Memories of my dear friend Jim

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                            Jim Lawton at home in Flintshire with his many awards

ROBIN McGIBBON has fond memories of his old friend James Lawton, one of the greatest sports writers of his age

I was Jim Lawton's first publisher — Malcolm Allison's 1975 autobiography — and, like many others saddened by his sudden death, have many memories of our time together.

Two spring to mind, and feature a Hollywood film star, and the scary face of a wizened witch.

The film star was Stewart Granger, and, in the early eighties, he invited me and Jim to his home in Spain to discuss my company, Everest Books, publishing his memoirs, which I wanted Jim to ghost.

Granger was a gregarious host, and cook par excellence, and, during an unforgettable four-hour (or was it five?) open-air lunch at his house, in Estepona, he introduced Jim and I to steak tartare, washed down with the most exquisite vintage Rioja.

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Granger was a brilliant raconteur, too, and held us spellbound with stories of old Hollywood's rich and famous. Then, as the Rioja took hold, he confessed he'd had an affair with Adnan Khashoggi's ex-wife, Soraya, pictured right, in the hope she might bail him out of a property deal that had left him virtually broke.

What he didn't realise until later, he admitted, somewhat ruefully, was that Soraya was short of money herself — and bedding him in the hope that he might come across with some pesetas. As one might imagine, Jim and I found the story hilarious.

When it was time for us I to call for a cab to take us back to Marbella, our charming host wouldn't hear of it. He, literally, threw the keys to his Mercedes on to the table, insisting we had it for the brief time we were in the area.

How we got back to our hotel, I don't know. I can't even remember who drove!

The witch made her appearance at my home in Kent as Jim and his wife Linda were leaving after a dinner to cement our deal on the Allison book.

I told them my very old grandmother was always interested in who'd come to dinner and asked, ever so politely, if they'd mind popping into her bedroom to say goodnight. Being the courteous gentleman we all know he was, Jim was happy to oblige.

But there was no grandmother, only my ten-year-old son, Rob, who was under the covers  wearing a hideous latex witch's mask. Fortunately, Jim had a sense of humour and forgave us all for frightening the life out of them.

Whenever we spoke after that, he always preceded the conversation with: "How's your granny?"

To my wife, Sue, and I, Jim was more than a gifted writer and accomplished journalist; he was a valued and hugely-entertaining  friend, who was always a joy to see.

*****

CLIVE GOOZEE writes: So sad to read about Jim Lawton. I and my wife Monica and our children Karen and Mark, had a great time with Jim, Linda and their daughters Jacinta, Vicky and Hannah in Vancouver in 1981 when we escaped royal wedding fever and went for a fly-drive from British Columbia to LA. 

Karen spent a month with them the following year and had Jim in stitches with her impersonation of Pamela Stephenson aping Janet Street-Porter on Not the Nine O'Clock News. He kept egging her on to do it and even told Janet about it when they were colleagues on The Independent. 

Karen recalled one evening when Jim and Linda were going to one of the city’s smartest restaurants, but when Jim saw Linda preparing a spagbol for the girls he asked: “Where’s mine?” Linda gave him a serving.

My daughter loved Jim and Linda. She told me her visit to the Lawtons was a month of fun. She also spent some time in Chester with them.

Jim told me how different and unsettling it was on the Vancouver Sun because he never got much feedback, which worried him. His work went in untouched and he was assured that if there was a problem the office would get back to him. Vancouver is where he teamed up with the footballer John Giles, who wrote a regular column for the Express when Jim was persuaded to return to Fleet Street.

On one of the rare occasions I was put in charge of Express sport, I phoned Jim about an article and suggested he might try a different approach to the piece. He agreed grudgingly to have another look. And when he phoned back he said he would do what I asked, adding: ”I spoke to Linda and she agreed with you.”


    

© 2005-2018 Alastair McIntyre