Kawasaki-riding Hackney Gazette snapper reveals why he was always first on the scene

Johnnie Quarrell during his time as a Gazette snapper in the 90s

Johnnie Quarrell during his time as a Gazette snapper in the 90s - Credit: Archant

Photojournalist Johnnie Quarrell was always first on the scene for breaking news. Now the old Gazette staffer has shared his secret

We often hear about the good old days of journalism. The hammering of typewriters in smoke-filled newsrooms and pints with the local bobby.

Or, for Johnnie Quarell – a wonderfully named Gazette snapper from the 80s and 90s – listening to a “second hand” police scanner and racing to breaking news on a Kawasaki 750.

He explained: “Rather than waiting to get a call in I got this scanner and I would hear all the calls – police, fire, ambulance.

“I didn’t know anyone else who had one so I was always first on the scene. I think it was illegal but when you’re a photographer you’re a bit crazy.”

Its’s worth pointing out that Johnnie wasn’t a spring chicken when this was going on. He’s 81 now, and was in his 50s when he was racing around the back streets of Hackney like Jake Gyllenhaal’s character in Nightcrawler.

“One time I went to cover a fire and there was a ladder leading up the wall where two firefighters were squirting water on to a timber yard,” he continued.

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“The chief wasn’t there so I climbed up the ladder and was saying ‘can you point your jet this way guys?’ when he came back. He went crazy. He was saying ‘get off that f*****g ladder, the floor underneath you is on fire!’. I looked down and it was!”

Then there’s the time he received an odd request from a certain Hackney MP.

“Let me tell you a little story,” Johnnie said. “One time I had to go and take pictures of Diane Abbott’s new baby in Stoke Newington.

“I’ve gone round and said ‘I’ve come to see Diane Abbott and take some pictures for the Gazette’. I got asked ‘can you do us a favour? Can you go round to the high street and get a teet for the baby?’

“I was stunned, but I did it and took the pictures.”

Johnnie, who is primarily a playwright, has just written a new production called Lost Souls and Lunatics, which will run at The Hope Theatre in October.

Now living in Dagenham, he says he doesn’t get to see much of Hackney – not that he would recognise it anyway.

“It’s changed beyond repair,” he said.