Hopkins was born on April 16, 1913 in south London, son of Sybil (nee Bateley) and Robert Thurston Hopkins (1884—1958), a bank cashier and prolific author of topographical works, ghost stories, and biographies of British writers Oscar Wilde, H. G. Wells and Rudyard Kipling. The family lived in Sussex and Godfrey, who came to be known as Thurston, was educated at St Joseph’s Salesian school at Burwash, near Kipling’s home in East Sussex, and at Montpelier college, Brighton.
Hopkins studied under Morgan Rendle at Brighton College of Art in graphic art and taught himself photography, his pictures being used for some of his father's books. He found employment with a publisher adding decorative frames to portraits of Edward VIII, which the King's abdication on December 10, 1936 brought to an abrupt end. With the shift to photography from illustration amongst newspaper publishers, he joined the PhotoPress Agency. They lent him his first camera; a Goerz Anschutz which he found cumbersome. It wasn't until serving in the RAF Photographic Unit during the Second World War in Italy and the Middle East from 1940 that he acquired a more portable 35mm format, Leica which apart from occasional use of a Rolleiflex, he continued to prefer for the rest of his career.
After being demobilised, Hopkins hitchhiked around Europe for a while taking photographs. Back in England he worked for Camera Press, the agency founded in London in 1947 by Tom Blau. Having seen issues of Picture Post at military posts everywhere during his service he developed a keen ambition to work for this.
Founded in 1938 and funded by publisher Edward Hulton, the magazine's first editor was Hungarian émigré Stefan Lorant (1901–97) assisted by Tom Hopkinson (1905–90), who took over as editor from 1940. The image-centric format, left-leaning and reasonably-priced publication was highly successful and circulation soon rose to over a million. Its photographers, including Bert Hardy, Kurt Hutton, Humphrey Spender, Leonard McCombe, John Chillingworth and Bill Brandt, went out with the writers on stories together, working as colleagues, not competitors. By producing a dummy issue composed entirely of his own features, Hopkins persuaded Picture Post to take him on as a freelancer, and from 1950 as a staffer working exclusively for the magazine.
One of his first essays was his popular 'Cats of London' (24 Feb 1951), a series made whilst working on other stories during which he would find stray cats living in the many bomb sites and back alleys. His best known photograph drew on this talent with animals. Entitled La Dolce Vita, Knightsbridge, London, 1953 the picture shows a limousine owner-driver with a regal poodle sitting bolt upright in the passenger seat. Ripe for commercial exploitation, it became a best selling postcard, poster and calendar image.
In support of the Post's social consciousness, Hopkins produced stories on children playing on the city streets in an effort to have the need for dedicated playgrounds recognised.
His 1956 story on the slums of Liverpool, however, was spiked when the municipal administrators protested to the magazine's proprietor Edward Hulton, over its negative portrayal of the city.
At Picture Post Hopkins met, and in 1955 married, another photographer: Grace Robertson, who worked under the byline Dick Muir to get work at Simon Guttman's Report agency in an era when women were at a disadvantage in the industry.
With the closure of Picture Post in 1957, Hopkins conducted business as one of London's more successful advertising photographers from his studio in Chiswick before taking up teaching at the Guildford School of Art, a major British course in photography under Ifor Thomas. In his rural retirement Hopkins returned to his interest in painting.
Photographs by salaried staff of Picture Post were retained in copyright by the Hulton empire; and when the magazine closed, the archive was sold to the British Broadcasting Corporation, and then to Brian Deutsch. The collection, including all of Hopkins pictures he made for the Post, is now owned and managed by Getty Images.
- 1977 Thurston Hopkins, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London, January 1, 1977 – December 1, 1977
- 1993 After Dark, Zelda Cheatle Gallery, Covent Garden, London.
- 2003/4 The Golden Age of Reportage: Thurston Hopkins, Getty Images Gallery, London, Oct 30, 2003 – Jan 2, 2004
- 2005 A Song of the British: Thurston Hopkins, Leica Gallery, New York, 20 May – 18 Jun 2005
- 2005 Dedans-Dehors: Le Portugal en photographies, Centre Calouste Gulbenkian, Collection de la Caixa Geral de Depósitos, Paris, France, May 18 – Jul 12, 2005.
