Tributes to Express legend John Eccles

Legendary Lewes reporter John Eccles has sadly died.

His column in 2006

We are very upset to report that legendary Lewes reporter, John Eccles died last Sunday. John’s sparkling and brilliantly written copy was anticipated and welcomed both in his home town and worldwide. There were never two words when one would do - and it was always the best one. I worked alongside John for many years and can attest he was superlative company, albeit sharp and occasionally curmudgeonly. I felt sorry for him one morning and bought him a scone from Robsons. ‘Ugh, claggy’ was his comment! There were always a heap of moth-eaten cardigans hanging on his desk chair, exuding a distinctively Johnish miasma.

Scores of Lewesians and colleagues have paid tribute to one of the last of the ‘gonzo’ reporters who excelled at his famous ‘Rouser’ column but turned his hand to the trickiest of court reports and council meetings. His ‘Old Jarge’ tales were anticipated - and talked about for days.

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Richard Cuming commented: “He was a reporter with the Express for many years and his time with the paper was a source of great pride. He was a unique and outspoken character who made as many enemies as friends but he always spoke his truth! As a neighbour on South Street he’ll long be remembered propping up the bar at the Snowdrop (and most other pubs in town) holding forth on whatever news story grabbed his attention or earned his wrath! A Lewes legend.”

John was a Lewes legend

Jonathan Harwood added: “I am an old friend of John. I worked with him on the Sussex Express in the late 1990s and even lived at his house in Chapel Hill, Lewes for a year or so.

“I moved back to Lewes in 2014 and was quite close to John and as he became housebound I popped round to see him when I could, usually leaving having been sold a couple of old records. The last time I saw him was on Bonfire Night when I had to put him to bed because his carer couldn’t make it into town. He was very frail.

“I recount how he loved writing the Rouser column. He found that more engaging than dealing with council business or court reporting. It gave him free rein to follow through on various unlikely stories - the tale of the Knight’s Templar church must surely get a mention. It was written as a Rouser piece but his good friend, Rupert Taylor splashed it on the front.

“John was a very ‘old school’ reporter and Lewes was the perfect place for him. He sourced most of his stories in pubs rather than the usual beat. He was an unconventional reporter but somehow it worked for Lewes and Express. He preferred a good yarn to a standard news story. He respected people who wrote the Parish Pump and I remember him recently asking me to track some down and pass on his regards.

Former Express reporter John Eccles

“He had weird and wonderful tales about his time on the Silk Road, in Bougainville and Papua New Guinea. He travelled overland from England, across Asia and the experience stayed with him.

“He would reminisce about that and had copies of all the old magazines he used to work for in PNG.

“He also had a large record collection and any visit to see him would end up with him trying to sell you one of his records. John could be hard to deal with but he was a kind man at heart and possessed a weird kind of charisma. Lewes won’t be the same without him.”

Former Editor of the Sussex Express, Peter Austin, said: "John was devoted to Lewes and reported life and events in the town assiduously and accurately across four decades. He was eccentric, hopeless with modern technology, totally averse to any assignment beyond Firle or Barcombe, but great fun to be with - particularly over an after-work pint. He'll be greatly missed.'

Current editor of the Sussex Express, Lesley Hixon said: “Although I have heard much about John Eccles over the years, our paths crossed only once, at Norman Baker’s election count in Lewes in 2001. I was a wide-eyed cub reporter from a rival title and he was the 'seen and done it all' hack from the Express. Locked in together from 10pm until the result was declared at around 5am he spent the entire night teaching me how to play poker. I liked him enormously.”

We'll be reprinting some of John's Rouser columns in Friday's Express - we'd forgotten just how good they were.