Alan Aldaya

Fleet Street veteran Alan Aldaya has died peacefully at home after a fearless fight against cancer.

For almost 30 years, he was a colourful, key figure on the People newsdesk, dealing with freelances offering potential stories and making sure they got paid after publication.

The father-of-two was born in Corby in 1935 and developed an interest in journalism when he saw his mum and aunt doing shorthand.

He joined the Leicester Mail as an office boy before being called up for National Service in the RAF in 1954.

His knowledge of shorthand proved useful in his role as a clerical assistant.

But he was moved from camp to camp because he was considered subversive by insisting on reading the Daily Worker, and complaining about the canteen food.

After being demobbed, Alan landed his dream job as a cub reporter for the Evening Telegraph in Corby.

He quit in 1961 to join the rival Corby News, set up by Lynn Lewis and Eric Tyson.

But the paper closed after 15 months and he and Eric set up the Northants Press Agency from Alan's home in January 1963, after asking the NUJ to help him pay for a phone and typewriter.

After three years, in the spring of 1966, Alan got his Fleet Street break when he was given a shift on The People.

He proved his worth and news editor Graham Gadd took him on for regular four-days-a-week stints on the desk.

Reporters who phoned in with stories from around the world always asked for Alan, because he instantly recognised a good yarn. He was also responsible for the credits and was considered generous even with shorts if he could swing it.

Alan ended up as assistant news editor, living in London from Tuesday to Friday, and returning home at the weekends to wife Pat, daughter Saran and son Jaime.

Former colleagues remember him as Mr Unflappable, who always kept a cool, calm head when pandemonium broke out on the desk.

And staffers often turned to affable Alan for wise guidance – on both work and personal problems.

He left The People in the spring of 1993 after 27 years, during a major shake-up of the Mirror Group titles.

But he soon started desking again on the Sunday Express and, later, Today until it folded.

He stayed at Wapping by moving to the News of the World, looking after the features desk on Sundays and Mondays.

He was there for 11 years before finally retiring in January 2004.

Two years later, he was diagnosed with the terminal cancer mesothelioma, caused by breathing in as little as one fibre of asbestos 40 or more years ago.

True to form, Alan never complained and stayed cheerful and upbeat until the end.

He was cremated at a private family ceremony followed by a memorial celebration in his beloved Northamptonshire cottage on whatwould have been his 72nd birthday.

Aptly, 72 friends and former colleagues from as far as France paid tribute to Alan, with dozens of fond and wacky anecdotes about their dear chum.

His son Jaime designed a front-page mock-up of The People on a cake.

The headline "Top Journalist Promoted To Great Newsroom in Sky"

was inspired by Alan's description of where he would be going.

Instead of flowers, he had wished for donations to be made in his memory to charity, which raised more than £900 to be split between Mesothelioma UK, Marie Curie Care and MacMillan Cancer Support.

Further donations can be sent to his widow Pat at Willow Cottage, 11 Main Street, Middleton LE16 8YU. Alan leaves Pat, Saran, 36, and Jaime, 31.

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