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Leslie Thompson (Les) McClure (1908–1966)

by John Ritchie

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Leslie Thompson (Les) McClure (1908-1966), pie-maker and caterer, was born on 5 October 1908 at Warrnambool, Victoria, eldest of ten children of Australian-born parents Robert Thompson McClure, labourer, and his wife Frances, née McNeil. Educated intermittently at Gnotuk State School until the age of 13, Les worked for his father before being employed by an uncle at Hamilton. He rose before dawn, helped to milk forty cows, delivered the milk in four-gallon (18 litre) drums strung over the handlebars of his bicycle, milked the cows again in the evening and knocked off at 7 p.m. Four nights a week he played the fiddle in a dance group. His uncle sold out in 1933 and the dairy's new proprietor reduced McClure's wages by ten shillings to £1 a week.

On 21 June that year at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Hamilton, McClure married Jessie Alice Emmett, a railwayman's daughter. With borrowed money, he had rented a nearby farm for £80. He gradually increased his milk production to 100 gallons (455 litres) a day, acquired three horses and carts, and opened milk bars at Hamilton and Portland. In February 1939 he disposed of his interests and moved to Bendigo where he established a café named Dad & Dave. A sign that read 'Looky! Looky! See Cookie' encouraged customers to peer through a window and watch the pies being made. As a newcomer, McClure survived price-cutting battles with rival pie-makers and an ice-cream war waged by his competitors. By the end of World War II he owned a string of cafés and milk bars. From 1946 he catered for Bendigo race-meetings, the Melbourne Royal Show and trotting at the showgrounds; from 1952 he did likewise at Flemington Racecourse.

His Four'n Twenty meat pies, initially made at Bendigo in 1947, were produced at the Showgrounds (from 1949) and at a purpose-built factory in Union Road, Ascot Vale (from 1953). After McClure engaged a Czech and two Germans as minority partners in 1951, the pies were so remarkably different from the traditional standard that sales outstripped production facilities. Building extensions doubled the factory's floor-space in 1955 and redoubled it in 1959. In 1956 he had built a machine which produced 1000 dozen pies an hour; by 1960 ninety-eight radio-operated vans delivered his goods. Having ceased smoking cigarettes as a 13-year-old, he took to cigars.

McClure sold his interests in Four'n Twenty Pies Pty Ltd to Peters Ice Cream (Vic.) Ltd in 1960 for £600,000 and left pie-making to concentrate on public catering. In February 1962 he opened McClure's Restaurant (Come As You Are!) in St Kilda Road. Open eighteen hours a day, it had pop-up toasters on the breakfast bar and a telephone on every table to allow customers to order direct from the kitchen. Above the restaurant was a function room, the Oriana. Big hearted, cheery and down-to-earth, McClure liked to describe himself as 'just a little battler from the bush'. He died suddenly of myocardial infarction on 30 October 1966 at his Toorak home and was cremated; his wife, son and five daughters survived him. McClure's estate was sworn for probate at $157,377. After taking over Peters Ice Cream, the Four’n Twenty brand was on-sold by Pacific Dunlop in 1995 to Simplot, which in turn sold it to patties in 2003. By 2009, production at Patties’ Bairnsdale plant in Victoria could reach 21,000 Four’n Twenty pies per day.


Select Bibliography

  • Bendigo Advertiser, 3 Aug 1938
  • Bulletin, 22 Feb 1964
  • Herald (Melbourne), 31 Oct 1966
  • private information.

Citation details

John Ritchie, 'McClure, Leslie Thompson (Les) (1908–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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