Charlie Ley: Former Mirror photographer who rose from messenger boy to friend of the stars

Former Daily Mirror photographer Charlie Ley – who captured an iconic image of John Lennon and Yoko Ono staging their famous sit-in at the Amsterdam Hilton – has died aged 87.

Ley was born in Hornsey in 1925, the son of a merchant seaman. At the age of 14 he joined a sign painting company and, one day, his foreman spotted him doodling cartoons and suggested he try to get a job in Fleet Street.

He tried most titles and the only one to respond was the Daily Mirror, who told him to come back in a year. He was later offered a job as a messenger, slowly working his way up to helping photographers.

Ley took a course in photography and eventually landed a job, joining the staff in 1944. He was dispatched to the Birmingham office but, after the war, lost his job to make way for returning servicemen.

He returned in 1953 after a time as a freelance, and stayed at the Mirror until 1986.

Ley worked as a sports photographer before moving on to news. He became friends with the likes of Morecambe and Wise, Lester Piggott, Esther Rantzen and Henry Cooper.

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, he was one of the first on the scene.

His friendship helped: A phone-call to his suite and a request of "Any chance?" was met, in strong Merseyside tones, with the words: "Alright Charlie lad, up you come." He went on to take some of the most iconic pictures in the history of Fleet Street.

Many of his archive images are available here at the Mirror Pix website and here at pressphotohistory.com.

After retiring he worked as a freelance for the Ilford Recorder, his local paper, where he was able to bring some Fleet Street professionalism to an already thriving weekly paper.

Ley, who died on 3 January, 2013, was a month short of his 88 birthday. He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Betty, sons John - a sports journalist on the Daily Telegraph - and Tim, a successful landscape gardener, and six grandchildren.

 

Ley's funeral is being held tomorrow at 1.30pm at Forest Park Crematorium, Forest Road, Hainault, Essex, IG6 3HP.

Flowers welcome, or donations to the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital, UCLH Charity, 250 Euston Road, London NW1 2PG.

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