James McClure

James McClure had more lives than a wagonload of cats.

But make no mistake. Jim — who died on 17 June after a catalogue of illnesses and complications that would have seen off a lesser man, or might have done credit to one of his novels — lived each of those lives to the full.

Schoolteacher, commercial photographer, reporter, sub-editor, features editor, talented artist, cartoonist, novelist, deputy editor, freelance writer, undertaker — yes, undertaker, black suit, black hat et al — picture editor and finally editor, he did the lot. He even found time to work in a charity shop and run a residents' group in his adopted town of Wallingford in Oxfordshire.

He was multi-skilled before the word was invented by an industry demanding more from less. Yet compromising standards was never an option.

Jim was born in Johannesburg in October 1939, his Scottish parents having emigrated there in the 1930s. For a brief spell, he worked as a commercial photographer before becoming art teacher at his old school, Cowan House in Pietermaritzburg, Natal. During this time, he met Lorly, his wife of 44 years.

They were married after a whirlwind romance.

In 1963, Jim turned his attention to journalism, working as a crime reporter for the next couple of years in Pietermaritzburg, witnessing first-hand the evils of the Apartheid regime.

It was conscience that brought him to Britain. How could he one day justify staying in South Africa to his young son, James? In July 1965, the small family left for Scotland — with no job and no real prospects.

Fortunately, he soon found work as a sub-editor on the Scottish Daily Mail in Edinburgh. A year later he moved south and began his long association with the Westminster Press-owned Oxford Mail and The Oxford Times — an association albeit punctuated by periods as a freelance writer, novelist and undertaker.

His first Oxford job was as a sub-editor on the Oxford Mail, then edited by Mark Barrington-Ward. In his spare time, he put his experience as a crime reporter to good use by starting his eight-long series of novels featuring Kramer and Zondi, the unlikely Boer and Zulu detective partnership. His first novel, The Steam Pig, earned him the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger in 1971.

By 1974, he was deputy editor of the Mail's sister paper, The Oxford Times, but he resigned to try his hand at full-time writing. While Kramer and Zondi occupied much of his time, he produced Spike Island: Portrait of a British Police Division, a day-to-day account of police work in Liverpool, and Cop World: Inside an American Police Force, which took him to San Diego to research and write. These books are regarded as classics on police work on both sides of the Atlantic.

Jim returned to the Oxford newspapers in 1986, again as a sub-editor, but soon became features editor of The Oxford Times. His skill as a photographer led to him becoming a picture editor, before Nicholas Herbert, then editorial director of Westminster Press, appointed him editor of The Oxford Times, the group's most prestigious weekly.

In 2000, Jim became editor of the Oxford Mail, the first and so far only person to edit both titles. For the next three years, he worked tirelessly to restore standards and belief in the newspaper.

Sloppy English was never acceptable and images without composition were rejected out of hand. Many a reporter, pleased with a certain turn of phrase, or a photographer, glowing over a particular image, was brought to earth by Jim's constructive criticism. He expected his staff to agonise over their work, first because of his passionate obsession with truth that so often had been denied in South Africa, and secondly because he believed that if the public was prepared to pay the compliment of reading newspapers, they should be given the best.

But there was nothing stiff and starchy about Jim. There was always underlying humour likely to erupt in the unlikeliest of places. Senior executives at Oxford tell of the mischievous cartoons he might produce during long and boring meetings. An example of his cartoon work can be seen every day in Oxford and on the internet. He designed the simple yet effective motif for the new children's hospital campaign.

Over the years, Jim and Lorly's family expanded, with the arrival of Alistair and Kirsty and recently Rick joined the ranks as a future son-in-law.

The funeral will be at St Mary's Church, Wallingford, at 2pm on Wednesday 5 July, followed by burial in the town cemetery. The family has requested no flowers, but would welcome donations to the Mercy Corps or Amnesty International.

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