The life of Alex

Film extra Alex, left as Sir Lackalot, duels with a Star Wars fight arranger

Former Sunday Express Belfast correspondent Alex Lindsay died from Covid-19 on Saturday 5 December, 2020, aged 78. He had been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.

The following tribute has been writtent by Andy Chapman and Friends

Alex Lindsay, one of journalism’s most colourful characters and a regular at the Liverpool Press Club’s annual Christmas luncheon, has died at the age of 78. 

The former Sunday Express reporter whose national newspaper career spanned 40 years, was born on May 21st 1942 in Kilbirnie, Ayrshire, Scotland, the youngest of five and son of a steelworker.

Flora Macdonald by artist Allan Ramsay.jpg

Alex maintained that by some strange lineage of birth, he was a distant relative of Flora Macdonald, who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie evade government troops after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. In the famous portrait by Allan Ramsay, pictured right, there is a certain resemblance to Alex in the eyes of Jacobite heroine Flora…

He began as a cub reporter on the Paisley Daily Express, graduating to the Sheffield Morning Telegraph, once one of Britain’s most prestigious provincial papers, where he was Diary Editor.

At the Sunday Express he was the Belfast Bureau Chief covering the Troubles through the early 1970s. Alex’s easy manner and gently persuasive way of news gathering quickly won over contacts on both sides of the political spectrum, leading to many agenda setting scoops.

His nocturnal forays into McGlade’s Bar in Donegal Street in search of a lead earned him the nickname ‘The Moth’ as he mingled with other journalists, politicians, Catholics and Protestants alike, in what was a melting pot of cultural and idealogical opposites.

When the Express offices were bombed by the IRA, Alex was famously blown off the toilet by the impact – and lightened the mood by waddling into the stricken newsroom with his trousers round his ankles proclaiming: "I’ll never eat curry again!”

alex lindsay.jpg

Friends and colleagues have paid tribute to the diminutive, dapper, star writer of the old broadsheet Sunday Express whose sales topped four million in the late 60’s and early 70’s under the legendary editorship of Sir John Junor. Ever the jester, Alex, pictured left,  had his own nickname for JJ – The Knight of Baleful Countenance.

Former Daily Mail District man in Newcastle, Roger Scott, knew Alex well from those Belfast days, and met his future wife Barbara through the Northern Ireland conflict.

“I was a visiting fireman from The Sun in Manchester, Barbara was on the Belfast Telegraph and Alex, had observed and often nurtured our burgeoning relationship.”

And he recalls how, as Best Man at Roger’s wedding, Alex had a crafty wheeze to get him to the register office on time.

“Barbara and I had been married just a few hours when she came up with an unexpected question: ‘Why is there grit in the bath?’ 

"The answer was even more unexpected. Alex had slept in it.

“A stickler for tradition, he insisted the stag do earlier in the week didn’t count, and turned up on our doorstep to go on a proper, wedding-eve pub crawl. I didn’t want to go but Alex was very persuasive and, at 2am, we poured out of a bar in Ancoats following an after-hours session.

‘The taxi lurched up the unmade, pot-holed road to our home in Whalley Range, and as the door opened on Alex’s side he tumbled out onto the muck, managed to scramble back up, and dusted himself down.

‘Then, he sent me off to bed for a few hours sleep while he kept vigil.

‘From the bathtub…

“As we walked to a local barber’s shop for a shave and hot towels he explained that by resting in the bath fully clothed he would be so uncomfortable that he would not fall asleep and fail in his duties. So, he got me to the register office on time – leaving behind the evidence of his wonderfully creative best-manship.”

Andy Chapman, former Mail on Sunday Northern District Man, told how as a young reporter on his first national paper in 1978 he was immediately impressed by Alex on their first night out drinking around the bars of Ancoats.

“It was late, but not time for home. We went across Great Ancoats Street from the Crown and Kettle to the Land O’ Cakes. The doors were locked and the curtains shut but there was a glimmer of light, and a low murmuring inside. I was disappointed we hadn’t quite made it in time.

Roger Scott gives his Best Man the once-over.

