woodhead told the large gathering at his funeral in Inverness Crematorium on Monday 6 January there was hardly a publican in that big area that Ian didn't know, so this gave him an unrivalled list of local-area contacts.

Ian attended Aberdeen grammar school and his first dabbling with photography was as a summer holiday schoolboy working on Aberdeen's beach boulevard for a partner in the firm that would later establish and run the famous signposts at Land's End and John O'Groats.

Leaving school aged 15 in 1957, he commenced a five-year apprenticeship with the late Geddes Wood to learn most aspects of the trade, including familiarisation with darkroom developing chemicals and fixers as well as most types of assignments from weddings to newspaper coverage.

He wed Maureen in 1964, just when he moved to Inverness to join the Daily Record's branch office there. First-born Caroline came along in 1965 with Peter following on in 1968. Peter was to join his father in his Northpix business as an adult in 1993, the freelance photo agency that that Ian established after the Record's Inverness office was shut in1989.

For the rest of his life, Ian was often asked about family pictures that he took of Beatle John Lennon, his wife Yoko Ono and their respective children Julian and Kyoko at a croft-house in Durness, in NW Sutherland in 1969. Arguably that film-roll contained Ian's most frequently-reproduced images nationally and internationally during the decades that followed.  

Also in high demand, were the final rolls of film he shot before being overtaken by the digital revolution, of the December 2000 marriage of American singer Madonna to British film director Guy Ritchie in Dornoch cathedral, Sutherland. Northpix's income from associated assignments paid for the transformation of Ian's business to digital, Glynis Woodhead told the funeral audience. Other 'showbiz' VIPs that Ian photographed included movie stars Mel Gibson and Sean Connolly.  

Ian had a long love affair with motors, owning 200 cars during his lifetime; best remembered were a 1935 Daimler that he lovingly restored over four years and a high-speed 1960s Lancia Fulvia Sport.

Defence Ministry establishments during the Cold War were important to Ian's working life. Ian flew sorties on Shackleton and Nimrod 'spy in the sky' aircraft from RAF Kinloss, the Moray airbase, while his association with nearby RNAS Lossiemouth led to memorable experiences on RN aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal's exercises off Northern Scotland.

Ian was the first civilian photographer to be given inside access to the Royal Navy's HMS Vulcan, the UK's land-based submarine nuclear reactor test-base on Caithness's North coast. But he had to surrender his rolls of film before leaving with suitably-altered prints returned to him later; naval top brass was concerned that showing the dials with correct readings could be of intelligence interest to the Soviets.

But most of Ian's output involved ordinary people, often doing extraordinary things in their daily lives, such as Jessie Sinclair, from the little isle of Trondra in Shetland, whose daily commute to her factory job in the nearby village of Scalloway involved rowing herself across Atlantic waters.

When the council in Shetland decided to bridge the narrow gap across Clift Sound, Ian was on hand to picture Jessie on one of her final salt-water commutes. The high steel girders of the near-complete Trondra Bridge were neatly caught in Ian's story-telling photo-frame.

Ian leaves his wife Maureen and his two children and their partners. They had three grand-children.

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