A trip down the personal Memory Lane of the South Shields photographer who captured the stars

He photographed some of the world's most famous faces and chronicled his home town's history from land, sea and sky.

Tuesday, 21st February 2017, 5:08 pm
Updated Tuesday, 28th February 2017, 11:47 am
The Queen visits South Shields in 1977.

Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Diana, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and rock star Jimi Hendrix were just some of the visitors to South Shields to be caught on camera by the late Freddie Mudditt.

He also photographed town authors Dame Catherine Cookson and James Mitchell as well as other noted North East names such as comedian Bobby Thompson.

Author James Mitchell returns to South Shields in 1971.

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But the former police detective was equally as interested in everyday folk and pictured thousands of them across four decades at fetes, carnivals, beauty contests and Great North Run finish lines alike.

Then there is the changing face of South Shields itself both at ground level and courtesy of aerial shots after Mr Mudditt and fellow photographers clubbed together to fund private plane journeys over the town.

Now his family are kindly sharing his legacy with Gazette readers while painstakingly piecing his vast photographic archive together. Today’s first trip down his lengthy Memory Lane includes a rarely seen colour photo of heavyweight champion Ali taking an open top bus ride through the town centre in 1977.

There is also the Queen at the Gypsies Green recreation ground during her Silver Jubilee tour in 1977 and another royal visit to nearby Jarrow eight years later when Princess Diana helped celebrate St Paul’s Church’s 1,300th birthday.

Muhammad Ali's open top bus trip around Shields in 1977.

Daughter Julia Northam, 58, a post office clerk who now lives in Billingham, recalled: “One of my earliest childhood memories is my dad with a camera around his neck.

“Photography was his passion outside of work and then it became his work both in the police and when he left the force.”Mr Mudditt already had a dark room at the home he shared in Belgrave Terrace with wife Joan and their four children.

He was originally a beat officer in the Laygate area of South Shields before his superiors became aware of his hobby and asked him to join the forensics department as a scenes of crime photographer.

Already supplementing his income by selling pictures to the press, occasionally his eagerness to capture a dramatic moment on film would clash with his professional duties.

Sisters Julia Northam, left, and Janis Liddle searching for their father's pictures.

Daughter Janis, 59, a housewife now living in Darlington, said: “One day he was patrolling Laygate when he was told that a glider had crashed into a house.

“This was at a time when the police did not all have cars so he flagged down a driver and asked him to take him to the scene in the Bamburgh Avenue area.

“Once everything was under control, he climbed up some ladders to take a picture, rung the Daily Mirror, packaged the film up and sent it via train to Newcastle for someone to pick it up at the other end.

“The next day, when it appeared on the front of the paper, he was hauled before his bosses and warned that he was a police officer not a photographer and was very nearly sacked.”

Author James Mitchell returns to South Shields in 1971.

Eventually Freddie decided to leave the police in 1966 and set up as a freelance photographer in Newcastle under the business name Fietscher Fotos before later moving the business back to his home town’s Albemarle Street.

Many of his early commissions were for Stan Henry, head of the Bailey entertainments group, and included Jimi Hendrix’s legendary 1967 visit to the New Cellar Club, in Thomas Street, South Shields, which featured in the Gazette earlier this month to mark the gig’s 50th anniversary.

He also took countless pictures for the paper before becoming South Tyneside Council’s official photographer for around a decade until his sudden death at the age of 58 after collapsing in his darkroom at home in October 1985.

Now Janis and Julia are leading the family’s pursuit for pictures taken by their dad so that they can preserve them in digital and print archives.They have collated pictures from sister Hilary Baker, 61, a care worker now living in Stanley, County Durham, brother Geoff, 55, a caretaker in Scotland, and Brandon, 50, Freddie’s son from his second marriage.

Janis and Julia are also grateful to South Tyne senior library assistant Caroline Barnsley for allowing them to spend hours searching the council’s archives and to Kevin Flett, a friend from South Shields, for the countless pictures he has scanned.

They have collected around 2,000 images and hope Gazette readers may be able to help them with their ongoing search.

Muhammad Ali's open top bus trip around Shields in 1977.

Julia said: “Every where you would go in South Shields, places such as schools and banks, you would see pictures taken by our dad on the walls and it would be lovely if people could contact us if they have a picture with my dad’s stamp or signature on the back.”

Contact her via her Facebook public group, Fietscher Fotos of South Shields and surrounding areas, with any digital images or for further information.

Keep reading the Gazette and visiting our www.shieldsgazette.com website over the coming weeks for more fascinating pictures from Mr Mudditt’s collection.

Sisters Julia Northam, left, and Janis Liddle searching for their father's pictures.