Johnny Johnson was a popular member of the Oxford Mail staff, covering hundreds of stories during a lengthy career as a photographer.

But he earned headlines himself after one particularly newsworthy episode – the day he shot dead an escaped wolf.

We were reminded of his moment of fame by a Headington reader who saw a picture of him on one of our Looking Back pages (Oxford Mail, September 13).

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The caption read: “Johnny Johnson sharing his memories of hunting and killing an escaped wolf.”

The reader, who does not give his or her name, writes: “As I know nothing about this incident, I wondered if you could kindly print the story.”

The wolf was one of three that escaped from Oxford Zoo at Kidlington in 1937.

Two were quickly rounded up – Inspector Barnett shot the first near police houses in Banbury Road, while Robert Collett, of Hampton Poyle, shot the second at his father’s farm.

The third, however, roamed the area for days, causing panic in the community.

On the fourth day of the search, Johnny left the Oxford Mail offices with his camera and 12-bore shotgun.

He recalled in his memoirs: “I found 14 dead sheep in a field near Cutteslowe and saw the wolf on the back of another. The wolf went off, but later I saw it at the top end of a meadow.

Oxford Mail: Johnny Johnson with his gun“I ran to the Northern Bypass and brandished my gun at a passing cyclist who loaned me his bike.

“I rode to the Banbury Road roundabout, ran through the garden of a house, looked over a hedge and saw the wolf 30 yards away, coming towards me. I killed it first shot.

“I phoned the office to catch the Oxford Mail’s last edition.

“The story made front page headlines in the national papers next day. ‘Press photographer rids Oxford of killer wolf’, screamed the Daily Express.

“I did a broadcast on In Town Tonight to the background music of Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf?”

In his spare time, Johnny excelled at bar billiards, snooker, golf and Aunt Sally and won many trophies.

Oxford Mail: His newspaper career began in 1922 as an inquiry office clerk with our sister paper, The Oxford Times, but the quality of his pictures – taken on a Brownie box camera – quickly earned him promotion to the newspaper’s photographic department.

During the Second World War, he worked in intelligence, on one occasion helping to produce thousands of photographs of military positions in the build-up to D-Day.

He retired in 1970 after photographing thousands of local events and died in 1996 aged 90.

Oxford Zoo was housed between 1931 and 1937 at Gosford Hill Farm, near the present Thames Valley Police headquarters.

In 2017 a wolf was shot dead after it escaped from its enclosure at Cotswold Wildlife Park.

The wolf, called Ember, managed to crawl out of its fenced area and into the perimeter of the Burford park before being seen by a member of the public.

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About the author 

Andy is the Trade and Tourism reporter for the Oxford Mail and you can sign up to his newsletters for free here. 

He joined the team more than 20 years ago and he covers community news across Oxfordshire.

His Trade and Tourism newsletter is released every Saturday morning. 

You can also read his weekly Traffic and Transport newsletter.