OVEREND'S MORLEY 1970-1979LESLIE OVEREND 20th ANNIVERSARY     leslie overend
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A Big Life In A Few Words

Herbert Leslie Overend (he was always called Leslie) was born in a cottage off Victoria Road, Eccleshill, Bradford, on February 4, 1905 and was educated at Hanson School and Woodhouse Grove, in the city.

Encouraged by his father, John William Overend, a teacher and academic, he took an early interest in all things technical, including photography.

Leslie took his first photograph in 1911, when still at primary school. His father gave him a Klito box camera, armed with a magazine of glass plates, and invited him to take some pictures during a visit to Appleby, in what was then called Westmorland.

The fact that the subject was merely the weir below Appleby Castle, is of little significance. Remarkably, unlike much of Leslie’s later work, one of the battered plates still exists.

Many years later, Leslie told me the moment that he took that very first picture he was bitten by the photography bug. There was nothing else he wanted to do, except take pictures.

From that day, he pursued his dream, the then extremely unlikely quest of becoming a professional photographer.

By the time his working life ended, a remarkable 72 years later, in 1983, Leslie’s career had seen him travel the length and breadth of England. He had worked for myriad publications - from national newspapers to tiny magazines – often toiling seven days a week, and rarely taking a holiday.

Leslie’s professional career was kick-started on November 11, 1918 – Armistice Day. The end of the Great War meant the world had suddenly changed, and Leslie’s was about to change as well.

Then, although aged just 13, he was quite familiar with the latest photography techniques and capabilities. He was tasked to climb to the top of Bradford Town Hall to take a picture of the vast crowd of people celebrating the end of the war hundreds of feet below him. His only advice: “Don’t drop t’bloody camera, and if you fall off, there’ll be no compensation.”

Leslie’s picture was published in the then Bradford Daily Argus. It was a remarkable, iconic image. And Leslie was invited to join the Argus staff just a month later.

The following year, he joined the local opposition, the Bradford Daily Telegraph, for the princely sum of 2s6d (12.5p) a week, only to rejoin the Argus soon after as a trainee reporter/photographer. By then the newspaper had been taken over by a London company and had become known as the Yorkshire Evening Argus.

In 1926, Leslie and his father set up the Overend Press Agency from their home in Eccleshill, later moving to offices in nearby Greengates.

With Leslie as the roving photographer (during which time he became a pioneer of aerial photography) the company began supplying pictures to a wide variety of publications all over Britain.

From small beginnings, the Overend Press Agency became one of the country’s biggest sporting picture agencies.

It was at this time that Leslie also started working for local newspapers - including the Morley Observer - which were only just beginning to use photographs.

At the end of the Second World War Leslie became more involved with the Morley Observer, as well as other newspapers in the West Riding, who were beginning to use more and more pictures.

He also pursued his passion for the railways, taking hundreds of pictures of steam engines up and down the country. Leslie’s fame spread as many of the pictures were featured on the covers of railway magazines. Many of his iconic pictures are now owned by the National Railway Museum at York.

Leslie always retained his freelance status, being paid a fee for every picture published, and making additional money from print sales.

On Sunday, November 20, 1955, Leslie - then aged 50 - married Doris Kathleen Morse at Esholt Parish Church, Bradford. They were the first couple to hold their wedding reception at the newly-converted Alexandra Hotel, which had been the Empire Cinema. Leslie’s best man was his long-time friend Phil Ridler, manager of the New Victoria Theatre in the city.

The happy couple first met when Doris, originally from Sunderland, managed the Royal Café in Bradford. She later took ownership of the Rendezvous Café in Town Hall Buildings, Morley.

Leslie and Doris initially lived together in the flat above the Rendezvous Café.

Leslie sold his parents’ home in Chevin View, Eccleshill (his mother had died in 1940, his father in 1950), then, in 1958, he and Doris bought “Dinky Dyson’s” chemist’s shop in Queen Street, Morley, and set it up as a newsagents. Doris managed the shop, while Leslie continued his press photography.

The couple’s plans to move to the Scilly Isles and open a restaurant were dashed when Doris fell ill. She died at Christmas, 1960.

In August 1961, Leslie had travelled back to the Scilly Isles to scatter Doris’s ashes, when a waiter approached him to tell him that he had just heard on the radio that “the centre of Morley was on fire”.

Although not quite true, it was serious enough – sparks from a fire at the ready-for-demolition Albert Mills, in Princess Street (see picture, right), had been blown on to the Town Hall’s wooden dome by strong winds.

The resulting fire destroyed the dome and pinnacle. Water used to fight the blaze caused extensive damage to the building - some of floors had to be cut to allow the thousands of gallons of water to drain away.

On hearing the news, Leslie immediately got on the phone to Morley, but he couldn’t get through. Eventually, he managed to reach an old friend, Tommy Marshall, who used to do some work for him. Tommy told Leslie that the girl he had left in charge of his newsagents had taken a couple of rolls of films of the blaze and he had driven over from Bradford to process them.

When Leslie returned to Morley he offered the pictures to the Morley Observer, but they didn’t use them, and used pictures taken by a local chemist – even though he always felt “his” pictures were far better.

Although the pictures weren’t published at that time, they have been published many times since, and illustrate brilliantly the drama the fire brought to Morley that day.

Leslie sold his shop in 1962 and moved into an old house in Leeds Road, Dewsbury. In 1965 the building was condemned as being unfit for human habitation, compulsory purchased and demolished.

Leslie moved into a council flat in Thornhill Lees, Dewsbury.

In 1983, after a career of some 65 years, he was forced to retire due to ill health.

Up to his death, on May 16, 1989, Leslie lived alone with his memories and a mountain of negatives, which he passed, in his will, to Stephen White.

Morley Grammar School speech day.

Birstall from the air.

Hailwood & Ackroyd staff at the Beacon Works, Morley.

The Mayor of Morley, Harry Brewster, and his entourage.

The landlord of the Fountain Inn, Morley, and two of his barmaids at a function at Morley Town Hall.

Albert Mills, Princess Street fire.

Barmaids at South Queen Street WMC.

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