Amerigo de Santis was a member of the paparazzi when it was fairly honourable trade in the 1950s and 1960s.

Now settled in the North-East, he tells Steve Pratt about his close encounters with some very famous faces.

La Dolce Vita star Anita Ekberg was usually very approachable about photographers taking her picture. But Amerigo de Santis remembers one occasion when, a little the worse for drink, she gave him a less than friendly welcome - firing arrows to dissuade him focusing his long lens at her home.

"It was 12 o'clock at night at her villa in a remote area of Rome. She had a bow and arrow, shouted from the patio and then fired at us," he recalls.

His talk is peppered with glamorous celebrity and royal names from the past. Brigitte Bardot, Joan Collins, Princess Soroya, Diana Dors, the Shah of Persia, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy, to name only a few of the people he snapped. But being a member of the elite paparazzi in Rome in the late 1950s and early 1960s could be a dangerous occupation, as the Ekberg incident illustrated.

De Santis has now settled in County Durham, where he works as food and beverages manager at Lumley Castle. But the man who looks after the needs of diners in the hotel restaurant began his working life as one of the original paparazzi in Italy - the dozen or so snap-happy men who followed celebrities to photograph them and sell the pictures to newspapers and magazines.

The term paparazzi came from the name of a character in Fellini's 1960 classic La Dolce Vita, a movie in which de Santis himself features as one of the photographers following Roman high society as they party night after night.

His tools of the trade as a paparazzo were a camera and a scooter, the latter to swiftly transport the exposed film for developing.

He was only in his early teens when he became a photographer, having left school when he was 12 because, he says in his fractured English, "I was not so well at school". He joined the ranks of the paparazzi through his photographer cousin Marcello Geppetti.

"My cousin was waiting at four in the morning to take a picture of Princess Soroya when there was a fire at the Ambassador Hotel. Four waitresses jumped from the fourth floor and were killed.

"There was a little bit of a scandal because the fire brigade came without the right equipment. He sold the pictures, became famous, and I started working for him."

De Santis was only 14 or 15 but bought a scooter, which he used to take rolls of film to be developed, delivering the often still-wet prints to the publications that had bought them.

After a few months, he started taking pictures himself. "It was an adventure. Being a paparazzi was considered a decent profession then," he says. "It was just a case of hanging around crowds, premieres, nightclubs and cabaret bars waiting for famous people to go in or come out. We used to have contacts with hotels and restaurants who told us who was there.

"If there were rumours about couples, we tried to catch them flirting or walking together in the street. We tried to photograph them as they were going past a wedding shop."

His camera was a Rolliflex with a big flash box on the side. Because they had to take photographs as soon as a celebrity was spotted, there was no time to prepare. "We never had time to work out the focus properly," he recalls.

There were about a dozen photographers, including several his young age, in the pack. It wasn't unknown for one person to circulate false information to put others off the scent so they got an exclusive picture.

"We were friends, but it was a bit of a game. If we could, we would spread rumours about a particular address or pay policemen to disguise themselves as someone famous," he admits.

Many celebrities were happy to play along with the paparazzi, realising the value of publicity. Others, perhaps caught out with someone other than their partner, were less pleased to be snapped.

"It has been a pleasure working with some of the actresses," says de Santis. "Joan Collins was quite pleasant. Ava Gardner was nice. She used sometimes to join the crowd of photographers sitting outside the bar."

Anita Ekberg, with her crossbow, was one actress who wasn't pleased to have a lens pointed at her. Nor was King Hussein of Jordan happy to find that paparazzi were waiting to photograph him as he left a nightclub, and sent his minders to deter them. "We were chased by his bodyguards through the centre of Rome. It was scary," recalls de Santis.

"There was an incident with Elizabeth Taylor, who was making Cleopatra with Richard Burton. We went to Capri to take some pictures of them. It was the moment she was divorcing Eddie Fisher, so her reaction was not very pleasant."

Sometimes he was defeated by circumstances. "I remember we were chasing Anthony Steel. He was in an Alfa Romeo and we were in a little Fiat bubble car. We ran out of petrol and didn't have any money to buy any more," he says.

De Santis's role as a paparazzo was immortalised in Fellini's La Dolce Vita, which starred Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni. He was seen riding his scooter and taking photographs in the movie, and he has fond memories of filming as director Federico Fellini "was quite a gentleman".

Eventually, he hung up his camera and began working at nightclubs. There he still mixed with the rich and famous, as American and English actresses were regulars at the clubs along with the likes of Jackie Kennedy and Paul Getty Jnr.

He came to this country 30 years ago with his English wife Veronica, and has worked in restaurants and hotels over here ever since. One of his two daughters, Isabella, studied at Sunderland University, and de Santis has now settled in the area. He and his wife bought and restored a 750-year-old farmhouse in Weardale.

Now in his late fifties, he retired from his post at The Royal County Hotel, Durham, but "after a couple of months I was bored". He came out of retirement to join the staff at Lumley Castle earlier this year.

When he's not waiting on customers, he still likes to take black and white photographs - of places, not people, these days. And although he's lost contact with many of his friends from his days as a photographer, his nephew, son of the cousin who introduced him to the paparazzi, has collected his pictures together in an archive.