Kelly was born in Workington, Cumberland, and was one of twin brothers amongst a family of a carpenter father and a Scots mother. His talent was recognised early and allowed to flourish in a very religious family of Plymouth Brethren - Methodist persuasion. Due to the General Depression and the relative poverty of his family, opportunities for his art education had to be bypassed, and he left school at 14 to enter post office employment, where he rose to become a Postal and Telegraph officer in Kendal. There he joined the Kendal Art Society where he began to learn technique.
He served in the Army and also married his first wife (1942) who took over most of the family and wage earning duties from that time. He continued with the post office until 1958, when he quit that to take up odd jobs in sign painting, etc. and teaching. From that time he began to visit Cornwall each summer, teaching in the Holiday Sketching Group classes and summer schools run by Charles BREAKER, Eric HILLER and Marjorie MORT. Here in Cornwall he did a great deal of his own work, concentrating on boats and harbours.
Except for a brief excursion, with his second wife, hopefully to find a new home in Cornwall (impossible due to high costs) Kelly did not return to the county after 1965. His story is told in brief in brilliant new catalogue issued by Messum's (2011) by Chris Wadsworth, his biographer, and the gallery owner who rescued Kelly's work after his death in dire poverty in Norfolk.
A full biography is scheduled for publication this year (2011) also by Chris Wadsworth.