Hugo Dixon 1964-2010

I was sad to learn that Hugo Dixon died last week, aged just 46, after what seems to have been a reasonably short and unexpected illness. He was a ubiquitous figure in my life in the 1990s, particularly, when I worked at Q magazine, where he was one of its best-loved and most reliable photographers. I was in contact with him last summer when I approached him about a photograph I know he had of me with Blur, taken in Paris for Q in 1994, one of many happy trips we went on at the time. It was during that email correspondence that Hugo informed me that the picture agency he’d been with had gone “tits up.” As a writer and commissioning editor at music magazines, I worked with tons of photographers. As a breed, they tended to be voluble, confident and larger-than-life personalities – you couldn’t really be a shrinking violet and encourage major rock stars to pose for your camera, or indeed engage in tricky diplomatic negotiations with PRs and managers in order to secure the access and time you needed with their major rock star. Hugo was certainly one of the good guys – he went out there and brought the pictures back, and was never one to moan about the often tiresome and unglamorous nature of the sort of job he’d be sent on.

There were always photographers (or “smudgers” as we’d disparagingly call those with inflated egos) who’d get the glamour jobs, the studio work, the cover shots … and Hugo was not one of them. He was the guy you’d send out if you needed on-the-road shots, pictures taken on the hoof or, what became his stock in trade, black and white portraits for Who The Hell … ? He, along with Chris Taylor and Ken Sharp, was as close to an official Q photographer as they came during that era, always pressed into jovial service for awards ceremonies and staff photos. You’re welcome to go and have a look at Hugo’s portfolio, although it is, for me, tinged with sadness now that he’s gone. You’ll see some classic shots from Q’s glory years in the 90s – the one of Michael Hutchence pointing that became a cover shot; Kurt Cobain; Bernard Manning – as well as more formal portraits of showbiz stars and comedians he did for Radio Times after he fell out of favour with subsequent editorial regimes at Q. (This is the lot of the freelance. You have to roll with the punches.) Hugo’s big love outside of music was cars, and I know he also did a lot of work for motoring magazines, which he must have loved. There was a spell with FHM, too, but hey, you’ve got to eat. And Hugo did eat, and enjoyed a pint. He was a big lad, rugby-sized, full of life and laughter and inappropriate comments, and we used to love the fact that, as a petrolhead, he used a tiny orange Fiat to drive into Central London, for ease of parking: it was almost like a suit of armour that fitted snugly around him and had wheels.

I have to admit, when I became features editor of Q, and then editor, I engineered it so that Hugo would accompany me on sporadic writing jobs I did. He came with me to Colchester, to the offices of EMI and to the studios of Later to capture the “actuality” shots of my first Blur cover story in 1994, while the more glamorous Andy Earl got to do the studio cover shots, although you wouldn’t hear Hugo complain. I think in many ways he preferred the free-form fun of the actuality gigs. When I went to Paris on the Eurostar to present a Q award to Blur around that time, I was quick to call Hugo up to do the honours. Again, not a massive job, but fun to do, and that was often enough for Hugo.

Since he died – I can’t quite believe this, yet – I have been in touch with his wife of many years, Jane, and actually discovered a bit more about what he’s been doing these past few years. This is not an official obituary so I won’t go into any more biographical detail, but I wanted to remember Hugo publicly, as he was a fantastic bloke, and one of the key figures in my happier memories of Q. My family will remember him too as he took my wedding photos, too. Who else?

I understood that it was when you reached your sixties that people around you started dying. It turns out it’s your forties. Robert Sandall, whom I also knew well from my Q years, also died this year. It seems so cruel and unlikely that I will bump into neither he nor Hugo again.

UPDATE: The Guardian have printed the obituary of Hugo which I wrote today (December 4), and it takes up almost a full page, which is no less than he deserve. It’s here.

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8 thoughts on “Hugo Dixon 1964-2010

  1. Very sad to hear about Hugo. He worked for a number of titles I published in the 90s, and took the pictures of me and my family that still sit on top of the piano. In fact, he took the most recent ones back in January this year, which only adds to the shock on hearing the news of his death. A top bloke, who will be sadly missed by all who knew him. My thoughts are with his family. Barry Mac

    • Having attended Hugo’s funeral yesterday – a packed house, standing room only, which was a great bodily tribute to the man: a lot of love in the room – I can report that, having been able to plan his own memorial, Hugo went out in a red coffin with the number 55 on it, painted to mirror the bodywork of his favourite car, with a driving helmet and his camera placed on top, and as the coffin disappeared, it went out to the theme from The Archers, followed by Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, which the congregation were encouraged to join in with. So sadness was deliberately sprinkled with laughter.

  2. Hi Andrew, it has been a while and I have just found out about Hugo, or in the strange way life works I found out just after he died but I didn’t know it was him. I was photographing a family in London (that’s what I do now) when the mother received a phone call from her best friend, upset that her brother had just died. It was kept from the children and I carried on with the shoot, oblivious to the fact that it was Hugo. The mother has just been in touch asking if I knew Hugo as she knows that I too worked on Q and surprised by the coincidence.

    Obviously I am very shocked. As you say he was one of the good guys, extremely likeable and always up for a chat about photography. He did like to rummage in my bag to see what equipment I was using. Most photographers like to do that and he was as keen as any I have met, talented and professional.

    Very sad.

    • It’s good to hear from you, Ken, despite the sad circumstances. You, Hugo and Chris Taylor were always Q’s three musketeers, especially around Q Awards time.

      I have written a much longer, more formal obituary of Hugo for the Guardian. Hopefully it will appear soon. I’ll provide a link when it does.

  3. The obituary I wrote for the Guardian is printed today. It’s virtually a full page, which makes me very proud, and serves as a worthy memorial to Hugo. I have put a link onto the end of the blog entry.

  4. Hello Andrew,

    I know it’s been something of a while but I was moved after hearing this incredibly sad news. I’ve just read your obituary, which is of course is spot on and really captures Hugo’s energy and professionalism. He was a real card during some of our adventures in hi-fi-land for Q and I’ve still got some of the outake trannies of Morris the kitten posing atop some 90s pre-iPod micro systems. He was always great company, and a fine social lubricant when faced with some of the drier personalities in the consumer electronics world. The inevitable distractions of family life and the great North-South London divide meant that our paths crossed less frequently in recent years, but I often recall some of the madder Q outings. Our deepest sympathies are with his family.
    With best wishes,
    Rob and Jess

  5. Just read the Guardian obituary; really sad news. I agree completely re Hugo being the photographer you’d always want with you on assignments. I remember one trip up to Sheffield, to Brendan Ingle’s boxing gym, then home to the likes of Prince Naseem et al. In the midst of all these pug nosed bruisers ‘ooffing and aahing’ whilst going about their hard-as-nails workouts, brows all furrowed, up pipes Hugo: ‘Gosh, those punches are whistling through the air like bullets!’ The whole room relaxed and laughed, and fine pics were taken. A joy to have been with.

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