“No problem old boy,” said Alex, who then produced a key from his coat pocket. It fitted the side door and we slipped in the back way.

“I had never before been in the company of a newsman with a key to a pub, and never have to this day. I just knew I was with a consummate operator.”

More fun was to come, said Andy.

“We teamed up in the purchase of a canal boat, registering it at a cruising club as ‘Cirrhosis of the River’.

“The Telegraph’s Peterborough column carried a snippet and the vessel became widely known along the canals and rivers of Northern England.

“As we lurched along the cut, from lockside pub to pub, Alex would sometimes take on the mannerisms of Captain Bligh from Mutiny on the Bounty, and I the role of Fletcher Christian.

“Alex would adopt an air of malign authority as opening time approached, a gimlet eye on the pocket watch he carried in his naval reefer jacket complete with polished brass buttons. He would ask ‘Is the prisoner fit for punishment Mr Christian?’ To which I would reply “Aye, Captain, aye. He is fit’.

‘Then Alex would respond with the immortal words:”Two large Glenmorangies.”

Despite the Sunday Express staff being decimated by redundancies in the 1990’s, Alex’s journalistic career was far from over. He went on to own and edit a newspaper on Rhodes, Greece, where he and his wife Sue lived on a converted yacht in the city’s harbour. He then became News Editor of the Gulf News in Dubai, the most prominent English language newspaper in the province.

He also found time to write features and once wore a full suit of armour to do battle at Camelot theme park as ‘Sir Lackalot, the Shortest Knight of the Year’.

During his full and varied career, Alex interviewed The Queen and Princess Anne, and dined at Buckingham Palace. He appeared in movies as an extra alongside Sophia Loren, David Niven, Richard Gere and Paul Newman, as material for his writing.

He interviewed The Beatles in their early days and proclaimed: "Their music will never catch on.” He held a private pilot’s licence, and also drove The Flying Scotsman. He trained as a Cordon Bleu chef, and wrote about challenging the Italian national ice cream making champion to produce the most bizarre, but palatable, flavour imaginable. Result: Gelato Alexander, a concoction of Gorgonzola cheese and onion.

Alex became a trapeze artist in a circus, and underwent training in danger scenes by the Star Wars stunt director.

Despite suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, Alex was working on his third novel when he fell ill with pneumonia and went into hospital.

Despite his derring-do in search of a story idea, he never courted danger. But he was blown up and shot at by the IRA. And once, a horse fell through his car roof…

He wrote and published two novels. Dollar was a WW2 thriller based on the true life plot to transport Britain's entire gold reserves to America through the U-boat infested waters of the Atlantic, which came to the attention of the Nazis.

His last publication was The Naked Soul, another thriller based on the story of a former SAS officer turned vicar who attends a regimental reunion — and sees the face of his teenage daughter, missing and presumed dead, on a sex video.

Despite suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, Alex was working on his third novel when he fell ill with pneumonia and went into hospital.

While in a care home recuperating, the Covid pandemic clamped down on family visits and sadly Sue, his wife of 25 years, saw him just once in six months – despite neither Alex nor Sue having contracted coronavirus.

In desperation Sue, 72, campaigned to bring some hope for care home residents to be able to see their loved ones regularly with better facilities to allow more contact on compassionate grounds.

Alex’s plight in the Beaufort Care Home in Burscough, Lancs, was highlighted in the regional and national press, with the Daily Mail carrying the story.

Sadly, despite vaccinations against Covid within weeks of being rolled out in care homes, Alex contracted the virus and his health rapidly deteriorated.

Alex was a one-off, a brilliant journalist, raconteur and man of culture. He was a rare breed of character, whom I have never known anyone have a bad word to say against.

He is survived by his wife Sue and her two sons John and Chris, his daughter Alison from a previous marriage, and six granddaughters.

Journalism has now become ‘online news’ with lunch eaten at a ‘hot desk’ in a deserted call centre newsroom while answering the phone. Our once proud craft will never see the likes of Alex Lindsay again and the world is a poorer place for his passing.

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre