This week's picture story of England's famous Ascot racecourse (page 24) was photographed by Jerry Cooke. Like all photographers, Cooke has had some odd and demanding assignments at times, but this one, he reports, took the roly-poly pudding.
"I was surprised to learn," he says, "that we had never done a photo essay on Royal Ascot before, but I soon discovered why. Photography at Ascot is out. Oh, there is a small photography stand at the finish and another near the winner's circle, and a few local photographers are tolerated. But you can't wander around freely, photographing what you want. I had to plan carefully. About 300 special guards police the course, and their main preoccupation seems to be to watch for photographers. But since they all wear black bowler hats and large metal buttons that say DETECTIVE, it is not overly hard to spot them.
"On the first day one of them saw me taking a photograph of the paddock while I was hiding in the shadow of what I thought was a very large, dark tree. He raced over to me and said, 'Sir, you have been taking photographs.' He seemed shocked.
"Let me explain. To the guards there are two classes of camera carriers: photographers and gentlemen. The first type is to be expelled from the grounds with speed. Gentlemen, however, are to be spoken to in hushed tones and led to a small booth where they can check their cameras. Fortunately he thought I was a gentleman, and he took me to the checkroom. I reclaimed the camera 10 minutes later on the pretense of going home, which seemed to work rather well.
June 16, 1968
"But now, after this initial skirmish, my strategy for the remaining three days of the meeting was clear. First, I went to Moss Bros.—where all gentlemen go to rent top hats, morning coats, striped trousers and stiff collars. Then I rented two large binoculars, removed them from their cases and filled the cases with cameras and equipment. I also emptied a packet of Marlboro cigarettes and replaced the cigarettes with a small spy camera like those used by CIA types. A chauffeured limousine completed the picture. One can take a picnic basket and lunch briefly in the Rolls-Royce-filled parking lot. This helps all over again to establish you as a gentleman. Finally, on arrival, I casually bought a boutonniere directly under a large sign that said, 'Photography of all descriptions forbidden.' It gave me confidence.
"Now I was ready for the detectives. I had brought along two assistants for the final maneuver. They stood on either side of me, facing out, looking for bowlers and badges. When none was in sight, I opened a binocular case, took out a camera and went to work.
"The only other problem was getting inside the Royal Enclosure, where everybody is. It is heavily guarded, but the proper nod of condescension when you reach the guards usually gets you past. By the final day it was a routine assignment. The hardest thing about it was putting on the clothes."