A life in several series

Peter Penny talks to workingwise.co.uk about his eventful working life – one of multiple careers, from photography with Mary Quant to coaching and teaching, and his interest in purposeful work.

Peter Penny

 

Peter Penny says he has lived his life in several series. He started off at art college in his teens and did some paid work in the summer at a studio which he found more interesting than his course. Because he was spending more time there than at college he got expelled. Soon after his father died, Peter decided to take off to Italy, ending up in Rome where he got a job washing dishes. 

Then came the opportunity to work in a photography darkroom. Peter fell in love almost instantly with life behind the camera lens. The senior photographer at the studio was very creative and assertive. “He had me and the other assistant running everywhere,” says Peter, adding that the photographer encouraged him to do a photography course on the side of his work. The studio worked on a variety of projects, from photographing cosmetics and beauty products to doing romantic photo stories for magazines.

On his return to the UK in the late 1960s, Peter had an interesting CV, the time in Rome adding a certain sense of romance. He soon got a job on a cosmetics project and ended up working for the team that did the photography for fashion designer Mary Quant. At the time Mary Quant was expanding into cosmetics. Peter’s background was perfect for this and from there he went on to work regularly for the brand, progressing from photographing Mary Quant cosmetics to designing a daisy-shaped counter for her for Harrods. Over the next years, he rubbed shoulders with everyone from David Hockney to Elizabeth Frink. “They were amazing people, but I didn’t really realise who they were,” he says of that time.

From there he moved further into promotional work and went freelance. He started filming in different parts of the world for large companies with big budgets. He worked, for instance, on glamorous shoots for the launch of new cars, including Hertz Europe’s luxury car service, Prestige, shooting in Paris, Berlin and Rome, using helicopters and borrowing ideas from James Bond films to give the adverts extra drama. One job led to another.  

Globe trotting

Peter travelled across the world, from Africa to the US and Canada and all over Europe, including Monte Carlo, at a time when travel to remote areas was slightly more complicated than it is today. The main agency he worked in the 1970s was Mitchell Monkhouse Associates. It was the start of commercial tv and the company was involved in writing jingles for tv adverts. It got taken over by Saatchi & Saatchi. Peter says it was fascinating being in at the beginning of a tv revolution. 

Peter was also in at the start of the move from film to video and the later evolution from video to digital as filming became more mobile. In the 1980s, a time of big stadium rock shows and exotic videos, he worked on the launch of British Airways and big-name brands such as Xerox, IBM, and Dell. 

Sometimes his family would come along with him on projects. He recalls a family stay in Monte Carlo and in the Seychelles. “It was glamorous for all of us,” he says, although when he couldn’t take his family it could sometimes be difficult to keep in touch. He remembers one long project in Mauritius where he had to book a call to his family and it might take hours to get through.

A family business

In 2002, when his son graduated from Bristol Old Vic theatre school and decided a career in the Royal Shakespeare Company was not for him, Peter set up a film and documentary company with him called Connected Pictures. His son had grown up with Peter’s work and knew the area of commercials, documentaries and corporate films well. “We set up the company to build on our past,” says Peter. 

His son has stayed with the company and developed it further. Now the focus is on creating a unique cross platform experience and insight to create deeper connections between brands, businesses, organisations and their audiences. The company is focused increasingly on the idea of purpose over profit and has set up an editorial site and consultancy called thebeautifultruth.org.uk.

The business started two years after Peter’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Within four or five years she was given the all-clear. However, in 2010 she collapsed and was diagnosed with a brain tumour.  Doctors tried to remove it, but couldn’t get all of it. She died just before Christmas.

Peter spent the next year climbing a mountain a month across the world to raise funds for a brain tumour charity and he is writing a book about this experience, describing how it helped him to move forwards. 

Work with purpose

His grief also drove him to find more purposeful work and to get more involved in community projects. He made some films off his own back, including one in India getting children in slum areas to tell their stories to raise funds for charity. This came about through a contact at the NSPCC. Peter describes interviewing one girl who was married at 14 and lost her first two children. Connected Pictures has also done some films about health programmes in Peru and Africa.

Peter has also stepped back from Connected Pictures in the last few years to focus on coaching others. “I wanted to look at how I could help others rather than just talk about it,” he says.  He took courses on mindfulness and psychology at Oxford and now works with a partner Teresa Havvas who is an experienced tutor. Both of them lecture on these subjects and on being entrepreneurial in a creative field. Throughout the pandemic he has been helping his clients and says he has seen how Covid has caused people to rethink their lives. “They are asking themselves what is important and what is not,” he says. It’s about opening up the possibilities people face and about giving people both the ability to understand what drives them but also the tools to do something more creative.

Peter has certainly lived a full life – a life of many episodes and series – and now his focus, like many in their later years, is on making a difference and helping others to do so too.



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