Bill Bates was born 1921 in Southall, Middlesex. Bill’s father had worked for the Napier Engineering Company and Bill followed him as an indentured apprentice engineer. Bill still has his indentures, which were produced on real linen and he got them out to show me one evening whilst I was visiting him.
I had known Bill for a number of years by this stage and spent most of my lunchtimes at Harpers and some evenings helping him out in the darkroom printing up pictures for his clients. As I mentioned earlier, Bill was like a second father to me and I listened to him carefully and in the main he was my mentor and good friend.
Immediately after resigning from AFN, packing my toolbox into my car, I drove straight round to Harpers Yard and went into Bill’s office.
Bill had rented the office (which was originally designed as a shop) from Porsche Cars Great Britain and you could access the office from either South Street through the shop door or by going through the metal pedestrian security gate into Harper’s Yard and using a side door into Bill’s office.
That afternoon, I walked in his side door from Harper’s Yard, hung my coat on the back of his door and declared that I had come to work for him! Bill was a bit taken back at hearing this, so I sat down to explained my run in with Philip Tyrell after Ernie Gregory had fallen over and my decision to leave AFN.
As soon as I had explained my position to Bill, Lawrence Hardwick arrived and asked me to come back and sort my differences out with Philip and resume work at AFN. I refused and stuck to my guns. Bill was a long-time friend of Lawrence and he felt in a difficult position, but the two men talked together and Bill asked him to give me some time to think things through on this matter.
I was once told that you should make a decision and stick to it and I did in this particular case.
It was Christmas in December 1974 and I never returned to AFN. I started working with Bill straight away as a freelance photographer learning his business.
As the annual AFN Christmas party that day and Bill had been invited to be Santa Claus, I agreed to go along with him as I think Lawrence was hoping to get me to change my mind about leaving. Bill said, “Why not take a camera and get straight to work as a photographer”, so I went to the AFN party with Bill and covered the event not as an AFN mechanic but as a Van Hallan staff photographer.
In the New Year, things soon straightened themselves out between AFN and me and I became better friends with John Aldington, Peter Bulbeck, Lawrence Hardwick, Campbell Findlay and others after leaving.
Bill did the vast majority of photographic work for AFN and Porsche Cars Great Britain and had lived for a while with John and Gillian Aldington out at their home in Nettlebed, Oxfordshire, so I was still in the Porsche fold albeit not directly working on the cars as a mechanic.
We did a lot of Porsche photo shoots so we got to drive the latest Porsche models, which we had for the day’s photography.