Posted: May 15th, 2020
Main report and picture: Chris Johnson/Luke Traynor – Liverpool Echo
Tributes have been paid to BILL MEALEY, legendary Liverpool photographer and former northern picture editor of the Daily Mirror. Bill died from Covid-19 on April 24, aged 97, at Westvale House care home in Warrington. His private, family funeral was held on May 7 at Widnes Crematorium.
Bill took pictures around Merseyside for decades, rising through the ranks as a freelance before landing a job on the Daily Mirror. His talent and ingenuity brought him iconic images, friends and colleagues said, which have stood the test of time.
Bill’s work saw him develop close ties with celebrities, including Paul McCartney, Cilla Black, Tommy Steele and Sammy Davis Jnr, during their time in Liverpool, and his pictures of them were published around the world.
Founder of the “Liverpool Pack” of freelance photographers, Bill graduated to become the northern picture editor at the Daily Mirror.
He was born on Boxing Day, 1922, in Toxteth, left school at 14, started work as a mechanic and was driving trucks at the outbreak of World War Two. He joined the Merchant Navy and later taught himself photography, and began to freelance in Liverpool in the 1950s, with his images used for Littlewoods’ catalogues.
He began to make a name for himself in celebrity-struck Liverpool in the 1960s, and is credited with shooting the first-ever picture of The Beatles to make it into print, in the Widnes Weekly News, and friends and family have recalled his meetings with the Fab Four with fondness. Bill’s work came to the attention of the Daily Mirror which offered him a job.
Sunday Mirror former northern news editor Ken Bennett paid tribute to Bill: “Bill was a man I knew and respected throughout my career. He was an enormously talented photographer and he will be sadly missed.” Former Associated Newspapers group managing editor Charles Garside said: “Bill was an impressive figure of a man and a giant of our profession. He was truly a legend in his own lifetime.”
And from two other top Mirror photographers and colleagues of Bill – Kent Gavin: “Proud to have known him, a truly great photo journalist… ahead of his time, fondest memories.” Phil Spencer: “A top boss who took no prisoners. So blessed to have been part of his life. Rest In Peace, Bill.
From Mike McCarthy: In 1974, after the M62 coach bomb exploded, killing 14 people, I was taken off the news rota at the Manchester Mirror to do the background, and Bill Mealey was similarly taken off the rota to do pictures.
We worked together for several months, just the two of us, and went all over Britain. I became very close to Bill, and grew to admire him greatly as a photographer and a man, even if his fondness for Alfa Romeos gave me some hair-raising moments – especially his delight in accelerating towards the end of the M62 shouting 116! 117! 118! 119! and me shouting: “Yeah Bill, I get it”.
We very much enjoyed lunching and dining on the road, and we claimed to have set the lunch record with a meal in a restaurant in Prestbury (now known as Wayne Rooney’s village) where the bill came to £37, which I suppose is something like £300 today.
As soon as the M62 bomb trial was over, I went to London so I lost touch with Bill. But I will never forget that summer of 1974, pursuing an enormous story with a photographer who was sharp, switched-on and civilised. It was the sort of great experience journalism could provide then. May he rest in peace
From Pauline McLeod: An outstanding photographer, Bill was Northern picture editor when I was in Manchester. Truly gifted, he was a man of great charm. A sad day.
From Bill Rowntree: Another side of Bill Mealey, not just a great photographer but also a great cook; or perhaps his wife was? I first met Bill a few months after joining the Sunday Mirror in 1965, at the Grand National at Aintree. In those days the Grand National was a much bigger event than now, and with TV news in its infancy, and the internet not even a gleam in some scientist’s eye, every punter needed a Sunday paper to get the full results. Preferably the Sunday Mirror. The reports often filled the front and back pages, as well as most of Sport.
This needed a strong journalistic team, especially photographers, combined from North and South. The four London-based staffers would catch the early afternoon train to Manchester, book into the hotel, and head for Withey Grove to catch up with all our Mirror mates, both Daily and Sunday.
I was somewhat late to this tradition so I don’t recall how the pub was chosen, but it always seemed to be Bill’s local. Around 10pm, Bill would disappear and shortly return with an absolutely splendid roast pork. The details have faded after 55 years, but I can recall Bill carving the best hot pork sarnies ever!
Bill also organised getting more than a dozen photogs into Aintree with only three or four passes. The first group would go in, and then one would come out with all the passes; another group would go in, and so on until we were all inside.
The race’s individual jumps were allocated to us in advance and it was a test of initiative to get out to your fence and in a good position well in advance of the start. Then a mad rush back to the mobile darkroom in the bowels of the main stand to get film processed, printed, and wired to London and Manchester. There was a late flight from Liverpool to Heathrow if we could make it.
Sadly the bean-counters put an end to all this – one of the first examples of the accountants exercising power over Editorial. They decided it was cheaper for London staff to catch the excursion train direct to Aintree, which included travel, meals, and an entry ticket. No need for rush taxis or bribes to gain entry without a pass.
In later years I used to run into Bill from time to time, often at Party Conferences in Blackpool and, of course, at the Grand National. But a wrapped, cold pork sandwich could never be the same as when it was served late evening, hot, and in the pub!
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