Brunel photographs on Radio 4!



Eton Viaduct, from a photograph © David White

Today, first broadcast in October 1957, is an early morning news and current affairs programme produced by the BBC’s Radio 4, and is generally considered to be the most influential news programme in Britain. It was the first to dispute the details of the government’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Dossier (which made the case for invading Iraq) alleging that the document was ‘sexed up’ by Government spin doctors. Government weapons expert, David Kelly, was one of the programme’s sources. After Kelly’s alleged suicide, and following the controversial Hutton Inquiry into his death, the BBC’s Director General, Greg Dyke, and the BBC’s Chairman Gavyn Davies both resigned. Programme editor, Kevin Marsh, was sidelined and Andrew Gillingham, the journalist who made the allegations was forced to resign. Subsequent revelations have shown that the Today story was, in fact, 100% correct.

Recently, Today has not shirked from broadcasting both the Government’s and the Opposition’s views regarding the arrest of Damian Green, MP. But not everything on the programme is hardcore politics. Last week, the programme commemorated the 150 years that had passed since the death of Robert Howlett – the young photographer who took the iconic image of Isambard Kingdom Brunel standing in front of the giant chains of his greatest masterpiece The Great Eastern – which at the time was the biggest ship ever built.

At the time Brunel was building the Great Western Railway, photography was in its infancy and the most famous early pictures of the line are a series of wash drawings commissioned by Charles Cheffins and executed by John Cooke Bourne. These were then printed in the The History and Description of the Great Western Railway published by David Bogue in 1846.

These facts, however, did not however stop photographer David White from building a replica of Howlett’s camera and using it to photograph Brunel’s surviving engineering masterpieces between Bristol and London. One of his photographs is an oddity, for Eton Viaduct on the Slough – Windsor branch line is almost certainly not designed by Brunel. (Brunel favoured elliptical arches for bridges crossing the smallest of obstacles.) Lacking any decoration (another Brunel feature) it was probably regarded by the GWR as no more an extended series of culverts across the Eton Wick flood meadows. But at 1 ½ miles long it is one of Britain’s longer railway viaduct’s and the rather attractive iron bowstring bridge across the Thames is undoubtedly by Brunel.

Though the particular edition of Today that carried an interview with David White is no longer available on the BBC website, the BBC have put together a most attractive slide show compilation of some of David’s photographs taken by him with his replica camera. David’s presence on the WWW includes his own picture agency – Duckrabbit, blog and website. The last includes some remarkable photographs of engineering work being carried out on the London Underground.

  • BBC, Radio 4, TodayBrunel’s achievements revisited
  • David White –
  • Duckrabbit – blog
    (info on using the Howlett camera)
  • David White – archive (includes GWR and Underground)
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    One Response to “Brunel photographs on Radio 4!”

    1. Benjamin Says:


      Benjamin from duckrabbit here.

      THANK YOU. This is fascinating and I have just sent the link to David.

      Glad you liked the Underground photos too.


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