RIP AJ: Farewell to the great Alan Johnson

When I moved to a new paper 27 years ago, I was also moving into a new house, in a new town. And on my own.
My wife – then my fiancée – joined me soon afterwards.
But for the first week at least, I knew no one.
Luckily, there was Alan. Sitting implacably at the newsdesk of the Evening Advertiser in Swindon, benign monarch of all he surveyed.
Veteran Adver news editor and sports editor Alan Johnson made me feel welcome and valued, and by the end of that week, I felt completely at home.
He was a calm presence in a frequently mad world, an encouraging mentor, a great ideas machine – and a lover of life.
As many of my former colleagues have said, when Alan was in the office, you knew that the day was going to be fun. Hard and long at times, but always fun.
His keen sense of mischief and his keen eye for life’s absurdities were never far from the surface.
He collected jokes, ill-considered headlines (Body found in cemetery was a favourite, along with Troops ring Obote palace, with Alan trotting out ‘Hello, hello, is that the Obote Palace?’) and trivia.
That welcome and care he extended to me were offered time and again to anyone starting at Adver Towers.
I never fully appreciated it at the time, but he fostered a mentoring culture which spread through the office like glorious wildfire.
Certainly his example encouraged me to look out for and develop younger reporters, even before I moved onto the Adver newsdesk.
More crucially, I learned the extraordinary importance of team spirit, of being able to laugh at life, and of supporting colleagues through thick and thin.
I had come to Swindon from Torquay, where Alan’s counterpart at the Herald Express, Jim Parker, taught me huge lessons about news editing as an energising performance art, bringing out the best in people through humour and drive.
It’s only now, as the sad death of Alan at the age of 77 catapults his image into the forefront of my mind, that I realise how similar those two influences on my working life have been.
They were people who you missed when they were off. That day was never quite as entertaining, never quite as satisfying.
And it isn’t just me that Alan has influenced.
The turnout at his funeral today spoke volumes about the love and respect in which he was held over his 43 years at the Adver.
And the tributes in the Adver obituary have been heartfelt, highlighting his patience, his work ethic, his knowledge – but most of all his determination to enjoy himself.
Alan retired before the digital age really took hold, but I like to think he’d have survived in a world of liveblogging and audience-chasing.
A reporter who started her career at the Adver at around the same time as me remembers Alan getting her to fry an egg on her car bonnet during a heatwave.
“I’ve got some great memories of his schemes and plans,” she texted me.
That was Alan.
Always up to something, always gently rebelling – but always a complete gentleman, and always a journalist who cared about his community.
Rest in peace, old friend.

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