Leo Clancy: 'He could charm quotes out of a deaf mute'

By John Burke-Davies

A funeral service was held for Leo, who died on 4 May, at West London Crematorium in Kensal Green on Friday, 13 May.

Among the mourners were two of his best pals, myself – commonly known as JBD – and Martin Turner, with whom Leo embarked on the adventure of a lifetime.

Leo made his national reputation when working for the Daily Mail, first in Manchester and later in London.

Then, in 1973, he took up an invitation to join the editorial staff of the National Enquirer in Lantana, Florida.

His remarkable talents were quickly spotted, and he was soon dispatched to India to interview a man who fluently spoke more than 40 languages.

And with his own eloquence of the English language, Leo was destined for a lucrative future with The Enquirer.

But the irrepressible Leo, who later wrote two highly-acclaimed crime novels and was destined to become Britain’s answer to Elmore Leonard, had other ideas.

Together with myself and Martin we absconded from The Enquirer for an escapade in South America.

The three of us took a titanic journey throughout Central America before heading to South America itself.

It was an epic journey, fraught with danger and sheer excitement. We were arrested three times for being alleged spies.

Fortunately, although Leo had a fiery temper, he also had a remarkably smooth tongue and always managed to talk us out of the trickiest situations.

I’m proud to say the three of us embarked on two memorable voyages – one down the River Orinoco and the other up the River Amazon.

I first met Leo while he was working for the Coventry Evening Telegraph in 1965 and I was working for The Rugby Advertiser.

But it was three years later when I worked for the Bristol Evening Post that I really came to know Leo. He sat opposite me working on The Post’s sister paper The Western Daily Press.

Martin hadn’t ventured into journalism at that time but he, too, became part of the trio as we all went on to share a house.

Leo was my doyen and I owe more to him than any other man I have met in my life.

I, and anyone else who knew him, will miss his charm, his wit, his generosity and above all his friendship – knowing him was an unforgettable experience and an education.

After our South American escapade all three of us ended up working for the News of the World.

And Martin, too, still cherishes his memories of South America.

By Martin Turner

We arrived in Mexico in early 1974 to begin our adventure.

But within a few months we found ourselves in the middle of the Amazon jungle in Columbia.

It was here that we boarded a dilapidated twin-propelled plane, which was to take us on a flight to the edge of a green hell.

There was a lightning conductor from the cockpit to the tail of the plane.

Once on board we noticed the seats were made of canvas and apart from the three of us, there was a group of Columbians carrying chickens in baskets, others carried bags of corn while others were carrying goats on their shoulders.

On the third attempt, the pilot, who was wearing a crash helmet, managed to get us airborne after we bounced along the runway – a field in the middle the jungle.

We were stood at the back of the plane, which is just as well, because as soon as we took off, all the seats collapsed, throwing the passengers to the floor.

Once we were several hundreds feet in the air, a potential catastrophe awaited us as the clouds were black and there was flashes of fork lightning. We were in the middle of an electrical storm.

One bolt of lightning struck the plane and we began to plummet towards the jungle below – so low, in fact, that we could see the tops of the jungle trees.

The pilot carried on nursing the plane through out nightmarish flight, skimming across the tops of the trees – a green hell but it held no fear for Leo.

He sat with us on the floor of the plane gently smiling at us.

Eventually, we touched down at our destination – another field in the middle of nowhere.

The passengers, including us, disembarked and then they surrounded the plane. They all applauded the pilot, who emerged still wearing his crash helmet, while some even sank to their knees in prayer.

Leo turned towards us with a huge grin on his face and said, ‘Piece of piss, lads’!

That’s just one chapter. There’s no doubt it was one hell of an adventure from start to finish.

But there again – Leo was one hell of a man. We will all miss him greatly. He really was a legend.

By Paul Bannister

My memories of Leo Clancy are fond ones.

He was indeed an original, a charmer, a wild man and a journo who wrote like an angel, a talent not needed at the formulaic National Enquirer when he rolled up there in 1974.

Leo and his near-incomprehensible Irish growl fascinated the office lovelies, intrigued interview subjects and disguised the fine intellect that let him assess and land even the toughest stories.

His persuasive skills also led him, emotionally overtired and stopped by Lake Worth’s finest after destroying a set of traffic barricades at a reported 100 mph, to convince the responding officer that the barricades, not Leo, were the real threat to the public.

The wild colonial boy soon slipped off into the night, leaving another crumpled problem for Mr Hertz to unravel.

The Enquirer and its rigid ways were not for Leo, and he, John Burke-Davis and Martin Turner exited the paper with a set of corporate credit cards for unauthorised adventures in South America.

Before mailing the cards back Leo reportedly charged air tickets and other sundries to them, on the not-unreasonable grounds that the paper owed him comp time and severance pay.

At least two executives were left unable to decide whether to grind their teeth in fury or be relieved that after Leo’s departure the building was still standing.

Leo dropped off my personal radar, surfacing only once to say he’d been driving a London bus by day and writing a novel at a table in a Notting Hill pub by night. It is a measure of a man who lived every bit of his life to the fullest, who was a shining talent and a warm-hearted human, that only a short friendship left such good memories.

By Geoffrey Seed

If life is a beach then growing older is nodding off and being trapped by a tide you never imagined would actually come in.

So I get phoned by Tom Hendry, ex Mirror news editor, to say our former Daily Mail colleague, Leo Clancy, has died aged 70 or 71.

Leo Clancy… in his seventies and dead? How can this possibly be?

He was his twinkle-eyed, subversive self when I saw him last – a Park Drive in one hand, a packet of Polos in the other and as rumpled as ever in a suit no charity would let hang in its shop.

Blokes wanted to be Leo’s mate, women wanted to warm his bed. He could charm great quotes from a deaf mute, conjure stories from the air – and all with a lightness of touch Mulchrone himself might admire.

I left newspapers for television in 1974 and lost contact with Leo. Maybe the gods never intend hacks to grow too old. Life, tragedy, illness – this is what happens to other people, not those who report from the privileged sidelines.

It’s often quite a shock to see that some who have survived the riotous, boozing, womanising ways that made them legends in their own lunchtimes have now taken to dyeing their hair grey or using walking sticks or talking endlessly about how many times they get up in the night to pee.

Thankfully, Leo – and many others – remain fixed in my memory as we all were in those wonderful, anarchic, free-wheeling days before accountants inherited the earth and we didn’t care how many bridges we’d left unburned.

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