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Obituary: Tony Clarke, journalist

PUBLISHED: 15:21 03 November 2008 | UPDATED: 07:45 01 August 2010

Tony Clarke - dialect comedian

Tony Clarke - dialect comedian

At work Tony Clarke was a dedicated community newshound who reported on matters that mattered to his patch.

At play, dressed in a smock coat, he had audiences in stitches with dialect comedy from his alter ego the Boy Jimma.

Tony Clarke - respected journalist

At work Tony Clarke was a dedicated community newshound who reported on matters that mattered to his patch.

At play, dressed in a smock coat, he had audiences in stitches with dialect comedy from his alter ego the Boy Jimma.

His death at the weekend, aged 71, after a three-year battle with cancer, will be mourned across Norfolk and Suffolk. For Mr Clarke was not only a respected “old school” journalist who reported accurately and fairly on the community he was proud to be part of, but he also drew admiration and applause for his ability to tell a rural yarn in both the written and spoken word with his trademark gentle whimsical wit.

Mr Clarke, the EDP's chief reporter at Beccles for 25 years, was born at Attleborough, the son of a railway station master.

He joined the then Norfolk News Company in 1954 as a junior reporter at Thetford before transferring to the Norwich Mercury, where he had special responsibility for covering Wymondham, and ran a “behind bars” series of local publicans which involved visiting 240 hostelries.

After two years of National Service in the RAF he returned to the EDP in 1961, then in 1969 had a three-year spell as assistant editor on the Navy News in Portsmouth, before returning to East Anglia and Beccles where he became chief reporter in 1973.

He immersed himself in the community at his beloved Beccles, becoming chairman of the town's football club, president of the Rotary club, founder member of the twinning association and a member of the Beccles carnival committee, and both the Beccles and Bungay choral societies.

On his retirement in 1997 he said: “Looking back I have enjoyed it enormously. Beccles is the sort of place where the more you put in, the more you get out.”

A statement from his family yesterday said: “There were some great scoops like the letter bombs destined for the 1970s Northern Ireland Secretary Jim Prior that were stopped at Beccles sorting office. But dad realised the everyday bread and butter stuff was just as important to readers."

Even after his retirement Mr Clarke wrote articles for the EDP and used to bring snippets and story tips off into the office as people continued to stop in the street with bits of news.

EDP assistant editor Paul Durrant said: "All of us at the EDP are saddened to learn of Tony's death.

I will remember Tony best for his wry sense of humour. He understood people and what made them tick, and could defuse many a situation with his dry wit.

"He was loyal to his community and to the truth. They are values that he epitomised in the best traditions of the EDP."

Terry Reeve, associate editor of the Beccles and Bungay Journal who worked with Mr Clarke for 11 years said: "Tony was a true gentlemen journalist who was fun to work with. He was a kind, considerate and compassionate man dedicated to being fair to the people who were subjects of his stories. He was respected by everyone who came into contact with him and his care and guidance was a positive influence on the careers of trainee reporters he nurtured.”

Retirement provided more time to expand his other self, the Boy Jimma - a character he created 40 years ago, after acquiring the smock when bucolic humorist Sidney Grapes was in his prime and Tony harboured ambition to be a “clergyman or comedian” he once recalled.

Instead, when journalism became his career, he entertained with his humour after work, especially in the Waveney Valley where he was much in demand as an after-dinner speaker. It led to Mr Clarke becoming a regular member of the touring troupe the Press Gang, whose founder Keith Skipper paid tribute to his laid-back “slow burn” delivery, saying “he brought a gentle brand of old-fashioned homely humour to our travels.”

Press Gang members would salute his “warm and friendly character” at their farewell dinner this Friday night, when all the favourite stories about Tony and Jimma would be dong the rounds. They included the night when Mr Skipper fell off a village hall stage, and an unfazed deadpan Jimma said: “He dunt normally dew that.”

Tales of the accident-prone son of the soil Jimma were also published in books Mighta Bin Wuss and Thass a Rum Ow Job.

And Mr Clarke's support of the local dialect saw him elevated to secretary and chairmanship of the Friends of the Norfolk Dialect which he helped found in 1999 - and used to write their panto scripts.

He leaves a widow Pat, three children Tina, Jerry and Tim and four grandchildren, who in a family statement said:

“Dad kept his sense of humour right until the very end - just as he had hoped."

Funeral details will be announced later.

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