As Matthew Butson explains, the secret of capturing a shot like the Three Queen’s is simply being in the right place at the right time.

The Three Queens, as this image became known, was shot by a young photographer called Ron Case on behalf of the Keystone Press Agency at the funeral of King George VI. Depicting Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) and the then Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen of England, the image used by most national newspapers at the time was a detail of a much larger image (seen here). Keystone quickly recognized after the image was printed that a tighter crop would capture the ‘moment’ far more poignantly than the full frame – mother, wife and daughter bidding their final farewell to the King.

The image was taken on what Ron affectionately calls his ‘20-incher’! This was a hand-built hybrid camera put together by Keystone technical wizard Ted Hayward and consisted of an ex-RAF F.24 aerial camera connected – by means of a wooden ‘coffin’ – to a Thornton Pickard Reflex camera. The back of the Thornton Pickard was adapted to take 9 x 12 single glass negatives. Ron’s ‘tripod’ was several upturned milk crates ‘borrowed’ from a nearby Police canteen! The ’20 incher’ was the nearest thing to a tele-photo camera available at the time…a far throw from today’s digital technology.

The image was taken from about forty feet away and was very much a one-off. Ron was not really sure at the time what he ‘had’, having simply aimed and clicked at three recognizable faces in the funeral cortege standing nearby. Upon returning to the office, he dropped off his negatives in the darkroom and went for his customary cup of tea. An excited picture editor stated he had some good news and bad news. The good news? They had a best-selling news shot on their hands and all the national newspapers wanted to publish it. The bad news? Unfortunately poor old Darkroom Manager Tom Blunt had dropped and smashed into tiny pieces the original plate!!! Fortunately a few prints had already been produced and Tom was able to produce a copy negative, sparing his blushes in the process. Ron’s reward for such a seminal news image? A guinea!

Very often the secret of capturing a shot like the Three Queen’s is simply being in the right place at the right time. On a cold, overcast day in February 1952, Ron Case was certainly ‘on the spot’ and even with his monstrosity of a camera, he managed to capture the shot that six other cameramen alongside him managed to miss.

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