Eamonn McCabe

28th July 1948 - 2nd October 2022

On Thursday 27th April, 2023 at 11:30am a service of thanksgiving for the life of Eamonn McCabe was held at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street.
Download Order of Service (pdf)


The Revd Canon Dr Alison Joyce delivered the opening:

A very warm welcome to St Bride’s as we come together to honour the memory and to celebrate the life of Eamonn McCabe.

As we give thanks for him today, we remember a man who was not only a consummate professional: technically brilliant, insightful, perceptive, and characterful in his work – he truly was a photographer’s photographer! – but also an outstanding human being, who will forever be remembered, and greatly missed, for his kindness, his warmth, his modesty, and his honest straightforwardness.

As truly befits a photographer, our wonderful order of service today actually says it all in pictures: here is the man; his life; his passions; and all those who were closest to his heart – alongside the remarkable written tributes that you will find within it. I suspect that he would have been well-pleased with this edit!

We shall have as few announcements as possible during this service, so if you would please stand for the hymns and sit for just about everything else, you will not go far wrong.

Eamonn was always immensely proud of his Irish heritage, so our opening prayer is an Irish Celtic prayer for those who are bereaved.

Let us pray:

May you have the blessing of being consoled.
May you know in your soul that there is no need to be afraid.
When your time comes, may you be given every blessing and shelter that you need.
And may there be a beautiful welcome for you in the home that awaits you.
In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.


Tom Jenkins

Thank you to Becky for asking me to speak today, it really is a great honour.

I first met Eamonn back in the mid 1980s when I was in sixth form. I was a sports mad kid, but my dreams of being a professional sportsman had been cruelly crushed by an overwhelming lack of ability. As a teenager I still loved and was obsessed by practically every sport and the only other thing I was into was photography. Whilst learning the fundamentals of shooting, developing and printing black and white I started using it as an integral part of my Art A level. A schools careers advisor knew about my dual interests and told me he had a friend who worked as a photographer for The Observer, a certain Jane Bown. He suggested getting in touch with Jane and asking her to see if the Observer’s sports photographer, Eamonn McCabe, wouldn’t mind coming to the school to chat to me and a small group of other photographers. It seemed like a great, if rather far-fetched, idea.

I soon heard back from the teacher that amazingly Eamonn had said yes, so I quickly went out and bought his first book, ready for the visit. When he came down to speak, well it was the day that changed my life. He ignited something inside me: finally I knew this was what I wanted to do. I was mesmerised by the images, an intoxicating fusion of sport and art. Wonderful compositions taken at precisely the right moment, beautiful insightful story- telling in a single frame. I’d like to say I had a favourite, one that perfectly illustrates this but I don’t as my favourite Eamonn picture changes all the time. At this time Eamonn at The Observer, alongside Chris Smith at The Sunday Times, was helping to redefine newspaper sports photography. Their pictures were no longer seen merely as hole-fillers, they produced images that invited the viewer to take a longer look. Smith and McCabe, they were the Ali and Foreman of British sports photography, rivals but friends, each scooping hatful’s of awards.

Soon after my first encounter with Eamonn, he was to curtail shooting sport. His experience at the 1985 Heysel disaster, where arguably he shot the most moving and evocative pictures of his whole career, prompted his decision to move photographically to landscapes and that eventually led to portraiture. Despite this we kept in touch and he never tried to persuade me to stop photographing sport.

When I left school, he advised me to steer clear of traditional degrees in photography but instead apply to the revolutionary documentary photography course in Newport, South Wales. So that’s where I went, and it was the perfect place for me, like he knew it would be. Shortly after I left college in 1989, about a year after Eamonn had become the trailblazing picture editor of The Guardian, he invited me to start working regularly for the paper. It was a dream come true. Not only was I working at a national newspaper I loved but I also had the most encouraging and thoughtful mentor. He wanted to make me a more rounded photographer so he would send me on a huge variety of jobs, not just sport. I got sent on assignments ranging from an IRA bombing to catwalk fashion, a still life of a bottle of wine to Spurs v Arsenal. In fact the only time he ever seemed half angry with me was if I came back from White Hart Lane with a good picture of Spurs losing, grumpily accepting that sport would have to use it.

As my editor he had a saying that kept popping up all the time, when things went well and also when they didn’t. He would put his arm round me and mutter “You make your own luck, son”. I like to think it was our mantra. It sums up not only a way of working and seeing but a whole philosophy of life. It might as well be stamped on the back of my cameras, because ever since, every time I get them out of the bag, I think of it. When I look back at my own career, I’m convinced meeting Eamonn was probably the luckiest thing that ever happened to me.

