9/11 photographer tells of day he saw Twin Towers fall

Yorkshire photographer and filmmaker Paul Berriff at Ground Zero in New York.
Yorkshire photographer and filmmaker Paul Berriff at Ground Zero in New York.

By Graham Chalmers

A Yorkshire photographer who was on the ground in New York City on the day of 9/11 is coming to Harrogate to give a talk for charity.

Internationally-acclaimed photographer and BAFTA award-winning factual filmmaker Paul Berriff was a firsthand witness to the terrible events of that day when the Twin Towers were hit by terrorists.

On Friday, September 11, the 14th anniversary of that terrible day, he will be presenting not only his memories but his footage of those dreadful moments at Ground Zero.

Held at The Crown Hotel, this in a Harrogate Theatre Fundraising event is called 9/11: Me, My Wife, and Muffin the Cat and is expected to give a fascinating insight into the life of a Bedale-based lensman who been there and done it - from Yorkshire landscapes to The Beatles.

Paul, who began his career at the Yorkshire Evening Post in the mid-1960s, and went on to become the youngest ever cameraman for the BBC at 21, had been in New York for several months in the run-up to 9/11 filming for Discovery Animal Planet.

Living just two blocks from the Twin Towers with his wife and adopted New York street cat Muffin, he found himself at the base of the Towers, just minutes before they collapsed.

They were both ablaze after the impact of the hijacked passenger planes flown by the terrorists. Paul had his camera and he had his film crew and, being a professional, he started to shoot the events as they unfolded.

The vastly experienced Paul’s camera had travelled the globe but nothing prepares you for those moments.

He said: “I had walked onto a horror movie set, an apocalyptic vision. I must have been the first person alive to be standing so close, so soon, after the collapses. There was an eerie silence, punctuated only by sirens.”

When the buildings started to collapse he and his crew has to run for their lives amid the falling debris and massive clouds of white dust.

When not taking photographs or making films, Paul had anything but a quiet life. He has trained as a firefighter and is a qualified lifeboat man and coastguard.

He also set up the Humber Lifeboat, one of Britain’s busiest rescue stations.

He even received an award for bravery, the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct, after he saved a student from drowning in the Scottish Highlands.

Right place, right time again for a man who made the most of his talents even as a teenager.

Tickets are available from Harrogate Theatre Box Office at www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk or 01423 502116. There will be complimentary sandwiches on arrival, sponsored by The Crown Hotel.