Farewell to Mike on a grey day in Belfast

Young Deane

Mike Deane pictured in Singapore in 1982 on a visit to his former colleague Nigel Lilburn. Mike had just been made deputy managing editor

By ALAN FRAME

Our old friend and colleague Michael Deane made his last journey yesterday on a suitably grey, wet Irish day. But the weather certainly didn’t deter a large turn-out at Roselawn Crematorium, Belfast. Indeed it was standing room only as we said our farewells to Mike, who died at the age of 70 on January 13, 2016, finally losing his 10-year fight with cancer. 

dixie

Widow Christine and sons David and Richard, of whom Mike was inordinately proud, led the mourners together with his extended family. Terry Manners and I flew from London to be there, getting up at the sort of time at which we used to go to bed…and this meant the need for refreshment before making our way to Roselawn. There is no finer place than John Betjeman’s favourite pub, the National Trust-owned Crown Liquor Saloon in Great Victoria Street, all stained glass and booths, great Guinness and Irish stew and this time without the hordes of Japanese tourists. After the service, a reception was held at the nearby La Mon hotel, rather different now from the place bombed by the Provisionals in 1978, killing 12. As a native of the province it is a joy, whatever the weather or even the occasion, to be back in a country so different and mostly happy with itself. I gave this short address concentrating on Mike’s career at the Express which prompted many of his friends later to bemoan the general state of the printed Press:

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I rang Mike exactly two weeks ago and we had a long chat. His voice sounded much stronger than just before Christmas and, as always, he was optimistic and lively and determined. He had been fighting his damned cancer for so long that he – and most of us – thought he could go on cheating it forever. Indeed, when I came off the phone I said to a friend: “At this rate he’ll outlive us all”

My first word to him was the one which started all our conversations: “Howzeboutye?” and his last words to me that day were: “This thing’s not going to beat me you know”. I believed him and was looking forward immensely to the date Terry Manners and I had with Mike. But instead of flying over to see him at the beginning of next month we are here today in very different circumstances.

I first met Michael in 1979 when I joined the Daily Express in London. In fact we could have been colleagues 15 years earlier when I went to work as the most junior of junior cub reporters on the News-Letter where I stayed for two years. I had left Methody and Mike BRA (Methodist College and Belfast Royal Academy, two of the four rival schools in the city) at the same time but he, wise fellow, had taken off to the sun for a stint in Australia not joining the News-Letter (after UTV) until much later. By that time the young barman who served the thirsty staff their Guinness in the Duke of York, the pub in those days next door to the paper, had moved on to less peaceful employment. His name was – is – Gerry Adams.

So it was not until the Express that we bumped into each other, discovered we had so much in common and became instant friends (by coincidence I had even sub-edited the Nature Notes on the News-Letter, written by his father, the great C Douglas Deane). Mike and I were both news sub editors then, along with Terry, and it was from there that the careers of all three of us and many others started to take off. Up the greasy pole we called it. And sometimes down…

It wasn’t long before Mike was appointed deputy managing editor and in the many emails we have received from former colleagues, all have remarked on the friendly face he brought to the job. After all, few hacks appreciate having their expenses claims scrutinised, let alone questioned and slashed! But somehow he fulfilled that small part of his very senior role without alienating colleagues. Terry became night editor and editor of the Express in Scotland and I became executive editor. Considering that Terry and I were in charge of large budgets and always wanted our way, and Mike was paid to keep us in check, it says a lot about the man that we all remained such good friends right up to this sad day. 

The great thing about the Express then – apart from the fact that it was a terrific newspaper, something it ceased to be long ago - was the camaraderie of the editorial staff. We played cricket (badly) together, others football, and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company out of the office. In the case of the then bachelor, Mike in particular was much admired by the ladies and driving sports cars like his Triumph TR6 or Daimler V8 didn’t do anything to get in the way of that. Nor did being Irish I’m happy to say!

Mike left the paper in the mid ‘90s, returning here where he started a society/celebrity magazine and worked for a while back at the News-Letter. I would see him regularly when I returned to visit my family and we would cogitate over the old times wondering (as we all do) how the once greatest newspaper in the land had fallen so spectacularly from grace. We would lunch at Balloo House and drink long into the night at home in Killyleagh and inevitably I suppose we became two old buffers wallowing in nostalgia. And how we loved it…

Despite his cancer Mike would come to London for reunions and most recently for the funeral of a colleague of whom he was very fond (Terry Evans). Now it’s the turn of us to have come to him. 

Rest in Peace Michael. 


© 2005-2019 Alastair McIntyre