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Lloyd George photos in the Daily Encounters exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

July 11, 2007 5:38 PM

A new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square, Daily Encounters - Photographs from Fleet Street, Exploring Britain and Britishness through newspaper photography, tells the story of photojournalism since its earliest days to the near present. It features some pictures of Lloyd George as early examples of the kind of press photographs which have become commonplace to modern newspaper readers but which were innovative when they were taken.

The first photograph was taken in the garden of LG's house in Wandsworth in about 1904. It shows LG in a family portrait with his wife, Margaret and his daughter Mair (1890-1907) who is carrying the infant Megan (b.1902). Here we see the politician posing for the press as family patriarch - now clichéd from a million election addresses and newspaper articles, perhaps now rather discredited in the wake of repeated sexual scandal and different patterns of family life. The caption beneath the photograph mentions that LG later engaged Frances Stevenson as a governess for Megan, then employed her as his secretary and that she later became his mistress. It also states that Frances Stevenson gave birth to a daughter of her own in 1929 but perhaps coyly does not give any opinion about who her father was. An interesting thing about this photograph is that, at the time it was taken in 1904, LG was still an opposition backbencher. He did not hold a government or shadow government post until he entered Henry Campbell-Bannerman's government of December 1905 as President of the Board of Trade. It shows that although not a frontbencher he had enough of a public profile as a radical politician from his opposition to the 1902 Education Act and his stand against the Boer War to be featured in this way.

The second photograph of LG shows him during the First World War visiting troops at Fricourt in Picardy. This photograph was taken on 12 September 1916. At that time Fricourt was part of the Western Front during the four-month conflict that was the Battle of the Somme. A million casualties were recorded in total between July and November 1916. The picture shows LG smiling and waving his hat in appreciation of the troops. The caption mentions that the purpose of the visit was to get a grasp of the situation on the ground and to raise morale. It was, the caption says, 'an early example of what became established practice, the press photo of the domestically embattled politician mixing with soldiers at the front line'.

Was LG 'domestically embattled' at this time? It is arguable that he was close to reaching the peak of his powers. In September 1916, he had until recently been a highly successful and energetic Minister of Munitions, who was ensuring, through intelligent relations with the factory owners and the trade unions, that increasing quantities of munitions were being produced. His stance in favour of conscription was controversial inside the Liberal Party but was increasingly being made by Liberals as the war dragged on. It certainly earned him admiration from the Conservatives in Asquith's coalition government. In July 1916, LG became Secretary for War and by the autumn was pressing effectively for a more focussed and dynamic prosecution of the war. This eventually led to Asquith's resignation and LG's becoming prime minister. Perhaps then less an embattled politician than one battling to secure the kudos of being photographed with the troops on the ground at a time when the prosecution of the war was the vital political issue and the issue which would propel LG into number 10 Downing Street.

Among the other interesting photos in the exhibition from LG's era is one of Winston Churchill at the siege of Sidney Street in 1911 in his role as Home Secretary, or more accurately in his role as shameless publicist. A photograph from 1914 shows Mrs Pankhurst being arrested and led away from outside Buckingham Palace in a suffragist protest, having failed to hand in a petition to the King. A picture taken in 1931 shows Stanley Baldwin and Ramsey Macdonald seated at a press conference, announcing the creation of the National Government. Where was Herbert Samuel?

A much more recent photograph taken on 27 July 1970 shows then prime minister Edward Heath together with Leader of the Opposition Harold Wilson and Jeremy Thorpe as Leader of the Liberal Party at Westminster Abbey for the unveiling of a memorial to Lloyd George.

The exhibition runs until 21 October 2007 and costs £5 to enter (concessions available for those eligible).