But it wasn’t just in my niche of photography that Eamonn was such an inspiration. Being picture editor of The Guardian, at a time when he was helping to redefine it as a visual powerhouse, meant he had access to a huge variety of photographers. I know he took enormous pleasure from promoting brilliant talents, people such as Sarah Lee and Murdo Macleod, who, like me, were given their chance at The Guardian and have stayed working for the paper ever since. Recently Murdo recalled how it was working for Eamonn “l was based in Scotland, about as far away from Guardian HQ as possible. But even on the phone you could hear the piratical glint in Eamonn’s eye as we hatched a plan for a picture. He had a rare gift for talking about photography and he endlessly saw positive possibilities — a rare quality in an editor.” After his death, social media and comments in the paper were filled with people sharing their personal memories of Eamonn. Many photographers recalled how he gave them their first chance, whether it be a commission or some other golden opportunity.

To finish with I’m going back to that classroom in Kent, on the day I met Eamonn and my life somehow changed. Sitting beside me was a friend who was really good at art. I lost contact with him after school but he emailed me when he read about Eamonn’s death. He said “l will never forget the time we spent with him at school that day. I remember him as an energetic, generous and kind man and I always felt his work reflected that spirit perfectly.” Influenced just like me, my school friend went on to be a famous Turner Prize winner, the conceptual artist and photographer Simon Starling. I’m sad I never got to tell Eamonn that story, I’m sure he would have loved it.

It is abundantly clear to everyone here today that Eamonn has been an inspiration for a whole generation of photographers in this country and abroad. Either through meeting him in person, seeing him on TV or maybe hearing him on radio, a vast number of highly creative people have been engaged by his wonderful work and encouraged into the medium. The photographic world owes him a huge debt. Not only has he left a legacy of incredible images but he has also generously ensured that photographers following on behind him are set up to succeed. On behalf of us all, thank you Eamonn.

Alastair Laurence

Dear Eamonn,

The first time we met was at your flat in the Barbican.

I had been asked to make a three-part series about British Photography for BBC 4 and it had been agreed that you would be the presenter. I of course knew of your awesome reputation at the Observer and The Guardian. And years earlier I had once asked for your advice. Know any good young sports photographers I asked? You mentioned a young whipper snapper called Tom Jenkins.

So, we sat down, and I said trying to squeeze this story into three hours, well that’s pretty crazy! As usual at the start of a project I was nervous, and it probably showed. But you immediately you put me at ease. And right from that moment you took it all in your stride, never fazed and worked without complaint from beginning to end.

On the first day of filming, we found ourselves on the terrace of Harewood House preparing for what is known as a piece to camera. The PTC is part of the tired visual grammar that makes a lot of this sort of television really quite dull to watch and make.

It was clear from the first take that this really wasn’t your thing. A very valuable lesson was quickly learnt. We had to create filming situations that allowed your personality to better emerge — permit you to be you. And I like to think that it worked.

It worked when you looked back on your own life — snapping the boxing at York Hall in the East End, an old haunt. And the brave return to Heysel Stadium. There to recall what you called your worst ever memory, you were razor sharp, words coming out in an unscripted, memorable outburst of feeling.

Because you had such curiosity, empathy, warmth and patience with all the people we came across. You put them at ease. And that of course helped to bring out the story THEY were trying to tell US.

And you were well up for a bit of fun too. For the first programme we went down to Lewes to Edward Reeves Photographic — the oldest surviving studio in the I-JK. There you dressed up as a Victorian Gentleman to have your portrait done Victorian style. And all the time you bantered with Tom, the great great- grandson of old Edward, who was behind the camera.

It was magical — good telly as they say.

So, it is no surprise that you were in demand as a broadcaster— you had that something. Whether it was the Today Programme or Front Row to talk about your hero Jane Bown. Or taking about your own favourite photographs on ‘Spoken Image’. And the Channel Four series ‘Hitler— The Lost Tapes’. Hopefully the last programme will air this weekend. And let us confess we shared a very heavy and terrible burden didn’t we. Yes, Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

I remember when our series was finished you gave me a big book of photography about Football in the Seventies. I was a taken aback, no presenter had ever given me a thank you present before. And with this came a black and white post card. Naturally about football, and, not snapped by you but by Geoffrey Stern. It shows a night-time match from 1981 and captures the radiant figure of the Spurs great Ossie Ardiles, leaping in mid-air, his arms outstretched in celebration of scoring a goal. It is a happy photograph and ever since you gave it to me, I have had it on my desk. And I am looking at it now, and it reminds me about everything that I want to remember about you.

The sheer joy and hell of it all.

