I've just received the sad news that my first boss has passed away. Alan co-ran the news agency where I worked between 1993 and 1998 and was already beyond the usual retirement age when I hooked up. I'm guessing he was 83 when he died yesterday afternoon.
He was a fantastic bloke, fully red-bearded which made him identical to Richard Stilgoe, except Alan was a far better wordsmith. He and his business partner Stan were old school hacks, brought up on typewriters, spikes, trench coats, copy via telephone boxes and what looked like 4,000,000 wpm in very complicated Pitman. They had run the agency together since the 1950s.
Alan hired myself and another 20 year old trainee in order to replace a young reporter destined for bigger things (that chap is now chief football writer for the Daily Mirror) and also to allow him to take a little more time away from the office. I can only recall him dashing out on a breaking story once, which was a tragic road crash in Sowerby Bridge which involved a lorry, a BT van and two shops, and resulted in half a dozen deaths. He drove to the scene and returned with a story, loads of quotes and a clear idea of how it should be written. It was done in half an hour and over several front pages the next day.
He wouldn't mind me saying, however, that those of us who knew him in the 1990s and onwards remember best what he was like in the pub rather than in the office. He was phenomenally generous, and always got the first round in irrespective of how many people were in it. He and Stan saw it as a gentlemanly duty to take me and the other newbie for a beer each evening after work, as well as the odd lunchtime and always in the press box bar at Huddersfield Town on a Saturday, because they were aware that our salaries weren't exactly outstanding and so a young boy's ale requirements should not be part of his weekly outgoings. Through this period, we were treated to endless tales about their finest hours and maddest moments as West Yorkshire journalists from the 1950s onwards, and as raconteurs they were hard to match. Both men were so different, as individuals and as a partnership, and yet so similar. They embodied principles and values and kindnesses that I hope rubbed off on everyone who worked with them.
They tried their best with me, but even they couldn't turn a decent writer into someone who had decent news sense, though I still felt I learned more in a fortnight with them than I did in a year on an NCTJ training course ("What do they teach you in these bloody colleges?") and so in 1998 I quit being a journalist for the alleged career I have now. By then both had retired entirely and sold the agency on. For all the enjoyment I got from working with a new boss, it wasn't quite the same as hearing Alan grumble about the accounts or tell a yarn about Frank Worthington or James Pickles while Stan argued with a copytaker or practised his singing.
Stan informed me of this news about half an hour ago, and it's so sad. I've had my share of evil and incompetent bosses over the years, so when one of the Really Good Guys goes, it is all the more poignant. Rest in peace Alan, here's a pint and a whisky chaser. Now tell us again about Lord Kagen's downfall.