Goodbye, and good riddance

| 24 Sep 2014

Tony Baker celebrates the demise of the humble tax disc.

So, it’s farewell to the tax disc, those annoying little white blobs on windscreens that have been the bane of car photographers’ lives since 1921. We won’t miss you.

Those of you who have had your car featured in a classic car magazine – well, in this one – will know that, after the introductions and handshakes at the start of a photo shoot, the photographer’s first request is: ‘Can you take the tax disc out, please?’,  to which the inevitable response is  ‘Why?’

To answer the question for what I hope will be one of the last times ever, here are the reasons why car photographers – well , most of us – ask you to take that little disc (and its holder) off the windscreen before we point the camera at your car. Firstly, it appears in the picture not as an indication that you’ve paid your vehicle excise duty but as an ugly white circle that spoils the appearance of your car and ruins its symmetry. You don’t believe me? Try it yourself – take two pictures of your classic, one with the disc and one without. Then ask yourself which one looks best. If you prefer the one with the disc you are either a particularly pedantic police officer or you should have gone to Specsavers.

That’s the aesthetic reason, but there’s a more practical one that has to do with the way magazines are produced. Photo shoots are sometimes done many months in advance of publication, to take advantage of better weather or the availability of cars and their owners.  If we then use a picture across a double-page spread that clearly shows a tax disc that’s expired since the day of the shoot, we get letters from people who have nothing better to do with their time, or are pedantic police officers. 

Some of the more law-abiding classic owners are a bit troubled by the idea of leaving their car unadorned by a tax disc that has, until now, been a legal requirement, even for the brief duration of a magazine photo shoot. So – again, hopefully for the last time – here are the answers to the supplementary questions... ‘Could you not just take the tax disc out in Photoshop? ‘ Yes, we could, but to do that on every picture in a feature would take a lot of time compared to the few seconds it takes to peel the holder off of the windscreen. ‘Can I put it back in before you do the driving shots?’ Please don’t. I’ve lost count of the number of times owners have done this without me noticing. There is no sensible sign language for ‘take your tax disc out again’ that can be understood by a motorist driving past an agitated photographer – trust me, I’ve spent years trying to invent this.

‘What if I get stopped by the police?’ In more than twenty years of taking photographs for Classic & Sports Car, I’ve been stopped just once by the police. On that occasion I was sitting in the boot of a Peugeot 405 with a camera and a flashgun, being driven along Pall Mall at 10.30pm, closely followed by a Rolls-Royce Phantom 3.  The officers concerned somehow failed to notice that the windscreen of my subject wasn’t displaying a tax disc. I can’t think why. Seriously, though, while ‘failure to display’ is (until now) technically an offence I’ve always presumed that if we were unfortunate enough to get pulled over we would be doubly unfortunate to meet a police officer pedantic enough not to acknowledge that a tax disc placed carefully on a passenger seat is, in fact, on display.

There will no doubt be those who mourn the passing of the tax disc. Velologists (Google it) will have to find something else to collect and the users of green ink will have to find something else to write to car magazines about. But us car photographers are celebrating. Now all we need is a ban on owners’ club window stickers...