From England and Poland to Israel: The story of the Queen's photographer

Charles Green has a "rags to riches" story: Escaping near-death in Nazi-controlled Germany, his mother got him to England. Growing up poor, he became a one-of-a-kind photographer.

 Charles Greens' portrait of Queen Elizabeth. (photo credit: CHARLES GREEN)
Charles Greens' portrait of Queen Elizabeth.
(photo credit: CHARLES GREEN)

Charles Green has lived in Netanya with his wife, Toni, since they made aliyah in 2013. After a few years in Israel, with his ship safely in harbor, he decided to put down on paper the story of his extraordinary life; a “rags to riches” tale if ever there was one. It would be his legacy to his three children and 10 grandchildren.

Green was born in the United Kingdom in 1950. His mother, Anna, fleeing persecution in Germany just before World War II, managed to reach her sister in England. After the war, already in her forties, Anna made an unfortunate marriage to a Polish widower 17 years her senior. He abandoned her six months after the birth of their son. Green – the family name anglicized from Grynblatt when his parents married – saw his father only once more in his entire life.

He was raised by his mother, who made a precarious living repairing silk stockings but who had set her sights on moving to Israel, where her son could receive a proper Jewish education. The cost of a passage for the two of them seemed entirely beyond reach, until she suddenly received compensation and a pension from the German government in recompense for the persecution she had endured. In 1960 Anna and her 10-year-old son sailed to Israel on a Zim liner to seek a better way of life.

Relatives already living in the country eased the way for them, and it was in Israel that Green was educated, celebrated his bar mitzvah and developed a passion for filmmaking. At the time Israel offered few opportunities to train for such a career. Anna wrote to her sister, Rosa, in London who arranged suitable interviews for the young man. Green enrolled at what was then the London School of Film Technique, later known as the London International Film School, for a two-year course. He and his mother relocated back to the UK.

He was set on the path that would lead to his becoming, in the words of John Henshall, president of the Guild of Television Camera Professionals, “one of the greatest exponents ever of professional photography.” His natural talent, combined with grit, dogged determination and sheer hard work, resulted in a highly successful business career, but also recognition by the photographic worlds of Britain and the US. He strove for, and eventually gained, Fellowships in all the major professional photographic institutions.

His growing reputation as one of the world’s leading portrait photographers led to his being asked by officials at Buckingham Palace to apply for the position of official investiture photographer to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Summoned to Buckingham Palace for an interview, he made it clear from the outset that he was an observant Jew, and would not work on the Sabbath.

“That’s not a problem at all,” he was told. “We do not have investitures on any holy day of any religion.”

Green was awarded the exclusive contract.

Investitures are occasions when people who have contributed something special to public life are presented with a formal honor by the Queen herself or a member of the royal family. About 30 investitures are held each year, with over 100 recipients at each. After the ceremony, they are offered the chance to be photographed in the precincts of Buckingham Palace.

Green held this contract for 20 years, and in that time created portraits for over 50,000 investiture recipients and their families. He was also invited to photograph the Queen and members of the royal family on many occasions. “My Journey to Buckingham Palace and Beyond” is replete with color photographs, not only of the Queen, but of a wide variety of celebrities who agreed to participate in a charitable photographic event that Green dreamed up just ahead of the millennium.

The book is a delight to handle for the portraits themselves, but the story Green has to tell also keeps the reader enthralled. He has chosen to do so by way of 100 brief chapters, each a vignette covering some aspect of his incident-packed life. Some of his chapters are less than a page in length. The longest, appropriately enough, is Chapter 63: “A Call from the Palace”, which spans 11 pages.

  My Journey to Buckingham Palace and Beyond By Charles Green (credit: Courtesy) My Journey to Buckingham Palace and Beyond By Charles Green (credit: Courtesy)

Intermingled with the details of his photographic career, Green also tells the story of his family – his marriage, the birth of his three children, and eventually each of their marriages too. We see them at various stages of their lives through the many family photographs that also illustrate the book. 

This engaging and well-written autobiography, lavish with illustrations, is a delightful record of Green’s life and highly successful career as a world-class professional photographer.