1st July 1920 – 5th April 2010

(Frank) Leslie Coventry was Captain of St. Andrew’s Church, Bebington, Wirral for over 45 years, ringing until he was 87 years old, and handing over the Captaincy when his failing health and sight made him decide that this would be in the best interests of the tower, and his band. Les began ringing in 1938 at St. Oswald’s, Bidston and at towers around Wirral, with ringers such as Tommy Rogers, Jack Ledsham, Jim Smith, Eric Gilbert, and Alex Martin. He began hand bell ringing and conducting the same year.

Born in 1920, and with his father dying before his first birthday, his childhood and teenage years were far from easy and so despite being considered bright enough to apply to Oxford University, he felt that he needed to start work as soon as possible and upon leaving school joined Lever Bros (Unilever) working in the Accounts Department.

At the age of 19, just before the outbreak of the Second World War, and being in the TA, he was called-up for service in the Royal Engineers and served the full 6 years of the War. He considered himself to be in the best rank (Sergeant), and spent some time in the Lincolnshire area on bomb disposal duties. It was an experience that changed his outlook on life. When the War ended he had the opportunity to apply for a commission in the Army but turned this down, and returned for a short period to his former job. However he found it difficult to re-adjust and so despite having a young family and working during the day, he studied at night and weekends to qualify as an accountant, working his way up to Company Secretary, and then moving into the world of Management Consultancy where he became Managing Director of the Birmingham branch of Thornton Baker (now part of Grant Thornton). He was at one time a member of the Small Firms Council of the CBI, and on retiring from work he was a founder member of the Arrowe Park Hospital League of Friends, setting up the accounting systems and managing the shop’s accounts for several years.

It was not until the early 1960s that he began ringing again when, living close to St. Andrew’s Church it became known that he was a former ringer and soon after he was “persuaded” to take over the Captaincy. His work often took him away from home and he spent a period in the 1960s ringing in the Sheffield area and whenever possible attended Handsworth’s practice night. It may have been there that he learnt what he considered to be the simple “key” words to ringing one of his favourite methods – Double Norwich. It remained always an amusing mystery to him why his band could not simply remember “Full, Far, First, Treble Bob, Last and Near”, and ring the method faultlessly! According to Les … “that’s all you need to know!”

Les had a great a love of hand bell ringing and conducted many hand bell peals, often with compositions from a fellow hand bell ringer Robert Peers. The one he most enjoyed was Plain Bob Fourteen, (conducted by Geoff Sparling), in which he rang the tenors. It was the first on 14 for all, first PB 14 for Chester Diocesan Guild and rung at the first attempt.

As a band member I have only happy memories of his Captaincy. Although he often despaired of our ringing standards and could be regularly heard to say at the end of Sunday morning ringing “there’s no hope, no hope!”, this was always followed by one of his dry wry smiles that we came to know so well. Though he sometimes had a blunt and uncompromising way of speaking, underneath he was a “softie” with a kind heart.

At one of our more memorable annual meetings (and in the days before tea bags), we assigned him the task of making tea for the assembled group of 40 visiting ringers. It transpired that his mathematical prowess did not extend to knowing how many spoons of tea to add to the pot. It took several hours to unblock the sink in the Parish Hall and he was relieved of all similar duties in subsequent years!

Despite his failing health in the last three years of his life, he maintained close links with the band and last Christmas Eve, being unable to partake in our ritual post ringing hot punch and mince pies, the ringers took the event to him…something he very much enjoyed.

He strove with grit and determination to cope with his deteriorating health when in 1997 he was diagnosed with cancer. In so doing he earned the admiration of those close to him who were aware of the daily challenges he faced. He maintained his dry sense of humour and astuteness of mind throughout this difficult period and to the end of his life.

His wife Rene predeceased him, and he leaves a son (Alan), and daughter (Helen), two grandsons (Stephen and Andrew) and great grandson (Justin).

At his funeral, which was attended by ringers from most of the Wirral towers, a touching and apt tribute was paid by fellow ringer Charmian Eastwood, spoken in the form of a letter to Les, it included the words “…You made, in that little ringing chamber, a place not only of ringing, but of fellowship and goodwill, of cooperation and friendship …”

In addition to ringing his other pleasures included a pint of beer with friends, reading, politics, the richness of the English language and poetry.

In his letter of resignation to his band in 1997 he ended with lines from a Tennyson poem, which I think he would feel equally fitting here: “The old order changeth yielding place to new…” While of course this is inevitably true, Les is none-the-less greatly missed by his band and ringing friends.

VALERIE M. BEECROFT
St Andrew’s Church, Bebington, Wirral

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