Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Facebook-on-Thames: Social networking at the Henley Regatta

Facebook-on-Thames: Social networking at the Henley Regatta


Way back in July 1998 I was driving back from some very tough business meetings in the Midlands of the UK to London Heathrow airport. My sessions had finished at lunchtime — phew — and my flight back to Sydney did not depart until 9.15pm.

  Should I give it a Like or a thumbs down?
Should I give it a Like or a thumbs down?

So I had time to kill. I needed to wind down and since it was a beautiful warm summer’s day I wandered back south via Oxford and then over the Chiltern hills to Henley-on-Thames. But when I drove into Henley, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

  The picnic group
The picnic group

It was regatta week, and it was almost as if I had wandered onto the set of the TV series Downton Abbey (twenty years too early, but you know what I mean). I was back in another era. I managed to find a parking space, an achievement in itself, and picked up my Leica M6 with, I think, a 28mm and a 90mm lens. I cannot be sure. Inside the M6 was what now looks like Ektachrome slide film. 

  Who needs Twitter? We
Who needs Twitter? We’re friends now

I was definitely not suitably dressed for the event. I must have looked like a member of the hoi polloi, an interloper with my sitting-in-a-plane-for-24-hours gear consisting of slacks and a polo shirt. I did feel somewhat conspicuous, but I managed to shoot a few unobtrusive frames of very English men and women looking like, well, very English men and women.

  Dressed the part, and flowers too
Dressed the part, and flowers too

I still cannot believe that scene. Is it still like that today or have all the sponsors and the not so “proper” people moved in? I suspect the latter, and in that case, my few photos show a bygone era even if it was only twenty years ago.

Editor’s note: Even though it is only 40 miles away, I stay well away from Henley during Regatta week, so I can’t provide an up-to-date view. But I suspect it must have moved on a little, but not much….




  1. In the second photo that looks like the colours of the London Rowing Club worn by Graham Hill, my boyhood hero, on his racing helmet. The cap in the first photo looks similar, but there is gold there also. Maybe the gent is a Rowing Major General or something like that. The male dress here seems to be a sort of uniform.The nearest equivalent I can think of is the dressing up that occurs at horse racing meetings. The women at race meetings love dressing up and so do the men and at Ascot in certain areas morning wear is expected. The same thing goes on with picnics out of the back of one’s Rolls or Volvo as above.


  2. Fabulous pictures John. They remind me of Ian Berry or Tony Ray-Jones, except in colour. Now I’m thinking I must go to Henley during Regatta if only to find out how it has changed.

  3. Richard , many thanks for the compliment but I’m sure that I am not anywhere near the standard of either those two great British social photographers.
    Before I retired ten years ago I really did not apply myself to my photography. It was all done on the run-as these Henley photos were. Now, of course, I wish that I had applied myself consistently and taken many more photos.

    As an aside the subeditor at Macfilos WHQ slipped up – the photos were taken in 1998 not 1988. But perhaps apart from the cars there would probably be little difference anyway if they had in fact been taken in 1988.

    • John, I suspect your career experience was similar to mine: it became all-consuming. While photography was always a love for me, it was not my career and so it had to take second place. I also wish I had done better, but that’s a good sign, we realize there’s more work to be done.

  4. The old boys, in their public school jackets, will never change. The racing at Henley is monumental and unique in the world. Spectators, in the Enclosure, pause only long enough to peek over a Pimms cup (truly, a great afternoon drink) to cheer the finish of their school or club from under wonderful hats until they topple from their heels. Ascot, Wimbledon, Henley. It begins July 4th. Jacket, tie, socks.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.