90 Minute Feature Documentary
A Spitfire pilot of WW2 and a photographer of the rich and famous.
Terry Spencer led an extraordinary life, in extraordinary times.
A hero of the Second World War, Terry flew Spitfire missions over Germany. His speciality was very dangerous low level flying. He shot down the top scoring fighter pilot of the Luftwaffe, gave cover over the French coast for the D-Day landings and was shot down himself twice. The second time he was blown into the Baltic Sea claiming the record for the lowest parachute jump ever, at thirty feet.
He was a prisoner of war twice, escaping once using the map of Europe printed onto the back of his silk flying scarf.
He was called “Tip 'em up Terry” as the man who would flyalong side V1 bombs, put his wing under the bomb's wing and literally tip them up to knock out their gyroscope and send them harmlessly to ground. He was a man who had stared death in the face on a number of occasions but always came through with a smile.
“Compared with being a Spitfire pilot, shot down twice,
the Beatles would have been a doddle”
Jill Furmanovsky - Rockarchive
When the war was over he thought nothing of flying down to South Africa in a small plane – without maps. There he met his future wife, Lesley Brook, a glamorous film actress who had starred in over twenty feature films – they made the perfect couple. Terry's charm was such that Lesley gave up her film career to live with him on an African farm where he started his aerial photography business.
But Terry had tasted danger and he couldn't resist working for Life Magazine in some of the most dangerous places on earth. He roamed around Africa and photographed brutal conflicts on the continent including South Africa under apartheid and the Congo Revolution. If Life Magazine wanted a difficult job doing the inevitable cry would be, “where's Terry?” Amongst his dangerous assignments he went to Vietnam, Cuba and Rhodesia.
On returning to England his daughter suggested he take photographs of her new favourite group and so after convincing the US editor about this group, unknown in America, he spent three months with the Beatles on a tour of Britain just as Beatlemania was building in the UK.
His photographs were used for a spread in Life Magazine in the US that prepared the nation for the arrival of the Fab Four. The photographs played no small part in ensuring that 73 million people tuned into the Ed Sullivan show where the Beatles took America by storm. He described the mop tops as “super boys” and as Jill Furmanovsky of Rockarchive says, “when photographing bands there's a big difference between being two feet away and ten feet away. Terry was two feet from the Beatles and has taken some of the greatest photographs of them.”
This engagement led to another strand in Terry's work – photographing celebrities, musicians, actors and artists. Amongst his portfolio are Mohamed Ali, Francis Bacon, Roger Moore, Grace Kelly, Bob Dylan, Freddie Mercury... the list is endless. But he was still taking “serious jobs” with assignments photographing the likes of Colonel Gaddafi. He was one of the few photographers to be let inside the IRA.
Terry's photographs document the second half of the twentieth century and the breadth of his work from battlefield to Beatles is probably unparalleled in modern photo-journalism. He feared no one and had a charm that could get him in to places other photographers could not. Unknown to most people, Terry is one of Britain's, if not the worlds, greatest photo-journalists with an archive of over half a million negatives. We have access to that archive and with the support of Terry's family we can tell a heroic and hidden story of a man who's character was forged in the white heat of aerial battle and who roamed the world bringing stories from some of the most tumultuous places on earth.