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Tributes to a 'gentleman' journalist

PUBLISHED: 09:54 04 November 2008 | UPDATED: 21:41 05 July 2010

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.

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.

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.

He built a reputation for a reporter, combining fairness and accuracy with wit and wisdom.

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 tip-offs 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.”

Retirement provided more time to expand his other self, the Boy Jimma - a character he created 40 years ago.

It was a role that saw Mr Clarke become a member of the Press Gang touring entertainers, 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 doing 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.”

And Mr Clarke's support of the local dialect saw him elevated to the chairmanship of the Friends of the Norfolk Dialect which he helped found in 1999.

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.

Richard Batson

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