Who Was Rory Peck?

Rory Peck was one of the most skillful and respected freelance cameramen of his generation, who captured some of the most enduring news images of the late twentieth century.

A brief history.

From left: Patrick Robert, Juliet Crawley-Peck, Bob Nickelsberg, and Rory Peck.
From left: Patrick Robert, Juliet Crawley-Peck, Bob Nickelsberg, and Rory Peck.

Rory covered the first Gulf War, wars in Bosnia and Afghanistan and the many armed conflicts that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union, where he moved with his wife Juliet and their four children after covering the coup against Gorbachev.

He was one of a growing number of camera operators who worked independently, supplying footage to a range of organisations, including the BBC and ARD. He was also a founder partner of Frontline Television News, a London-based co-operative of freelance cameramen, which he set up with Vaughan Smith, Peter Jouvenal and Nicholas Della Casa in 1989.

Rory was killed in Moscow in 1993 while on the job. He had been filming a vicious gun battle outside the Ostankino television station during Russia’s October coup and was caught in crossfire. After his death, Rory was awarded the Order for Personal Courage by then-President Boris Yeltsin.

The Rory Peck Trust was set up in memory of Rory in 1995 by Juliet and a group of close friends to provide support for the families of freelance camera operators. The Trust has since grown into an international organisation that supports all freelance newsgatherers.

Origin of the Trust.

In September 2005, Juliet Crawley Peck, Rory’s widow, wrote the following piece about Rory, life after his death and her decision to set up the Trust. Juliet died on 10 January 2007.

“Rory and I always did everything in a hurry. We married within days of starting an affair so that he could go to Baghdad for the First Gulf War and I could return to Peshawar. Our decision to move to Moscow was made when we were there by chance the weekend of the coup against Gorbachev.

I soon gave up my own work so that we could work together, running from one conflict to another, one country to another continent. It was life on the run, stimulating and happy with never a moment to think of implications and consequences. The consequences of these decisions became startlingly clear after Rory was killed during the revolt against Yeltsin in October 1993. Overnight the family income dried up.

The BBC generously took over the repatriation of Rory’s body and helped move my family back from Moscow, but they had no legal responsibility to give further financial support. Although on the afternoon of Rory’s death we had been called up by the German television station ARD and asked specifically to film in the city centre, they too had no obligation to assist further than a very limited package. We had always known that they did not have insurance for us, and as independents working in war zones it was impossible for us to finance our own insurance.

To compound the problem, within days of Rory’s death I was diagnosed with cancer of the tear duct and had to stay in England for treatment for the next year. Life slowed down.

Unable to work and with rapidly dwindling resources, I turned to various charities and Trusts specifically established for journalists and their families. We fell between every stool: not belonging to the right union; not having the right training, not working for the right organisation, not having ticked the right box. Thankfully friends and family came to our assistance, but it made me wonder how others managed.

I spoke with friends of wanting to establish an Award in Rory’s memory, to raise the profile of the work of freelance cameramen and their vital contribution to newsgathering. The discussions developed, and with the vital help of John Gunston and Tira Shubart, and a cheque from Lady Lothian, an idea merged into a reality.

To my delight, there is now not only the internationally recognised Rory Peck Awards, but we are also able to give substantial help to families around the world, who may have never heard of Rory, but money raised in his name can help them in their myriad needs.

This surely is a memorial worth his name, hastily conceived, but built on a sure foundation.”