It was my first job in newspapers – it was to be my editor Alan Butt’s last.
We worked together in Devon in the late Eighties on the Northcliffe weekly, the Exeter Leader. I was the cub reporter – actually the only reporter – and Mr Butt (for I would never have called him Alan) was the veteran editor.
I quickly learned that he was a perfectionist and expected quality writing and flare on every story, down to the shortest of nibs. He could be formidable when I got it wrong but occasionally, when I got it right, he would declare in his broad Devon accent: ‘Dawnie, m’dear, I think you’ve got it.”
Alan was diminutive in stature yet larger than life in every other way. He had an idiom to suit every occasion, a great sense of humour and journalistic anecdotes worthy of the very best storytellers.
He had held some big jobs in newspapers. He joined the Tiverton Gazette in 1948 as a trainee journalist straight from school aged 16.
Following National Service as a lieutenant in the army, he returned to the Gazette, where he became chief reporter, until 1978 when he went on to be news editor of the Exeter Express and Echo, working with his close friend, the editor, Roy Greenslade.
From there, he took over the role as editor of the North Devon Journal at the peak of its success. He took early retirement in 1991 after five years at the Exeter Leader and moved to Spain with his wife of 54 years, Marian.
Alan Butt was a remarkable journalist with a brilliant eye for a story. When he got the slightest whiff of a local political scandal his eyes would light up, he’d reach for his ancient typewriter and, misquoting a famous expression by former Economics Minister George Brown, would declare: ‘Brothers, we’re on our way.”
He was utterly charismatic too, making all his contacts believe they were his trusted confidants. I saw him charm many a local dignitary, councillor or disgruntled advertiser.
The leader of the council once turned up in our office, furious about a leader column by Alan. ‘Righto,’he said, ‘Let’s tell your side of the story right now.’He had fed the paper into his typewriter and was typing with two fingers at high speed before the councillor had time to object.
Our press was in Plymouth, which meant a weekly journey to the print works each Wednesday. It would be late as we drove back and when we reached the top of a large hill, the lights of the entire city of Exeter twinkled below us. Without fail, every week, Alan would say: ‘Just look at that m’dear – every one a reader.”
He was a unique man, an old school journalist with high values and a real passion for the industry. He will be remembered for a long time. He died in Spain of a stroke, aged 72.