The Thetford-born artist behind iconic interwar adverts

Leslie Sayer on his Norton motorcycle on Doris Road in Norwich in 1929

Leslie Sayer on his Norton motorcycle outside his sister Milly Hale's house on Doris Road in Norwich. Date: circa 1929. - Credit: Leslie Sayer courtesy of Ian Sayer

Before he lost an eye serving on the home front during the Second World War, Leslie Sayer worked as a commercial artist in Norwich.

Many of his drawings and paintings featured in adverts for historic Norfolk businesses like Wallace King, Garlands, Caley’s and the Samson & Hercules.  

Leslie Sayer created the artwork for this brochure for the Samson & Hercules in Norwich from 1935.

Leslie Sayer created the artwork for this brochure for the Samson & Hercules in Norwich. Dated: 1935. - Credit: Leslie Sayer courtesy of Ian Sayer

Stweard & Patteson's brewery advert. Date: 1936.

Steward & Patteson's brewery advert. Date: 1936. - Credit: Leslie Sayer courtesy of Ian Sayer

And now his son Ian has shared his father’s story and some of his wonderful works from a century ago. 

Leslie Sayer with his son Ian in 1980.

Leslie Sayer with his son Ian in 1980. - Credit: Supplied by Ian Sayer

Born on February 25, 1901 at Thetford, Leslie had a knack for motor engines as a young man. He worked in Norwich garages in the early to mid 1920s. 

For a while Leslie lived on College Road in Norwich, at the same time as Edith Cavell and her parents - before she decided to return to Brussels in 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War. 

However Leslie was also a talented drawer and painter. Towards the end of the 1920s he worked as a commercial artist in Norwich. He produced cartoons, painted portraits and landscapes as well as advertisements.

Advert for the Norwich Co-Op Mystery Man.

Advert for the Norwich Co-Op Mystery Man. - Credit: Leslie Sayer courtesy of Ian Sayer

Drawing by Leslie Sayer of the Samson and Hercules swimming pool in Norwich in 1935.

Drawing by Leslie Sayer of the Samson and Hercules swimming pool. Date: 1935. - Credit: Leslie Sayer courtesy of Ian Sayer

An advert for Garlands department store in Norwich by Leslie Sayer from 1933.

An advert for Garlands department store in Norwich by Leslie Sayer. Date: 1933. - Credit: Leslie Sayer courtesy of Ian Sayer

In 1931 he married Lilly Adele Sayer (nee Rayna). She was one of four daughters of Carlo Rayna from Milan who owned and operated the Café Royal Restaurant in London Street from 1895 to his death in 1931. One of Ian’s uncles took the restaurant on until it closed just before the Second World War. 

As the Great Depression took hold, many people struggled to find work in the 1930s. 

Caley's of Norwich squash advert from 1928

Did you know Caley's of Norwich made squash as well as chocolate? Date: 1928. - Credit: Leslie Sayer courtesy of Ian Sayer

Suit dry cleaning service advertisement for the Wensum Dry Cleaning Service in Norwich.

Suit dry cleaning service advertisement for the Wensum Dry Cleaning Service in Norwich. - Credit: Leslie Sayer courtesy of Ian Sayer

An old advert for Wallace King's by Leslie Sayer.

An old advert for Wallace King's by Leslie Sayer. - Credit: Leslie Sayer courtesy of Ian Sayer

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Leslie relocated to the south of England and found work in a printers where he was again employed as a commercial artist in New Malden, Surrey. 

In 1933 he returned to Norwich and became a freelance commercial artist until 1936 when he went back to the south of England and worked as a coach driver. 

Old advertisement for Lambert's Tea.

Old advertisement for Lambert's Tea. - Credit: Leslie Sayer courtesy of Ian Sayer

Advert for A. Ames ring shop Norwich.

Advert for rings sold by the A. Ames shop Norwich. - Credit: Leslie Sayer courtesy of Ian Sayer

Stweard and Patteson's brewery advert. Date: 1934.

Stweard and Patteson's brewery advert. Date: 1934. - Credit: Leslie Sayer courtesy of Ian Sayer

When the Second World War started Leslie transported bomber crews to their bases in the south of England. In 1943 he joined the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and served with them until 1945, during which time he lost an eye. 

Leslie Sayer in Ashford, Middlesex during his Second World War in 1943.

Leslie Sayer (left) in Ashford, Middlesex during his Second World War service. Date: 1943. - Credit: Leslie Sayer courtesy of Ian Sayer

Despite this setback, Leslie kept at his art.

“I’ve always seen that as a major achievement,” said Ian who was born in 1945.

Ian Sayer

Ian Sayer, published author and historian, is the son of Leslie Sayer. - Credit: Supplied by Ian Sayer

“He was still drawing pictures and doing paintings, water colours and charcoals – not for commercial reasons but because he loved doing it.

“He went to the Isleworth Polytechnic in Middlesex to attend art classes in the early 1950s.”

“It was just for fun really. It was the same place that Freddie Mercury went to about 10 years later. He lived on the next road to us,” explained Ian. 

After the Second World War ended Leslie worked again as a coach driver and was later employed in various capacities in motor engineering and transport.

Leslie died on the August 4, 1981.

All images and adverts supplied by Ian Sayer from his personal family collection. 

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