I’m a transvestite, jokes Philip Finn

This email was written last March by former Daily Express New York reporter Philip Finn, after being diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. Phil, who was known as Lord Ace, died on May 4, 2015, aged 79.

phil bowtie

Subject: Lord Ace a transvestite – Whaaat?

Dear Family and Friends,

Nothing like a juicy tabloid headline to grab the eyeballs! But more on that in a moment.

 This long, overdue update is by way of apology, and another expression of our huge gratitude to so many family and friends who have responded to our situation. The apology, an abject one, is because we haven't been reading emails until today when there were some 266 waiting, albeit half of them from Quackenbush. Alas we haven't got much of an excuse except there has been an awful lot happening in our lives.

 But what a joy it has been to trawl through those e-mails from friends who have been more out of sight rather than out of mind.

 Delighted Syd and Jackie Young are now approaching the 21st century and apparently have at last got a computer.  Which is also great because we'd like to drop in on them some time in Bristol, and feel it would be more polite first to announce our pending arrival. Great to hear from you both!

 Tom Brown, Scotland's master wordsmith, sends greetings that warms the cockles, and conveys salutations from Arliss Rhind and other old pals North of the Border.

 From the West Country there are some amusing thoughts and encouragement from Jim and Pat Davies. John and June Smith messaged us from the high seas, crossing the Atlantic back to their lair in Florida. And Leo and Beth White were able to crank up their old machine to send similar tidings from Sale, no doubt wallowing in the resurrection of Manchester United.

We are being overwhelmed by kindness, cards galore, so many prayers we have applied for sainthoods

 Stirring words, too, from just around the corner here in Aiken, from another old Doncaster pal, Terry Willows, and  also his brother and sister in law back in Lincoln.

 We are still being overwhelmed by kindness, cards galore, so many prayers we have applied for sainthoods, and George Roth even stumbled round with two armloads of Boddingtons, exciting thoughts of when we can properly attack them. Thank you George and Helen. We heard today Joe Dorrycott has quietly invested in some Irish beers so we can be ready for St. Patrick's Day.    

 Many other visitors, not least John Strode, now called Aquaman, squelched here after falling in the chilly lake on No.5 on the Cupp Course at Woodside Plantation, attempting what turned out to be an impossible shot to the green. We now hail him as golf's answer to Jacques Cousteau.

 Every greeting comes heartfelt, and mean so much to us.

 Now what's all this about Lord Ace being a transvestite? Let us explain. At the centre where we go for radiation, there is a quaint little shop called, 'Designed by Nature Boutique”. That sounds like a terrible misnomer, but the place stocks beautifully crafted, hand-made hand-fitted wigs, selling for $400.00 (about £250). And for one fleeting, we stress fleeting, moment Lord Ace just wondered … could he become Mrs Doubtfire with a 5 iron?  Or with a nice blonde number and a bag of clubs could he be Tony Curtis chasing Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot? A tight skirt, a whiff of make-up, and who knows Lydia Ko could have competition.

 Well, we did stress it was just a fleeting moment. Clearly it would be terribly disrespectful, and what's more those guys in the ShhhhHeads we have been playing with daily for 16 years would not let anyone get away with such an outrage. Certainly no conning Scott Muma. Thoughts of transvestism perished as quickly as they arose.

 Could all this weirdness have anything to do that we have now completed the scheduled five long chemotherapy treatments, lots of steroids (No Masters this year for Lord Ace) and today was the 25th under the radiation zapper, with more tomorrow Friday and three next week. My oncologist says this will complete the first phase of treatment and it will be followed by another pet scan in about a month or five weeks. A  delay is necessary because the radiation is still active and will not allow any proper readings before then.

 We take all these steps one day at time, no wild hopes, no undue fears, and, surprisingly, a lot of good laughs

 Apart from feeling the victim of more than a few Mike Tyson whacks to the head, everything seems to be on course. Swallowing is much easier, but an appetite is non existent, having the feeling you have just consumed a 12-course meal, plus two cheeseburgers. The doc says this should improve once the radiation and the chemicals subside.

 We take all these steps one day at time, no wild hopes, no undue fears, and, surprisingly, a lot of good laughs. It's pretty much like life itself, and there has been ample time for a heap of reflection.

Like being a six-year-old and scampering down the garden to dive into our corrugated iron shelter with Mom, Dad and two brothers, at the wail of the air  raid siren. Of listening to Hitler's bombs dropping (fortunately for us) in other parts of Enfield.

