Former Daily Star Northern news editor John Mahoney has died aged 60 after a short illness.
Generous to a tee, hilarious and a brilliant bon viveur, Mahoney – also known as “Big JM” or “Mahonners” – was simply one of a kind who saw the good in everybody. He was the undisputed king of the splash and one of life’s truly great characters.
Many journalists over the years will recall having been “Mahoney-ed”, usually on a Thursday or Friday afternoon, but it should also be said he bossed the front pages of his newspaper for 30 years with tales about the rich and famous – whilst everyone else barely got a look in.
Only he could get a splash story out of David Beckham squirting tomato ketchup on his roast lamb, Sir Alex Ferguson having to undergo medical treatment on his jaw due to the amount of gum he chewed during matches, and Syd Little communicating with the ghost of his late comic partner Eddie Large.
And only he could turn up at a police press conference dressed as Batman.
Mahoney started his career at the Bradford Telegraph and Argus before moving to Tom Hopkinson’s news agency in the city’s Lumb Lane during the era of Hopkinson’s legendary “range wars” with arch rival John Pick of York.
He arrived at the Daily Star in 1986 where his great skill in converting the seemingly innocuous or trivial into “showbiz specials” or “belters” quickly became a massive hit with the newspaper’s mantra of “right riveting reads”.
In one of his earliest and most bizarre assignments Mahoney and his close colleague Ian Trueman offered to dress as Batman and Robin for a feature about the village of Gotham in Leicestershire only to be immediately diverted to a press briefing – still sporting their costumes – about the escape of three prisoners.
As the dynamic duo took their places amongst the assembled press pack, the then Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police was heard to exclaim: “Have no fear everyone – Batman and Robin are here!”
True to form Mahoney still got his Gotham “special” in the paper the next day complete with a picture of him riding a specially assembled “Batmobike” fitted with “Batbasket”.
And of course he got the splash with his escaped prisoners’ tale too.
During his career at the Star, Mahoney worked the Hollywood beat in the States before returning to the UK to become Northern news editor in Manchester – first at its iconic former offices on Great Ancoats Street then in Bloom Street in the heart of the city’s Gay Village .
Many of his fantastic tales were born in the newsroom but then crafted over a liquid lunch, rapid fire banter and a game of pool in his favourite local the Smithfield which he christened “The Home of Hard News”, and also Churchills pub near Canal Street where he had his own “hetero-corner”.
All stories were filed effortlessly and word perfect over the phone to a copy taker in London before he selected Teenage Kicks by the Undertones and Rod Stewart’s version of Handbags and Gladrags to play on the jukebox.
Renowned for greeting people with the words “Bowling!” and “Now then!” he adapted another of his catchphrases “Where’s he gone?” in relation to – among many others – former Manchester United footballer Eric Djemba-Djemba, a convicted killer dubbed “The Evil Son”, and a dog called “Bob” which featured in an infamous bestiality case.
Mahoney was known as a brilliant operator who brought us journalism with a smile on its face.
Longtime Daily Star colleague Tony Brooks said: “He was the original red top hack. He set the benchmark when he was given free rein to do the tales he wanted and quite frankly everyone else followed what he did.
“He also treated the job as something to be enjoyed. His brand of journalism was way ahead of its time.”
Former Daily Star associate editor Ian Trueman said: “Professionally he stood out from the best and often left his opposition in his wake with numerous soap exclusives and top draw splashes and page leads.
“Personally I could write a book with hilarious anecdotes from our days on the ‘oooh aahh’ Daily Star and endless occasions we were out and about as Likely Lads. Quite simply he was my Batman and I was his Robin
“Rest In Peace ‘Mahonners’. You will be sadly lost, but your smiling face, loving kind personality and fond memories live on.”
Mahoney leaves his wife Moya and two daughters Katherine and Lucy.
Picture: Cavendish Press