Roger Bamber’s simple yet perfect image of a boy laughing at a Punch and Judy show on Brighton beach was part of his winning portfolio for the photographer of the year award in 1992. Photograph: Roger Bamber/TopFoto

Photojournalist who covered war, politics and music for newspapers from the Sun to the Guardian

Leading photographer Roger Bamber, who passed away at the age of 78 from lung disease, covered politics, riots, and music for British publications including the Sun and the Guardian. A singular accomplishment, he was named photographer of the year for each of those publications.

He captured one of the iconic pictures of Freddie Mercury playing at Live Aid in 1985 when he was at the Sun. One of his iconic black-and-white shots for the Guardian shows a lonely youngster on Brighton Beach pointing and giggling at a Punch and Judy act. When Roger won the photographer of the year award for the Guardian in 1992, it was a piece of his portfolio.

In 1988, Roger started working as a freelancer for the Observer. He quickly moved on to the Guardian once I joined to oversee the picture desk, and the then-editor, Peter Preston, asked him to take on the Independent, which had gained notoriety for its outstanding photography.

Roger assisted our team in accomplishing this goal with the support of his many honors and accolades, eye for a fantastic photo, and boundless energy and excitement. I formerly held the opinion that because Guardian readers frequented art museums and enjoyed quality television and movies, they deserved to be inspired by the images they saw there. The reader was prompted to pause, smile, and even look twice by Bamber’s images. A photo editor’s fantasy, he was.

Roger Bamber instinctively knew what – or who – would make a great photograph.

Roger Bamber instinctively knew what – or who – would make a great photograph. Photograph: Roger Bamber/Alamy

He adored capturing the beauty of shape and form, often with a wry smile and sometimes even a dash of anarchy. He was a real pictorialist. He specialized in tracking down eccentric artists and craftspeople throughout the nation who, in his gut, he felt would make fascinating subjects for pictures. Roger liked trains, and one of his most famous images, The Station Under the Station, depicts a huge train enthusiast admiring his prized collection via a small station. The photograph has a great sense of scale, and it looked fantastic in the paper.

He would take fifty shots of the same sight from slightly varied perspectives. It often seemed to me to be the same image on six distinct contact sheets; sometimes, I just used a pin to choose one at random; they were all excellent.

Roger Bamber was a picture editor’s dream, with images such as this of Margaret Thatcher picking up manure on a farm.

Roger Bamber was a picture editor’s dream, with images such as this of Margaret Thatcher picking up manure on a farm. Photograph: Roger Bamber/Alamy

Roger was the younger of two children born in Leicester to Fred Bamber, a telephone operator, and Vera (née Stephenson), who worked in the region’s textile sector. Roger’s passion with steam locomotives began as a young boy while living near to the Great Central Railway line. This curiosity would later turn into a lifetime obsession.

Roger enrolled in a graphic art programme at Leicester College of Art in 1960 after graduating from Beaumont Leys Secondary School at the age of 16. However, it became evident that his future lay in photography when he spent his whole £80 student stipend for the year upgrading his Rolleicord camera to a Nikon. As a result, after graduating in 1963, he worked as a junior photographer at a nearby advertising firm, Fleetway Publications. Roger was asked back to teach in the college’s inaugural photography course the following year, even though he was just 19 years old.

Roger received his first Fleet Street job in 1965, a year later, when selling his portfolio on his first day in London for the Daily Mail, a broadsheet at the time, which covered news and features. While there, he received the British Press Awards’ commercial and industrial photographer of the year (1967).

He was hired by the launch team of Rupert Murdoch’s new endeavor, the tabloid Sun newspaper, in November 1969. Over the course of his 19 years there, he covered everything from war to rock and pop, and he won several prizes, including photographer of the year for his snap from 1973 showing a wounded and bleeding lawyer being escorted to safety after the IRA attacked the Old Bailey.

He traveled on tour at this period with artists like David Bowie and the Rolling Stones. The Stones gave him permission to shoot the rehearsals for the opening night of their European tour at the Festhalle in Frankfurt, according to a scrawled letter on hotel stationary dated 1976. In a photograph taken of Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall in Barbados in 1983, Jagger can be seen playing his guitar and laughing uncontrollably. This isn’t because Hall is expecting their first child, Elizabeth, but rather because Roger had been swept away by a large wave, but he still managed to get his picture.

A pair of giant legs on the roof of the Duke of York cinema, Brighton. Roger Bamber was awarded an honorary master’s degree from the University of Brighton, for his coverage of the city.

A pair of giant legs on the roof of the Duke of York cinema, Brighton. Roger Bamber was awarded an honorary master’s degree from the University of Brighton for his coverage of the city. Photograph: Roger Bamber/Alamy

Roger came to Brighton in 1973, and in 1999 he assisted Brighton and Hove council in securing city status, with the help of his portraits and photographs of favorite locations.

In 2005, the University of Brighton granted him an honorary master’s degree “for his distinguished photojournalism and the wealth of images of Brighton inspired by the city.” Given that he had graduated from high school without earning a single O-level, he was thrilled to get this honor.

Roger, who lived in Brighton but loathed cricket since his first love was Leicester City FC, was often seen wearing a sweater from the Leicester Cricket Club underneath a sports jacket.

Up until his 2009 retirement from mainstream newspaper photography, Roger was receiving honors. He continued taking pictures of everything and everything that attracted his attention while patiently encouraging aspiring photographers. Roger was ecstatic to receive (and was editing until the very last) the proofs of his upcoming book, Out of the Ordinary, in the days before he passed away.

In 2004, he wed journalist Shân Lancaster, his longtime lover. The pair, who were married for 40 years, had met while reporting on the Falklands War for the Sun.

He is survived by his sister Valerie and by Shân.

Roger Bamber, photographer, born 31 August 1944; died 11 September 2022

Thanks to at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.