Like leaving school and home at 16 to become an indentured apprentice 200 miles away in Mexborough, South Yorkshire, at a starting wage of one pound 12 shillings a week (less than three dollars), reduced to one pound eight shillings after stoppages. Learning the business with help and tutoring of my oldest friend, Leo White (retd Northern News Editor, Daily Mirror, Manchester).

 Like service in the Royal Air Force, and being forced after six weeks of rigorous square bashing into hospital for intensive glucose treatment after a dramatic loss in weight ... Ace was very overweight when he went in.

 Like six lost months working nights as a trainee sub-editor on the Sheffield Telegraph, followed by a couple of years as sports editor of the South Yorkshire edition of the Yorkshire Evening News, with the main task of following Doncaster Rovers' fortunes, home and away. More great formative years working as a freelance with Ron Cookson on the East Mid News Service.

Like achieving half a life's ambition in the early 60s, joining the Manchester office of the Daily Express, a great global newspaper with sales of four million a day. What fun, especially the day with my panchromatic partner Martin Gilfeather we went to test some unbreakable panes of glass at the world-renowned Pilkingtons factory in St. Helens, Lancashire.    

Boffins had spent years and millions in research, but Martin got the snap of Lord Ace shattering all that good work with a house brick thrown baseball-pitcher style. There was shock and horror, only to be  even more deeply compounded some time later with a repeat of the same crashing outcome.     It was all resolved when the scientists discovered a tiny nail sticking out of the frame holding the panes.

The cop threatened us with a shotgun but was subsequently arrested for trying to murder the doc

Martin and I shared other adventures, not least four icy, windswept days in December outside a whitewashed cottage on the romantic Isle of Mull, waiting to corner a  cop, a war hero father of four,  who had run off with a blonde woman doctor, who fed him a diet of sex pills even before anyone heard about Viagra. (The two lovers met late at night at Penrith in the Lake District while waiting for the dogs they were walking dogs to have a tinkle).  

The cop threatened us with a shotgun, but was subsequently arrested for trying to murder the doc.  Martin landed us another scoop, paying £5 (almost a week's wages) to get a first bite of the closely guarded centenary baking of the Denby Dale Pie. The Daily Mail had paid a fortune for the meat in the pie!  We got a congratulatory message and a bottle of champers from Vincent Mulchrone, then the Mail's and Britain's best feature writer.

Like going to Fleet Street, then the very Mecca of journalism, and getting a first foreign assignment,  three days with a gay British Earl, lunching each day at Portugal's ritziest dining houses while backgrounding the earl's role in the lives of Britain's most notorious underworld gang run by the Kray Brothers. Later there was a visit to Turkey, and an amazing  interview with Brits being held in a rat-infested pig sty prison outside Ankara on what today would be trivial drug charges.

 Like setting foot in the US on November 30, 1969, and within days having lunch at Manhattan's famed 21 Club, where a group of rival British journos were standing at the bar asking,'Who's that bird with Phil Finn?"  It was Shirley MacLaine. 

Soon afterwards there was same-day coverage at Kent State University, Ohio, of the tragic shooting of four anti-Vietnam protesting students by the National Guard. 

More open-line reporting until 5am London time on the second Ali-Frazier fight at Madison Square Garden. 

Covering the death in Haiti of Papa Doc, and then chatting with his son, and being credited with being the first to call him Baby Doc.

No one could have a better army of friends and leading them all is Lady Ace. No one should be so lucky

Being arrested by blue steel-helmeted, machine-gun toting soldiers at the airport in Sao  Paulo, Brazil, for being an alleged kidnapper!   

Three hilarious weeks in Punta Arenas, at the foot of Chile, with Terry Fincher, the Express's greatest-ever photographer, as we tried (in vain) to get into the Falkands. We ate monster crab salads for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

Later, standing in the Oval Office with Ronald Reagan, welcoming our conquering heroine, Margaret Thatcher. 

Just as memorable was the last interview with Louis Armstrong at his home in Queens, not long before he died. Louis played me a few bars of What a Wonderful World and gave me his card in which he was seen through a keyhole  sitting on his toilet, his faced creased in a huge grin with the words, Leave it All Behind your, Baby.

 All these priceless, odd ball memories, and a thousand more come crowding back. And now we look forward avidly for what else is out there. No one could have a bigger, better army of friends and well wishers. Leading them all is herself, Lady Ace, a bonnie Scots lass, who has these past weeks revealed even more of her precious, hidden qualities. No one should be so lucky.

 Life is a gift.

 Love all round,       

 Ann Marie and Phil Finn, jr, aka Lord Ace.

 PS: Sorry, to David Richardson, my old foreign editor. Lord Ace never could write to length!

 

   

 

                        

 

                      

 

                       

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© 2005-2019 Alastair McIntyre