AFTER more than three decades of taking pictures for newspapers, chief photographer Stan James, is retiring.

Reporter MICHAEL RUSSELL looks back at the highs and lows of his career and finds out what kept him doing it for so long ...

SCRIBBLERS may come and go but the ever-present Stan James has been the face of the Gazette for 25 years.

His cheery nature is synonymous with the paper and it is rare not to bump into someone who knows him and often people about to be photographed will ask: "Are you going to send Stan?"

Chatting to the 58-year-old about his experiences it's easy to see why - you rarely catch him in a bad mood and he loves his job.

The lifelong Ealing resident said: "No two days are ever the same. It's just extraordinary the mixture of things you're confronted with: a funeral one morning, a children's

party the next.

"But the most important thing is the community; I've met so many inspiring people. People always talk about doing a job like this as an extraordi-nary privilege. It sounds really corny but it's true.

"You meet people in very happy times when things are going really well and by the same token you meet people when they've just faced great tragedy after the death of loved ones.

"I never cease to be amazed at the amount of work and dedication that people do for others.

"It's a real pleasure to let other people know what they get up to."

Not only has Stan's years of experience made him the office oracle, his

knowledge of the area and people in it always called upon, it also means he's seen a lot of changes and captured history in the making.

Stan, who has been a journalist for 30 years, added: "The technology has changed almost beyond recognition. There are no dark rooms and stinky chemicals. Now you get to see pictures straight away and share them with the people you're photographing, which is really nice.

"But the fundamental aspects of photography remain exactly the same - composition and being able to tell a story with the pictures.

"The best time was working for the Gazette when we covered Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea as well as Westminster. It was a really exciting combination of areas."

Stan has photographed most of the royal family, celebrities and politicians, covered countless demos by trade unions, poll tax protesters and others, and experienced the tension and drama on the touch line of many a football match, as well as other sports.

But his most memorable job was back in 1980 while working for the Harrow Observer, his only press photographer's job before the Gazette - it ended up with him being taken hostage for four hours.

He explained: "It was New Year's Eve and we'd got a call from a guy saying he'd got a self-portrait of Peter Sutcliffe as Christ smuggled out of Parkhurst prison.

"A reporter and I turned up to his flat in Neasden but he didn't get on with my colleague, accusing him of being old bill.

"The reporter ended up walking out, but, when I tried to follow, the guy locked the door and said I couldn't leave until my newspaper gave him satisfaction.

"I knew I had to keep calm and upbeat but I did think I was in trouble. He was a rough, tough-looking character.

"To cut a long story short my editor turned up with five cops and negotiated with him through the letterbox. As soon as he opened the door the police rushed in.

It turned out my captor was Rocky Ryan, a well known newspaper prankster."

It's certainly going to be a change of pace for Stan, who had wanted to be a photographer from an early age and never considered himself anything else. "I've always been proud to be part of the community, and to see my byline in the newstand.

"I'm going to miss it but I think 30 years is long enough for any individual to do one thing. I welcome the opportunity to take stock and perhaps slow down a bit; it has been a bit hectic."