Larry the Specsavers star

Larry’s pic of Mick Jagger arriving for court in London in the 1960s made more money for Express Syndication than any of the thousands of others he took for the paper  


VETERAN Express photographer Larry Ellis – who most people would agree has hit the Nineties in much better shape than film star Clint Eastwood — has this week extended his Specsavers campaign from stylish portraits in the weekend colour magazines to Classic FM radio, with a radio advert scheduled to follow soon.

Larry told the Drone that two pensioners were originally lined up to do the heavy lifting of the nationwide campaign to promote eye tests at home for older people who are unable to get to Specsavers’ branches. 

But the other pensioner ran out of patience when the agency running the campaign invaded the house. Larry didn’t bat an eyelid when 15 people visited his own home on the Isle of Wight to do the necessary filming.

“I always got a lot of breaks in my career, and upgraded seats on British Airways, by being nice to people”, said Larry, “and there’s no reason to change now”.  Larry’s campaign is being assisted by former BBC royal reporter Jennie Bond.

One designer took Larry to his wardrobe to select suitable clothes for the pictures, which is possibly why Larry’s stylish portrait has had such an impact in recent weeks in the weekend colour supplements.  

His splendid smile for the cameras explains why Mick Jagger was almost bound to smile back, when Larry was the only photographer smart enough to catch him walking out of a divorce hearing at the back of the High Court in a pinstripe suit — the picture which Larry reckons  made more money for Express Syndication than any of the thousands of others which he took in a career which took off when he landed a staff job in 1963.

“When I was offered the job, I said I would think about it”, Larry recalled. “The Picture Editor said: No, you won’t think!”  You are either signing up here and now, or you ain’t!”

At weekends, Larry worked for the Sunday Express events such as football, rugby, golf and cricket. He was often spotted running up and down the field in matches at Twickenham.

When James Hunt won the World Motor Racing Championship, Larry jumped into the front seat of the car taking Hunt on a lap of honour, getting an exclusive for the Express while rival photographers aimed their cameras through the window.

Larry recalled once taking pictures of Elizabeth Taylor on a film set — and the star anxiously enquiring afterwards: “Have you seen my Willie lately?”  She was referring to another Express photographer, Bill Lovelace, who managed to wangle an invitation to the Burton-Taylor wedding with reporter Robin Stafford. Bill Lovelace is also reported to have once danced with Elizabeth Taylor at the Dorchester.

Larry remembered mixing with the stars from an early age; at his primary school in Shoreditch, East London, there was a Great Train Robber in the year above, and the Kray twins were in the year below.

He was once ‘loaned’ for the afternoon to the Kray Brothers, his former Bethnal Green school chums, with the permission of the Express Picture Editor to compile a portfolio of pictures from the Covent Garden funeral of one of the brothers’ close business colleagues.

Larry said: “A few weeks after I attended the opening of one of the Kray’s clubs in Soho, where the whole Kray family attended, one of the brothers’ colleagues died who had a business in Covent Garden.

“The Chief Messenger at the Express came looking for me to say that some gentlemen were asking for him in Reception. Larry went downstairs and saw four large men dressed from head to toe in black with black hats.  After pleasantries were exchanged, they invited Larry to the funeral to take photographs. I duly undertook this task with permission from the Picture Editor and left with them in a limousine to Covent Garden where the full procession was already waiting.

“There were black horses with black plumes to pull the hearse, accompanied by several men all dressed in black, with hundreds of people following behind.”

For the best pictures. Larry realised he would have to go somewhere for elevation. “I mentioned this to my original four escorts and they pointed to a building, knocked on the door and asked if I could go to the fourth floor to take my pictures.  The person who answered the door had no hesitation in agreeing to this request.”

Larry initially worked for the Express as Photographic Printer in 1958, joining from the Press Association. He became a staffer in 1963 as Show Business Photographers.  

Another big exclusive was Christine Keeler, who asked Larry to “eff off” after he had waited outside her flat for several days. Fortunately Larry got a tip from Express Newspapers — in the Desmond era — when the company decided to junk its picture library, so he drove up to the office the same day and loaded up his car in the underground car park at the back of the building with years of his work.  He handed much of the portfolio to Getty, and still receives regular royalty cheques.

His Specsavers fee is “four figures rather five, but it’s great fun.  I think the pictures probably worked well because I knew I had to keep staring at the lens to get the best angle. The chap who did the pictures was quite impressed that I knew that!”

His pictures of the stars were on his wall at home near Yarmouth earlier this year when Larry invited Specsavers to carry out an eye test at his home at the height of the Covid pandemic.   The optician had launched the campaign to ensure that vulnerable pensioners had no need to leave home when they needed a new pair of glasses.

Larry, who is currently busy broadcasting the company’s message to 12 radio stations across the UK, recalls that two women from Specsavers’ Southampton branch carried out their test  and then spotted the showbiz pictures on the wall of his home, including David Niven relaxing with a pint while filming in the South of France, Jagger in his pinstripes and Bruce Forsyth getting the special haircut from his barber,  which played a part in relaunching  his career in 1963.

Larry said:  “They wondered how I had got the pictures. When I explained, they said I would be hearing from the company again shortly.”

Next thing he knew, seven people from a Syndication Agency turned up to do pictures for the campaign of Larry  at his home with the creative director following their progress via Zoom from her office in Chelsea.

Larry reckons some of his upgrades on British Airways were down to a steward called Benjamin Honeyball who asked him if he could get a signed photograph from Roger Moore.  Moore signed his portrait “To Benjamin Honeyball” and Larry got the red carpet treatment from British Airways for years afterwards.

GARTH PEARCE said: 'When I was Showbusiness Editor at the Daily Express, Larry was always my go-to photographer.  He was sharp, upbeat, immaculately dressed and chatted away to his subjects so easily that they were relaxed and more than ready for his photographs.   These were the far-off days of the 70s and 80s, of course long before the slow but strangling domination of those mostly gormless professional pariahs, personal publicists — when we would be invited to the homes of the famous we’d be interviewing.   Larry obviously had the good sense to keep some of those splendid black and white pix and it was good to read about his success with Specsavers.'


© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre