Shirley Baker - portrait

The cat, the birthday and a mystery figure

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People get in touch with the Shirley Baker Estate for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s to let them know they’ve spotted a familiar face in one of Shirley’s photographs, which is always a fascinating and emotional moment. 

But a recent communication was one that caused much amusement – and has also sparked a search for a mystery Manchester character.

It all started when Shirley Baker fan Peter Holt emailed in with a request. Peter’s girlfriend Rosemary had a birthday coming up and he’d decided he’d like to surprise her with a print or book by the photographer.

Shirley Baker photography Tomcat, Manchester 1981

Karl Coombes Tomcat, taken in Manchester, 1981


The couple were particularly fond of an image of Shirley’s (above) taken in 1981, featuring a cat staring into the camera; a wall behind is emblazoned with the graffiti “Karl Coombes Tomcat”.

Peter and Rosemary visited their local pet rescue centre in order to adopt a male cat but in the end returned home with two, a brother and a sister. And as Shirley’s cat photo was such a favourite of the couple, they named their two new moggies Shirley Baker and Karl Coombes. The smaller of the two in the photo is Shirley.

Karl Coombes and Shirley Baker pose
for the camera

What a cute pair they are. The folks at the Shirley Baker Estate are loving the tribute and are sure that Shirley would approve of her namesake.

Shirley Baker collage

However Karl Coombes remains an elusive figure. A bit of detective work shows that graffiti with the names Karl, Coombesy (and Janet) and Tom Cat pops up on several images Shirley took at a similar time. A collage of photos is shown above – click to enlarge – and we hope we may yet discover the identity of these Manchester characters in years past.

Tomcat by Shirley Baker image info: taken June 1981 – A Saturday afternoon – clearance area Salford Dockland. Shot with Pen F 1/2 frame 25mm lens, XPI film