Posted: January 9th, 2013
Former Daily Mirror photographer Charles Ley died on January 3, 2013, a month short of his 88th birthday. (Funeral details on News.)
Charlie was born in Hornsey in 1925, the son of a merchant seaman. At the age of 14 he joined a sign-painting company. One day his foreman spotted him doodling cartoons and suggested he try and get a job in Fleet Street.
He tried most titles and the only one to respond was the Daily Mirror, which told him to come back in a year. This he did and was offered a job as a messenger, slowly working his way up to helping photographers.
Charlie took a course in photography and eventually landed a job, joining the staff in 1944. He was dispatched to the Birmingham office but lost his job after the war, making way for returning servicemen.
He returned in 1953 after some time working freelance and stayed at the Mirror until 1986. During his time there he was sports photographer for a while before moving on to news.
He became friends with people such as Morecambe and Wise, Lester Piggott, Esther Rantzen and Henry Cooper to mention just a few. He also got to know the Beatles and, in particular, John Lennon. When Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their famous Give Peace a Chance sit-in at the Amsterdam Hilton, Charlie was one of the first on the scene.
Charlie went on to take some of the most iconic pictures in the history of Fleet Street.
After taking the Maxwell Pension he worked as a freelance for his local paper the Ilford Recorder where he was able to bring some Fleet Street professionalism to an already thriving weekly.
He is survived by Betty, his wife of 57 years, sons John – a sports journalist on The Daily Telegraph – and Tim, a successful landscape gardener, and six grandchildren.
Colleague and friend Bill Rowntree writes:
Charlie Ley – Chas to his friends – was rarely seen without a smile. He left as one of the Maxwell ‘redundies’ in 1980s when Maxwell used the surplus in the pension fund to reduce the staff – before he thought of another use for it!
Chas covered many notable news assignments including accompanying 100 lucky readers who won a Daily Mirror competition to fly on Concorde to New York. Chas was a great news photographer and a master of the understatement. When asked what he thought of his trip on Concorde he replied: “Better than the number 9 bus to Charing Cross.”
He also helped introduce compact cameras at the Mirror. Fellow photographer Ray Weaver remembers the first time they met, covering a football match at Charlton Athletic in 1962. Ray was very impressed at Chas using a Canon with a quick release trigger at the base to wind on the film. That was very high tech for 1962, long before the days of motor drives, let alone digital!
By BILL ROWNTREE, former Mirror Group photographer
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