- 2010 A Positive View: The Third Edition, Somerset House, South Building, London, Mar 10 – Apr 5, 2010
- 2015 Beneath the Surface, Somerset House, South Building, London, with Brassaï, Susan Derges, Sinje Dillenkofer, John Gay, Stephen Gill. May 21 – Aug 24, 2015
- 2016 An Ideal For Living: Photographing Class, Culture and Identity in Modern Britain, Huxley-Parlour Gallery, London, with 21 others including Richard Billingham, Bill Brandt, John Bulmer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Davidson. Jul 27 – Sep 17, 2016
- 2016 Fine Photographs and Photobooks, Bloomsbury Auctions, London, with 31 others including Berenice Abbott, Eve Arnold, David Bailey, Édouard Baldus, Cecil Beaton. Oct 15 – Oct 20, 2016
- 2016 British Photographers at Home and Abroad, Keith de Lellis Gallery, New York with Cecil Beaton, Ian Berry, John Bulmer, Larry Burrows, Graham Finlayson and others, Sep 8 – Oct 22, 2016
- Tausk, Peter; Beal, John David; Talbot, Veronica (1980), Photography in the 20th century (English 1st ed.), Focal Press: Focal/Hastings House, ISBN 978-0-8038-7199-1
- Craig, Charles. (1982). The British documentary photograph as a medium of information and propaganda during the Second World War 1939–1945 (PDF). Doctoral dissertation, Middlesex Polytechnic.
- Hallett, Michael (2006), Stefan Lorant: Godfather of photojournalism, The Scarecrow Press, ISBN 978-0-8108-5682-0
- Chillingworth, John; Butson, Matthew, (writer of introduction.) (2013), Picture Post photographer, Stockport: Dewi Lewis, ISBN 978-1-907893-43-8CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Harcup, Tony (2014), A dictionary of journalism (First ed.), Oxford University Press, p. 234, ISBN 978-0-19-174436-5
- Hopkins, Thurston; Muller, Robert; Arts Council of Great Britain (1977), Thurston Hopkins, Gordon Fraser Gallery [for] the Arts Council of Great Britain, ISBN 978-0-900406-67-6
- Jay, B. (1993). Album: Two Editorials. History of Photography 17 (1), 10–12.
- Brown, S. (1999). On View: Feline Fancy. The British Journal of Photography, 145 (7240), 16–17.
- Hopkinson, A. (1993). On View: Street cred. The British Journal of Photography (Archive: 1860–2005), 140 (6919), 26–27.
- Murphy, Anna (2010-08-09). "Grace Robertson, interview with the 1950s photojournalist". The Daily Telegraph.
- Robertson, Grace (1989). Grace Robertson: Photojournalist of the 50s. London: Virago Press. pp. 7–27. ISBN 1-85381-089-4.
- Gross, J. (1990). Viewed: Fifties photojournalist. The British Journal of Photography (Archive: 1860–2005), 137 (6755), 16–17.
- Hopkins, T. (1967). The Photojournalist in advertising. The British Journal of Photography, 114 (5599), 952–957.
- Mitchell, D. (1990). Family Affairs. London Magazine, 30 (1), 74.
- A portrait by George Newson taken in July 1995 of Hopkins at his typewriter in his office amongst his prints is held in the National Portrait Gallery
- Amanda Hopkinson and David Mitchell 'Thurston Hopkins obituary: Photographer who made his reputation on the news magazine Picture Post in the 1950s', The Guardian, Oct 30, 2014
- Davis, Alexander (1975), Art, design, photo: annual bibliography on modern art, graphic design, photography = bibliographie annuelle sur l'art moderne, photographie et graphisme = Jahresbibliographie über modernen Kunst, Werbegraphik und Photographie, Alexander Davis Publications, ISBN 978-0-903904-02-5, ISSN 0306-817X
- American Photo, June 1989, page 8, Vol. 22, No. 6, ISSN 1046-8986