08 May 2017

When John Peel met JFK

The following day [in 1961], the Kennedy/Johnson parade followed the same route [in Dallas], with the same cadets and the same majorettes. There seemed to be more people on the pavements and it seemed they were in a sombre mood. Although Lyndon Johnson was obviously one of them, Kennedy definitely was not. He was a Yankee, a Catholic and, it was universally agreed, a smartarse, and folks had, to a degree, turned out to hate him. At one stage, low on the hill that ran up Main Street from the area where Kennedy was, a couple of years later, to die, the motorcade came to a standstill opposite me. Seizing the moment, I ran forward to shake JFK's hand. 'Good luck, Mr Kennedy,' I said. 'Hey, you're from England,' he replied. When I told him that this was so, he asked me where from exactly, why I was in Texas, whether I liked it and whether I planned to stay. I was amazed, as we talked, that a man running for President of the USA could be interested in what I had to tell him. Hell, I couldn't even vote for him. Then he noticed the camera in my hand. 'Are you going to take a photo?' the future President asked, and when I said I'd like to, he suggested I should go back a few steps then, when I was ready, shout and he'd grin at me. So I stepped back three or four feet, raised the camera and yelled, 'Hey, Mr Kennedy.' He smiled and I pressed the button before going back to the side of the still stationary car to thank him. 'What are you going to do if that doesn't come out?' he asked. 'Why don't you take another one over the windscreen of the car? Then you can get Mr Johnson in as well.' So I moved to the front of the car, leaned on the bonnet and took another photograph. When I ran back to speak to John Kennedy again, someone else was talking to him, but he still found time to nod and suggest that I went to the other side of the car to meet LBJ. This I did before hurrying back to work. 

This is a story I've told, I'm afraid, hundreds of times, and each time have watched as my audiences have grown more incredulous. I have often imagined them wanting to ask whether there were Martians present at the events I described or whether I heard choirs of angels singing 'Hosanna!' as we spoke, and have wished that I finish by saying, reaching into my back pocket as I do, 'and here are the photographs'

- John Peel, Margrave of the Marshes, London, 2005, p.148-9.

[As luck would have it, the Peel JFK photos did in fact survive the destructive urges of Peel's first wife, and appear in Peel's autobiography.]
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