On my first day at the Evening Argus in Brighton, James shot out his hand with a broad grin and said hello. He was the first to welcome a rather nervous junior reporter, joining his first evening paper. Twenty-two years later I am having to say goodbye to him.
As with everyone else he met, James proved to be a friend for life, although in his case it has proved all too short. We will all be asking ourselves if we could have done more to help him, but James was an immensely self-assured and capable man who had achieved the very highest in his chosen profession.
And there lies the tragedy; that he had lost the thing that he loved, his journalism.
But this was no hack. As our careers progressed, I – two years older – managed to stay just ahead, from the Argus to BBC local radio, to Thames Television, then he went to ITN as I reached TVam. At every turn he was with me, with what we acknowledged was good-natured competitiveness. What I could not compete with was the effortless ease he employed in moving from a radio voiceover to a shift the next day as a Sun reporter. He could simply do it all and with a Kennedy verve, flashing blond hair, good teeth and his immaculate silk ties.
Eventually he left me far behind, as he had done on the ski slopes or on his beloved windsurfer off Brighton beach. He was off to Somalia, Syria, Lebanon, Bosnia, Rwanda, Beijing, and as the passport stamps built up so did the awards and medals from the New York television festivals. The open-necked shirts replaced the silk ties but the verve and flair were always there. Not just finding the stories but delivering them with polish in seamless live twoways.
Eventually I landed up on the other side of the live-link in the studio. I always tried to catch him out. I always failed.
He put his life on the line in Rwanda and was thrown into a cell in Beijing, but he was never far from home. His wife Elaine was the one who organised him and if it wasn’t for her, his building society/gas supplier/milkman would also have attempted to have him thrown into a cell.
We long ago acknowledged that our finest journalistic hour was tracking down the Spanish singer Julio Iglesias and George Best’s then girlfriend, Mary Stavin, enjoying a tryst at a very expensive Brighton restaurant. Without a second thought we decided to pursue our prey. Julio’s swarthy minders immediately saw us for what we were, two perspiring and rather desperate scribblers who suddenly realised that Argus expenses were not going to stretch to the menu card. Undaunted, we stuck to our task and, several bottles later, the trail ended at the Grand Hotel, where we made our excuses and left. Long after midnight we returned to the newsroom and bashed out our story on five-ply.
The next morning, I woke on James’s decrepit sofa as he clattered down the stairs. What the hell had we done? We rushed back to the newsroom, sure we were about to receive our P45s.
The story was on the front page with a shared byline. I can still see James’s smile now. And I always will.
Mark Longhurst, Sky News presenter
Adam Trimingham and Nigel Freedman of The Argus, Brighton, write:
James Forlong was always one of those reporters you knew was going to do well in whatever he chose to do.
His blond hair, blue-eyed good looks and sense of humour concealed a determination to succeed. He joined the Evening Argus as a reporter in the old North Road offices in Brighton in the late Seventies and quickly fitted in.
He was one of a group of rising young stars who were destined to carve themselves a career in the national media. James tried his hand at shifts with national newspapers in the Eighties before going on to launch his career with BBC radio, ITN and Sky.
Those he left behind were never forgotten and former colleagues at the Argus would receive the occasional phone call from him. Despite his globetrotting on major international stories he made Brighton and Hove his home and loved living on the coast.
A keen windsurfer, he was a familiar figure at Shoreham beach where he had a beach hut. Fellow enthusiasts described him as one of the nicest of the 100 or so regulars who used the beach there. The week before he died he had plunged into the waves to help another windsurfer who had got into difficulty launching his board. With no thought for his own safety he helped the surfer to pick himself up and to save his board and equipment from being damaged in the pounding waves.
His face was known all over the world because of his work with ITN and Sky News, yet he never played on his celebrity status.
It was sad, but fitting, that his old paper was the first to learn of his tragic death. Adam Trimingham, a veteran journalist with the Argus recalls: “James was capable of great achievements without any apparent effort. Typical of this was when he entered the first Worthing marathon. He sauntered around the course in a reasonable time, easily beating old hacks like me, and then casually revealed that he had not run a yard in training. I still don’t know how he did it.
“With his blond good looks and confident manner, James was suited for television and it was no surprise when he used the undoubted talent he had displayed at the Argus to achieve real success with Sky. He kept in touch with many of the friends he had made in Brighton and Hove and was often on the phone for titbits of information.
“His pride as a professional journalist must have been damaged more than almost anyone knew by the events of this year. “It is a tragedy that he should have died when he had so much left to give both to his family and his profession.”