Born in Shoreditch in East London in 1931, Ellis left school at the tender age of fourteen and like many who were eager to join the rank and file of Fleet Street, he started his professional life at the bottom - as a messenger boy for Central Press Photos – before quickly progressing to their darkrooms and then assisting photographers on assignment work.
This unofficial ‘apprenticeship’ tended to be the route many aspiring photographers took in those days and this proved extremely useful to Ellis when National Service beckoned in 1949. Ellis’s talent - both behind the lens and also in the darkroom -enabled him the opportunity to carry out photographic duties on behalf of the RAF. In 1951 he joined the Press Association as a printer and after seven years was taken on by the Daily Express, initially in their darkrooms, but soon shooting on a freelance basis before finally being offered the role as the newspapers official Show Business Photographer in 1963.
With Beatlemania and the Swinging Sixties scene in London about to explode, 1963 was a very good time for Ellis to be joining the ranks of the Fleet Street ‘snapper’. In fact Ellis performed a dual role for the Express Newspaper group whereby he’d shoot celebrities for the Daily Express during the week and would then switch to sports coverage over the weekend for the Sunday Express – predominantly football, rugby, golf and cricket.
Ellis is perhaps better known for his celebrity imagery and, as mentioned previously, it was more down to the degree of access during this golden age of celebrity photography – as compared to today’s world where access is strictly controlled. Very much up close and personal with many of the stars of the period, Ellis developed a close friendship with many of his subjects. Ellis covered a multitude of assignments all over the world, often touring with the stars themselves and accompanying performers such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on their travels. Ellis was also assigned many film and television location shoots and during his time with the Daily Express covered a wide variety of movies including the James Bond films.
Larry’s ‘gift of the gab’ often managed to ensure he was in the right place at the right time. On occasions, however, his incessant chatter could work the other way around and, for example, it was whilst in Berlin shooting the movie The Iron Cross, that the late great Richard Burton insisted on having Ellis removed from the set. Luckily for Larry, the wrong man was removed – the unfortunate gentleman proving to be the Mayor of Berlin’s son which did not go down well with the local German dignitaries, causing Burton to have to apologise profusely to the Mayor, given Berlin had poured a great deal of money into the film. However, more often that not Larry’s talkative ‘cheeky chappie’ approach charmed those whom he came into contact with. On one notable occasion when Winston Churchill was convalescing after illness in Middlesex Hospital, Larry managed to persuade Churchill’s aides to ‘prop’ up Winnie in front of the window so Larry could get a shot of the Great Man with the aid of his telephoto lens. Larry’s ‘East London’ connections also came in handy and could often be found taking pictures at the Kray Twins clubs in Soho where he was regarded as ‘one of them’. Ellis was equally at ease with Royalty and one occasion, the Queen Mother spotted him in a ‘rugby scrum’ of a photocall and had her private detective extricate him from the maul in order to obtain a better shot - delivering yet another exclusive for Larry and the Daily Express.
Larry lives out his retirement on the Isle of Wight and can still talk the hind legs off of a donkey – his favourite phrase is “to cut a long story short…” but he never does! One of the less celebrated Fleet Street celebrity snappers of the era, Ellis’s work captures perfectly a period when stars and those capturing them on film mixed freely and easily and where there was mutual trust and respect. Needless to say, a far cry from today’s celebrity obsessed media where invasion of privacy appears to be routine or the depiction of our celebrities at work, rest and play is heavily stage managed.
The majority of Larry Ellis’s output for the Daily Express was acquired by the BBC in 1983 and is now part of Hulton|Archive.