9 October 1888|
Bethnal Green, London
24 April 1948|
|Other names||Albert Leslie Fuller|
Leslie Fuller (9 October 1888 – 24 April 1948) was a British comedy film actor. He was married to the actress Nancy Bates. Albert Leslie Fuller was born in 1888 at 14 Pollard Row, Bethnal Green, London, although many biographies wrongly state Margate, as he had a lifelong association with this seaside town. His father was Albert Fuller and his mother was Amelia Lepley. In 1891 his father was running a coffee house, but by 1901 he was a self-employed printer and as a boy, Leslie would help his father in the business. From an early age Leslie became obsessed with show business and started performing in a small schoolboy minstrel troupe. Blessed with a voice of sorts (he described himself as a ‘bad baritone’) and with a repertoire of only three songs, he joined a troupe playing on Brighton beach. He then moved on to join a troupe in Maidenhead, playing in a small marquee by the river and during the regatta on the river itself in a small punt! Between 1909-1912 both Leslie and Dave Fuller performed in ‘The Silloth Pierrots’ at Silloth in Cumbria. In 1914 at the end of a summer season in Weston-Super-Mare, Leslie married one of his fellow entertainers a 26-year-old dancer and male impersonator Beatrice Witham.
Leslie had also become a keen cyclist and held various cycling records before the Great War. On the outbreak of that conflict Leslie became Second-Lieutenant Albert Fuller of the Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalion. When his show business talents were discovered he was asked to form a Battalion concert party. There were many men in the battalion with talent, including a young Charles Laughton. The concert party was a great success and Leslie became one of the leading comedians in the British Army concert party circuit. They gave some very good performances at the Coliseum Theatre in Whitby. The cyclists battalion came in for a lot of ribbing and became known as the ‘poor man’s cavalry’ or the ‘peddallers’. So, they used the name ‘The Ped’lers’ and for a while Leslie was the lessee of the Coliseum Theatre at Whitby. On his demob he acquired all the rights and property of the concert party and, retaining some of the wartime members of the troupe, he started up his own venture. Beatrice was a talented clothes designer and seamstress and together they set about putting ‘The Ped’lers’ onto a commercial footing. They arrived in Margate for the summer season in 1919 playing to appreciative audiences at the Clifton Hall which was attached to the Baths at Margate. The couple moved into 25 Cliftonville Avenue and had two sons, Roy & Donald.
By the 1930s Leslie had become well known as ‘The rubber-faced comedian’ and spent his summer seasons in Margate. In the winter he and his Margate ‘Ped’lers’ toured the Oswald Stoll theatre circuit, including The Coliseum and The Alhambra in London. He was also appearing in radio programmes. He was becoming noticed and was offered a part in a film by producer Joe Rock who had produced Stan Laurel’s comedies. This was the start of his film career and he went on make around 26 films between 1930-1945 many known as ‘quota quickies’. He even leased the old Neptune studios at Elstree and produced his own movies under the name ‘Leslie Fuller Pictures Ltd’. During this period he was a very big name and drew massive crowds at any public appearances.
In 1930, just as his film career had taken off, Leslie was hit by tragedy, as his wife Beatrice, who had been ill for about two years, died. It must have been unbearable for Leslie to be away filming a comedy whilst his wife lay dying. Life went on and Leslie made many more films and whilst he was filming ‘The Pride of the Force’ in 1932, he was to meet the woman who was to become his next wife. Nancy Bates was appearing in a rather exotic role as a bare-back elephant rider in a circus. She had appeared in concert parties doing tap routines together with her sisters Helen and Cecilia and her brother Johnnie, so had a lot in common with Leslie. They married and bought a house in Teddington, Middlesex and became the parents of twin girls, Anne & Sheila, whose godparents were Renee Houston and Gracie Fields.
It is hard for us now to appreciate Leslie’s popularity and huge following; Pathe News filmed the girls christening and the studios dubbed Leslie as Elstree’s Clark Gable. Funny man though he was, he was certainly no Clark Gable! With the onset of WW2, few films were being made. Also Leslie’s style of comedy was beginning to look a bit dated. In 1945 Leslie made one last film called ‘What do we do now?’ in which he only had a minor role supporting another comedian George Moon.
He sold up his Teddington house and moved back to Margate, taking up residence at 20 Cornwall Gardens. He stood for and was elected as an independent councillor for the Cliftonville Ward in 1945. He was a man of energy who busied himself in local affairs and often turned out to play in charity cricket matches. He revived ‘The Ped’lers’ again for the 1946 summer season at the Lido Theatre, Cliftonville, and this new production was a great success. In 1948 Leslie died at home after a suffering a severe brain haemorrhage. He is buried at Margate cemetery. After his death, his wife sold the Margate home and moved back to London.
Would like to thank John T. Williams a Margate Local Historian, Max Tyler of the British Music Hall Society also Geoff.J. Mellor and Geoff Walter for supplying some of this information.
- Why Sailors Leave Home (1930)
- Kiss Me Sergeant (1930)
- Not So Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
- Poor Old Bill (1931)
- What a Night (1931)
- Old Soldiers Never Die (1931)
- Bill's Legacy (1931)
- Last Coupon (1932)
- Old Spanish Customers (1932)
- Tonight's the Night (1932)
- Hawley's of High Street (1933)
- The Pride of the Force (1933)
- Lost in the Legion (1934)
- A Political Party (1934)
- Doctor's Orders (1934)
- The Outcast (1934)
- Captain Bill (1935)
- Strictly Illegal (1935)
- The Stoker (1935)
- One Good Turn (1936)
- Boys Will Be Girls (1937)
- Two Smart Men (1940)
- The Middle Watch (1940)
- My Wife's Family (1941)
- Front Line Kids (1942)
- What Do We Do Now? (1945)