1 July 2010

Alan and Stan

Let me quickly tell you first that Bentley is fine, and thank you to the fair few who have asked. He's a bit gummy and he has to take antibiotics and painkillers, but he's in very good spirits. He barked at a West Highland terrier last night, which in view of the grief these awful little dogs have given him and the other Bassets over the years, is to be applauded, frankly.

Yesterday was Alan's funeral. I knotted up my black tie and headed back to Huddersfield for the service at the town's crematorium. Alan wasn't a religious chap and so his partner and daughters had opted for a humanist service. This was fine, except the man delivering the life story of Alan was very young, very nervous, and didn't seem to have the charisma to do Alan's remarkable 82 years justice. Getting a couple of crucial facts wrong didn't help either, especially in a room full of reporters.

He was good when doing the reflective stuff and delivering appropriate poetry, however, and I smiled when we all trudged past Alan's coffin to the sound of Take It Easy by the Eagles. A man born in 1927 shouldn't necessarily have been in the target audience of even the peak-era Eagles, but Alan was. He went to see them in concert in Huddersfield in the 1990s when I worked for him. The 22 year old me persuaded him to listen to REM as a consequence and lent him Automatic For The People, which he enjoyed, going to their concert at the stadium the following year.

We then headed to Outlane Golf Club for the wake. Anyone who has driven over the Pennines on the westbound M62 in clear conditions will see this place on the huge banks of green and pleasant Yorkshire land as they depart the fragrant side of the north and head towards the border with the other side. Alan was a longtime member and there was money behind the bar for all the mourners, a gesture typical of Alan and those around him, though who was directly responsible I don't know. Alan's sparring partner in business for 42 years and friend for 56, Stan, then delivered a terrific monologue of memories of their time together, during which time he mentioned every young trainee hack who had felt the benefit of their extensive knowledge of the industry. That included me.

What was notable was that Stan was treated by the guests as an equal to Alan's family in that when they offered sympathies or said their farewells, either at the service or the wake, they would go and see Stan as well as Alan's partner and daughters. That is the power of a working relationship that succeeds. Stan wasn't family, but knew Alan for longer than literally anyone else in the room. He was brilliant yesterday, absolutely brilliant, and many told him so. He was, of course, most modest in his response.

When I worked for them they never gave the impression of being absolute bosom buddies, but good partners and exceptional journalists who held immeasurable respect for each other. In many ways, they were very different but their principles and generational closeness made them identical. Alan could drink any individual under any table whereas Stan's limit was half a bitter before he preferred to have a hearty meal. They fought like cat and dog but, as Stan said, rarely about how to write something; usually it was about daft things of little consequence that had me, and no doubt my predecessors as the wide-eyed apprentice in the corner, in fits of laughter. Once the row was done, it was forgotten and they'd both be in the pub by lunchtime, regaling us with life-enhancing anecdotes.

With Alan's passing, a little bit of how a lot of good, gifted people have turned out in life has gone, not least in Stan. But such was their human goodness as a partnership and as individuals, Alan's own qualities live on in Stan, and hopefully in every one of us lucky enough to work for these amazing men.

After the funeral, I got changed and went to work in Stockport, where I'm on drivetime shifts. On the way home I rang Stan to say well done. I just meant for the way he held himself together and played host on the day, but I suppose in reality I meant it for everything he and his late pal have ever done.

The collections after the service were for Kirkwood Hospice in Huddersfield and Yorkshire Kidney Research. I wouldn't dream of asking people who didn't know Alan to make a contribution, but perhaps you could visit their websites. Thanks.

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