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TUESDAY 27  FEBRUARY 2024

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Sweet music as 200 friends bid the fondest farewell
to Hickey’s John Roberts 

Proudest father: John Roberts with daughter Sacha on her wedding day

ALAN FRAME reports from the funeral of Daily Express William Hickey columnist John Roberts


If there was an Academy Award for Best Celebration of a Life, this would have scooped all the Oscars; Best Choreography, Best Music, Best Supporting Actor, Biggest Audience and Best After Party.


Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the funeral of our dear old chum John Alan Alfred Roberts, Hickey stalwart and a man with a hinterland the size of Sussex, the county he adored and adorned.

 

JR was laid to rest at the beautiful St Leonard’s Church in Turners Hill in that fine county surrounded by his loving family and at least 200 friends, some of whom had no option but to stand throughout the 75-minute service. It was worth it because what they got was a celebration choreographed from start to finish by Roberts himself. As the Best Supporting Actor winner, the vicar Canon David Tickner, told the congregation: ‘All you are about to witness has been organised by John, I had no part in it!’

 

He then explained that when he arrived as parish priest John (a deeply religious man who wore his faith and his upper middle class origins lightly) gave him some ground rules. ‘Sermons should last no more than four minutes he told me and when they did he would raise his left arm from the front pew and point at his watch!’

 

Then came the rousing sound of the hunting horn with the Tally Ho and marching down the aisle came the Bluebell Railway Jazz Band, with whom John played the double bass, with Just a Closer Walk with Thee. That was the Best Music Oscar already  sorted.

 

There were three eulogies designed by John to cover most aspects of the his many layered life; Tony Cocklin, travel journalist, PR and fellow MCC and Sussex CC member as well as devoted Chelsea fan spoke of that part, I talked about his time at the Express, covering much of what I have written here about John. And then Johnny Muxlow told us about his long friendship and their shared joys of hunting, shooting, point to point racing (or pint to pint more accurately, he said) and darts matches in the village pubs.

 

But supremely important to John was family. His adoring daughter Sacha told how she lay on the bed with ‘My Darling Daddy’ clutching him until he died four weeks ago aged 84 with John’s widow Sylvia holding his hand throughout. Granddaughter Gabriella read from the gospels, her brothers Maximilian chose John’s favourite A Sussex Tribute, and Benedict sang To Where You Are by Josh Groban.

 

That was it, not a gloomy funeral, however sad it is that this decent, clever, multi-faceted man has left us, but a brilliant celebration of a life well lived. The Bluebell band led us to the Crown for the wake, all log fires and Harvey’s Best (well what else did you expect?)  Old Express friends present were Jeanette Bishop, Alice Freeman, Jane Slade, Adam Helliker and Neil and Gilly Mackwood. And I am happy to report that the Drone had pride of place at the pub with my original report of John’s death blown up and put on bigger-than-broadsheet card. It looked very good.

 

Best Choreography: And the award goes to John Roberts by unanimous verdict. Did he even somehow organise the snow flurry that hit us as we arrived at the church. You bet he did!

 

John Alan Alfred Roberts, journalist, country sportsman, jazz band musician, real ale enthusiast, above all Family Man, January 1 1939 – November 3 2023



2 December 2023

 

   

John with his wife Sylvia on their wedding day

First car, not one of the Express pool’s finest

The Drone gets a whole new audience

Banjo boy … before John settled for the double bass

Cap-ital chaps: Roberts the big shot with his grandson

Topping cove, a young John in his finest




2 December 2023