Eamonn, I miss you. With much love, Alastair.

Alan Rusbridger

In the days after Eamonn died last October many friends and colleagues counted the ways in which he had left an inedible mark on the world of photography.

We came up with three – one of the most brilliant sports photographers of his generation; as a great Guardian picture editor; and, finally, as a quite remarkable taker of portraits. We could, on reflection, have added a fourth – his more recent role as a lecturer, broadcaster, mentor and thinker about the craft and art to which he’d devoted his life. It’s difficult to think of any other comparable figure who ranged so widely and with such distinction.

I worked with Eamonn most closely during the middle two of those four careers – picture editing and portrait photographer. He arrived at the Guardian at a moment of crisis: the Independent was barely two years old, but was seriously threatening to overtake the Guardian and eclipse it as the most successful serious broadly liberal newspaper in Britain.

My predecessor, Peter Preston, realised he had the fight of his life and one of the important things he did was to ask the graphic designer, David Hillman, to dramatically remake the look of the paper. That was inspired – but maybe even more inspired was to hire Eamonn as picture editor.

One of the things people loved about the Indie was that it looked so bloody good: classical, cool – and so stylish in the way it used photographs. Eamonn convinced Peter that, while the Guardian employed some outstanding photographers – and despite the often-lamentable quality of reproduction – there was no excuse for pictorial cliches, lack of imagination and timidity.

It was a nerve-wracking job interview for Eamonn. By his own account, he felt the need to take a briefcase with him for added gravity. And then left it behind – creeping back into Peter’s office to retrieve it just as the room was filling with senior Guardian, who immediately worked out who their new picture editor was to be. By the time Eamonn moved on from picture editing, a dozen years later, the world was a different place: every sub-editor in the building had a computer terminal and access to thousands of pictures flooding in every day. But in the late eighties and early 90s Eamonn had almost single-handed control over what appeared on the main news pages – if only because, as he later put it, he used to hide all the crap. He hated safe photography. Flash for cash.

He worked with two brilliant front page editors, Mike McNay and Brian McDermott, to transform the look of the Guardian. If you timed it right, you’d be there for the moment in the late afternoon when Eamonn would produce a print of the stunning image he’d been quietly hoarding all day. And Mike would swear under his breath – language which would not be right to recall today even in the journalists’ church – and promptly clear eight columns. Armenia, Lockerbie, Bosnia, the Gulf War, train crashes, ferry disasters. The results were frequently stunning. The writers, it must be said, were not unanimous in their appreciat ion of the way Eamonn rapidly transformed the look of the paper. Used to seeing six or seven stories on the front page, now there might only be three. “Space cowboy” was one of the politer terms they used about him. But Eamonn would make up for it by buying them a drink in the Coach and Horses after work. For someone causing such disruption and trouble, he had only friends.

As the paper regained its confidence Eamonn brought in a range of the best freelancers to complement the brilliant in-house team – which included, as he told the Guardian’s historian, Ian Mayes, in 2008, “ two of the greatest press photographers ever working in the same office” – Denis Thorpe and Don McPhee…[and it’s so great that Denis Thorpe can be here today. ]

Eamonn was passionate about all aspects of whichever of his four roles he was pursuing. “All I did,’ he told Ian of his spell as a multiple-award winning picture editor, “was give the paper back its confidence. I believed in it every night and I fought for it every night. I had to have a cracking front page – to intrigue readers to pick the paper up. And when it worked, I went home with a happy heart.” But usually stopping off for a pint on the way.

Always restless, Eamonn had begun nipping out of the office to shoot a portrait or two – often with Simon Hattenstone, who he called his caption writer. One of his first big selfcommissions for the new profile slot (this time with Joanna Coles as caption writer) was Iris Murdoch and John Bayley – an unforgettable image. He had a new bug. He had helped transform and save the Guardian: now it was time to get behind the lens again. As he told Ian: “Everyone was now a picture editor. It was about the time we had Mabel, and the game had gone.”

Of all the memorable work he produced during this next spell of his rich career was capturing 23 of the 40 remaining British members of the International Bridge who had fought in the Spanish Civil War – all taken in 2000, each image full of character, history and power.

Eamonn’s critical eye never dimmed, even in his fourth life. He emailed me in splenetic rage in 2009 after a having his breakfast ruined by a portrait – taken by an internationally-renowned photographer who had better remain nameless – in that day’s G2. “I don’t get it,” he spluttered. “That has to be one of the worst we have ever printed. I spent years trying to get that sort of crap out of the pages. What next, handshakes and big cheques?” He was, of course, entirely right. Flash for cash. And you knew that, given even five minutes and a smidgeon of daylight, Eamonn would have done a much better job.

One man, four careers. The images will live on for ever. As will our memories.


Katharine Viner read First letter of St Paul to the Corinthians 13: 4-13

4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Blake Morrison read The Walk by Blake Morrison

I’ll not forget our last walk together,
through the woods and down to the river,
which idled under a fogbank of midges,
too sleepy or sunstruck to stir.

At the second stile I held my hand out
as you leapt and refused to give yours back
till we’d passed through the field with thistles
and the cowpats as big as plates of Irish stew.

I can’t remember what we talked about
our work, probably, or children, or books,
not what we’d felt for each other, and still did.

But I’ll not forget the walk, and your free hand
brushing the willows, and the water
sliding slowly as a funeral train.

Rebecca and Mabel McCabe read In Eamonn’s own words

Eamonn may have had a stellar career as a photographer spanning more than fifty years, but he could never quite believe his luck getting paid – most of the time – to do something he enjoyed so much. “It’s better than working, Rog” he used to joke to his friend and picture desk deputy Roger Tooth.

And despite supposed semi-retirement in his beloved Suffolk, he never put his cameras away. His last photos – in mid-September – were of Aldeburgh Rugby Club, while he also captured the joyous local wedding of family friends in Orford earlier that month.

But there was more in the pipeline. Thanks to the encouragement of our friend Derek Wyatt, Eamonn had decided to do another book for the first time concentrating on his portrait work, telling the stories behind what he considered to be the best of the bunch. And this time I was going to be his caption writer and editor. Sadly he only got as far as choosing the shortlist of photos and describing how the fabulous portrait of Zadie Smith – one of his all-time favourites – came about.

Here are Eamonn’s words – written in August last year and read now for he first time by Mabel.

In 2005 Zadie Smith was publicising her latest book ‘On Beauty’. The publishers suggested we meet at their offices. Always a bit dry and challenging when you are shown into an empty boardroom which has nothing to do with the person you are going to photograph. But the room had one saving grace. In the corner was a lovely old worn leather armchair. My first thought was that if I could get Zadie to sit in it I would get something.

I knew she was around. The publicist said she was on the balcony smoking a roll-up; that was the picture, I thought. But I was told she was nervous and it was best to wait in this sterile cell. After a while she came in looking absolutely stunning. I couldn’t believe my luck. Gorgeous dress, bangles everywhere and a turban. We photographers love props; hats, coats and especially headgear and scarves.

Portraiture is very difficult. It is easy to get a snap of somebody, but how do you capture an intimate portrait that reveals something of the person you have only just met who is quiet, nervous of the camera and not in her own space? I was also worried she might not be there for very long. She liked the idea of the chair. I was on my way. But the real bonus was the tone of her skin and the turban which matched the caramel- coloured leather. Her hands made a perfect triangle framing her beautiful dress. Through the lens I could see all kinds of things working; the colours, the framing. It was going to be alright. But the pictures were stiff, she was sat bolt upright in the chair. Nothing was going on between us. We have a saying in portraiture that when the sitter gives you something you have a chance of making a good photograph and occasionally a great one.

The busybody PR came in and said time was up. I felt had only just started, so I went for broke. I asked Zadie if she could lean back in the chair. What could I lose? She could say no and as I had something, not great, it was something to show my editor.

Leaning back is nothing dramatic or cutting edge you may say, but when she did I saw my version of beauty in the view finder. It had all come together. Now it looks as though we could be friends – dare I say and she would laugh lovers but I had an intimate photograph of somebody who had written a book on beauty who I had only just met. Not bad for a sterile boardroom.

A few years ago I was asked by the curators at the The Cumberland Art Gallery at Hampton Court if I thought I had ever captured real beauty on film. They wanted me to have a panel discussion in front of a discerning audience and they would show several examples of great painters who had captured beauty down the decades. Now I was nervous. But I showed the shot of Zadie and I think I held my own against the masters.

Thanks Zadie.


The choir & organist of St Bride’s performed the following anthems and songs:

Ave verum corpus – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Corpus Christi Carol – Benjamin Britten arr. Harvey Brough
A million conversations – Rachel Sutton (performed by Rachel Sutton (god-daughter) acc. Roland Perrin – piano)
Waterloo Sunset – Ray Davies arr. Matthew Morley
Lilac Wine – James Shelton (performed by Chris Dowding – Trumpet, Hugh Nankivell – Piano, Ben McCabe – Drums)
Ludus Diei – Barry Stoller


Morning has broken
Lord of all hopefulness


Photo: Jane Bown

congregation sitting for service


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