Thurston Hopkins was born in south London. In 1940 Hopkins joined the RAF Photographic Unit and acquired his own Leica, serving in Italy and the Middle East until 1945. His desire to join Picture Post was fired by finding copies “in every tent and service club overseas”.
After the war, Hopkins hitchhiked around Europe, honing his skills in the perceived tradition of Picture Post and producing a dummy issue composed entirely of his own features. He got work at the magazine as a freelancer and from 1950 as a staffer, working exclusively for the magazine alongside Humphrey Spender, Leonard McCombe, Bert Hardy and John Chillingworth. He frequently posed his most apparently spontaneous images. In a typical example from 1954, a child emerges from a coal-hole in a Native American headdress, and takes aim with his gun at the camera.
In 1955 Hopkins met Grace Robertson, a photographer 17 years his junior, nearly a foot taller, and daughter of the broadcaster Fyfe Robertson. Grace would later observe that “it keeps Thurston on his toes being married to a younger woman”, and explained the vision they shared with the magazine: “I can’t recall anyone at Picture Post mentioning the ethics of photojournalism. It was just understood: a code of behaviour which reflected the seriousness of the magazine and the respect in which it was held.” The couple had a daughter and a son.
After Picture Post folded in 1957, Hopkins ran an advertising studio in Chiswick, west London, for 10 years. Its success was clinched as much by the Spanish launch of the Ford Escort as by Hopkins’s ability to keep adapting proven skills. A portrait of a limousine owner-driver with a regal poodle sitting bolt upright in the passenger seat was ripe for commercial exploitation. Titled La Dolce Vita, Knightsbridge (1953), it became Hopkins’s most popular postcard, poster and calendar image.
One of the first essays by Hopkins published in Picture Post was his ‘Cats of London’ (Feb 1951 edition), almost certainly suggested by the many cats he met while walking around the streets of London on other assignments. The blitz had made many cats homeless, and these strays had often established themselves in the bombsites, living and breeding more or less wild on the scraps the could find and that friendly neighbours put out from them.
Hopkins’s work on cats and Liverpool reflected the popular and political aspects of Picture Post’s mission: two million readers were as likely to be interested in the pets and strays on the bomb sites of the capital as in destitute Merseyside families.