Who is Dezo Hoffman? And why he’s rolling home to Slovakia after nearly a century…

Dezo Hoffman is said to have taken the first professional photographs of The Beatles in the very early 1960s. He was already 50 years old and by talent and luck was catapulted into that hallucinogenic hedonistic decade which few of us can actually remember but none of us want to forget. Sadly though, in so many ways Dezo Hoffman has been left to buffet around in dimmer memories of the time when a generation ‘turned on and tuned in’. Yet, this former Czech soldier documented so many of the ‘greats’ – The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield, Charlie Chaplin, Sophia Loren, Laurence Olivier, The Kinks, Tom Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Omar Sharif and Pink Floyd. The list is endless.
And one of his pictures is seen as one of the era’s most iconic … it shows ‘peace and love man’ hero George Harrison sporting a black eye after getting into a full-blown fight  with a fan over the sacking of drummer Pete Best, the man vaguely remembered as the Fifth Beatle. Dezo’s celebrity career began with a psychedelic spurt in 1962 and basically spluttered out in 1966. But now Dezider Hoffmann is becoming a bit of a celebrity himself. And finally he is coming home. His childhood home in Banská Štiavnica is becoming a shrine to his work. The family’s 250-year-old single story house in the centre of the ancient town in the Štiavnica Mountains  is being restored by brothers Šimon and Michal Šafařík. They hope it will open to the public soon. Michal said: “The house is of craftsman origin. It was divided into two parts, there was a workshop in the first part and a family lived in the second,.and we just wanted to preserve this little bit of history.” Their project was supported by the Culture Ministry and now the businessmen are in the process of buying Dezo’s original photos.
Dezo was born in this tiny enclave of what is now Slovakia in 1912. After studying journalism in Prague, he got a job at Twentieth Century Fox in Paris as a photojournalist. His first major work was a film of Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia and things really took off.  After returning from Africa he went to Spain to film the 1936 People’s Olympiad – a protest against the official Olympic games in Berlin. But civil war broke out and Dezo found himself on the barricades.
He was injured and moved to Britain to recover. He lived comfortably in St Paul’s Road, Leicester, with his wife and daughter Dolores. But despite his war wounds, Dezo’s sense of adventure took over and he joined a  squadron of Czechoslovak pilots flying with the RAF during World War II. After the war he got a job on the Record Mirror. And that’s how he met the Beatles. Sadly, Dezo Hoffman has became largely forgotten, although exhibitions of his work pop up in various places, including Hungary in 2015. But recently some pictures he took in Leicester –  of a a street party in 1953 to celebrate the Queen’s Coronation – were discovered in a box by his family.
His son-in-law, Christopher Prevost, who lives in Kent, said: “When he was in London, his studio and office were in Gerrard Street. We were sorting through a box full of photographs from there, my wife and I recently came across these taken in Leicester..” And so now his story has come full circle… to begin again in the tiny Slovak home he spent his childhood in, more than a century ago.