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Sad farewell to Mr Beccles

PUBLISHED: 08:00 07 November 2008 | UPDATED: 07:45 01 August 2010

TONY Clarke was remembered this week by his family, friends and colleagues as a true gentleman of the press, who touched many peoples' lives.

Since his untimely death on Sunday after a three year battle with cancer, tributes have been pouring in for the man who was the face of the Beccles and Bungay Journal for more than 25 years.

TONY Clarke was remem-bered this week by his family, friends and coll-eagues as a true gentleman of the press who touched many people's lives.

Since his untimely death on Sunday after a three-year battle with cancer, tributes have been pouring in to the man who was the face of the Beccles and Bungay Journal for more than 25 years.

Tony, who was 71, may officially have retired some years ago, but until only two weeks ago he was still supplying stories from around the Waveney Valley to the paper.

This week, his widow Pat, daughter Tina and sons Jeremy and Tim spoke of how he had kept his sense of humour right until the end, "just as he'd hoped".

Journal associate editor Terry Reeve, who had worked with Tony for 11 years, said he was a rich character held in huge respect and affection in the towns of Beccles, Bungay, Loddon, Halesworth and all the villages in his patch.

Tony was chief reporter at Beccles for 25 years for both the Eastern Daily Press and the Journal - to a large extent he edited the Journal.

Mr Reeve said he counted it as a privilege to have worked with him and valued his support and friendship, something Tony had given generously to many people over the years.

"He was a kind, considerate and compassionate man, dedicated to being fair to those he worked with and the people who were subjects of his stories. He loved meeting people and writing about them, and I think he enjoyed covering the grassroots, human interest stories rather than the big, one-off dramas, though there were plenty of them during his time as the company's man at Beccles," he said.

Born at Attleborough, Tony came to the area when his father became stationmaster at Bungay railway station. Having been educated at Thetford Grammar School and Eccles Hall School, he went to Bungay Grammar School for his last years in education before joining what was then the Norfolk News Company in 1954 - it later became Eastern Counties Newspapers, before becoming Archant eight years ago.

Tony worked for spells at the Thetford office and head office in Norwich, which included the Wymondham beat, before moving to Portsmouth for three years as assistant editor of Navy News.

It was after upon returning

to the company from there

that he took over from Gerald Lawson at Beccles in 1973.

He quickly became respected by everyone who came into contact with him, and his care and guidance was a positive influence on the careers of trainee reporters assigned to the Beccles office.

Mr Reeve said: "He was fun to work with. He had a great sense of humour, droll and whimsical, and loved making people laugh. Often in the morning, after trudging up the stairs to the newsroom at the Blyburgate office, he would start by recounting a joke he had heard, or had perhaps created himself.

"Then, after organising his troops to the day's duties, he would pull on an old knitted cardigan he kept at the office. It became more and more holey as the years went by, but he used it till he retired."

Aside from his duties at work, Tony was a sought-after speaker at Women's Institutes and other organisations, and it was through this that he honed his humour into the character of The Boy Jimma - the slow-witted Norfolk character who became known across Norfolk and Suffolk when he became

part of the Press Gang, led by former colleague Keith Skipper.

He would have audiences in stitches with his jokes in the Norfolk accent, something of which he was so protective that he helped to form The Friends of the Norfolk Dialect, dedicated to preserving the local tongue. He was their chairman for a while.

Tony loved his adopted town of Beccles and also Halesworth and Bungay, where he became a member of the Rotary Club and was its president in 1984-85.

Terry said: "He loved the tradition of the Bungay Town Dinner, the town's premier social occasion hosted by the Town Reeve, and for several years led the singing of the song, Old Bungay.

"He was also regularly on the toast list at the event. If some of the previous speeches were slightly stodgy, Tony could be guaranteed to end the evening on a high with his humour and stories; he was a true raconteur."

Singing was also a great love. He and his wife Pat shared many interests, singing together at Beccles Choral Society and, later, Bungay Choral Society, with Tony prominent among the tenors.

He was also a great fan of the Waveney Valley, often enjoying an early walk with Pat on Beccles Common before going to work.

"At the office, Tony would report on the progress of nesting swans or other aspects of nature they witnessed there. Their beloved black labrador Sam was with them in their earlier years in Beccles, and later golden labrador Bram," said Mr Reeve.

Tony was also chairman of Beccles Town Football Club between 1974 and 1981 and for some years worshipped regularly at St Michael's Church, where he was a sidesman, and later at Worlingham church.

He has left an indelible mark on the area he loved in many ways both through his work and his outside interests.

He and Pat were founder-members of Beccles Twinning Association, and the town's twinning with Petit Couronne in France became one of the most successful in the country, leading it to win a national award.

Mr Reeve said: "Tony and Pat loved France, and French wine, and made many firm friendships during their regular visits there and while hosting groups from Petit Couronne. And when they returned he would always share his experiences with colleagues at the office, waxing lyrical about their exploits - none more hilarious than his account of the Beccles party trying to teach the French dwile-flonking!"

"In his discerning and thoughtful way, Tony was a philosopher, and passionate about many things, none more so that him family."

He leaves his widow, children Tina, Jeremy and Tim and four grand-children. And as a family they paid tribute to Tony, saying they were proud of him.

"We all knew he loved us and was proud of us because he was never shy of letting us know. But best of all he knew that we loved him and have always been proud of him. We are especially proud of him and Mum for the way they have both fought his cancer as a team," they said.

"When they were told back in 2005 about the myeloma they adapted their lifestyle to cope but only as much as was strictly necessary. It didn't stop them spending summer holidays camping in the Pyrenees or walking in the French Alps.

"In February this year Dad's condition took a turn for the worse. Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and finally Velcade failed to slow the progression of a very aggressive illness. But Dad kept his sense of humour right until the very end, just as he had hoped."

Of his journalistic career, they added: "Lots of people got to know Dad during his time as chief reporter in Beccles. He was a reporter of the old school and as a result was very much a part of the community. Even after he retired people would stop him and Mum in the street with some snippet of news.

"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."

Mr Reeve said: The family, friends and the wider Waveney Valley have lost a rich character held in huge respect and affection by those in the towns of Beccles Bungay, Loddon, Halesworth and all the villages in his patch.

"He was one of the last remaining journalists of the old school. The phrase 'gentlemen of the press' is overworked, but Tony was a true gentleman journalist, and his death

is a big loss to the Waveney

Valley, where he will be widely mourned.

The thanksgiving service and celebration of the life of Tony Clarke will be at St Michael's Church, Beccles, on Wednesday, November 19, at 2pm.

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