Old-school newsman Lex, who passed away at the weekend, was every editor’s dream reporter.
For 44 years he covered Irvine’s events and happenings – and is probably the local journalist with more front page bylines to his credit than any other.
Lex Brown was a legend among news people. His name was known the length and breadth of the country.
Whenever a major story broke in Irvine the national papers turned to one man for copy. It was Lex Brown’s patch. If he didn’t know the people involved, he knew a man who would.
That was a famous Lex quote. Another, which he picked up from his first editor Dick Aitken, was sound advice to newcomers. He would point to his eyes and ears and gruffly tell them: “These are the tools of the job – not a notebook and pencil.”
Indeed, these were the very tools that Lex - who was 63 - employed daily in a lifetime of news reporting which culminated in his retirement only three months ago as chief reporter on the Irvine Herald. He had been with the Herald for 39 years and before that was with the Irvine Times for five years.
Lex actually made front page news on the day he was born.
He was a Christmas day baby, one of six to be born on Sunday, December 25, 1949, at Rottenrow Maternity Hospital, Glasgow, and the tiny white bundle that was Lex appeared in a page one picture in the following day’s Daily Express.
His proud parents lived in Drumchapel, Glasgow.
Lex, their only child, moved with them down the coast as a teenager in the mid sixties when his dad found work in the newly-designated Irvine New Town. They stayed in a house in Dickson Drive, Irvine, but his father took ill and died not long after the move, leaving Lex, a junior reporter by this stage, to look after his mum.
Despite becoming a public figure through his job, Lex was a fiercely private individual. He knew what everyone else was up to but, typically, said little about himself. He was a man of his word and would never betray a confidence. It was the trust he built up with his many contacts which brought him so many stories. Many of the confidences he was party to will have gone to the grave with him.
However, Lex despised time-wasting and tittle-tattle. He didn’t suffer fools gladly. Patience and tolerance with his fellow man and woman were not his strong points. But those who knew him were well aware how kind and considerate he could be away from the job. It was as if dropping the mantle of hard-nosed news hack would somehow be showing weakness.
It could have been Lex’s raw experiences in life that made him shun the niceties we all appreciate. A lesser man wouldn’t have coped.
He was married twice but both wives died young of illness. He married Grace, an advertising rep on the Irvine Times, and they settled down in Kilwinning with Grace’s daughter Laura, whom he later adopted.
He then married Myra, a hosiery worker who had done some modelling earlier on in her life. They moved into a flat in Middleton Park, Irvine, and almost straight away Myra fell pregnant. But tragically young Lex was born with a heart defect and died at the age of four.
Lex stoically moved on and put even more of his time into the job he loved. He stepped up a gear, working by day on his local newspaper and by night for the nationals in Glasgow – though, in true newspaper parlance, he would neither confirm nor deny this. His favourite day of the week was a Saturday when for many years he was duty man at The Sun, taking the calls and preparing the diary for the news team to start on the next day.
The extra work and the new challenges saw Lex “firing on all cylinders” as he would say. His own paper reaped the benefits as the sales figures from that time show. A relaunch of the Irvine Herald in Lex’s heyday saw sales increase five-fold, a peformance unmatched by any newspaper in the UK. The Irvine Herald had unseated its rival – and its top news gatherer, Lex, was up for promotion.
Ten years ago, newspaper companies began to restructure the tiers of management on local newspapers to cut costs, ditching the post of editor and creating regional editorships - much like the banks did when taking out branch managers and bringing in area managers.
From then on, the Irvine Herald was without a dedicated editor but someone had to be responsible for putting out the paper which, by that time, had grown in size as well as sales. Lex put his name forward for the post of chief reporter – though he was already odds-on favourite. In effect, he went on to do the job an editor would do, running the show and encouraging the dedicated team of journalists he had built up over the years.
By that stage he was immersed in the Royal Burgh’s many traditions. He was a member of the Incorporated Trades of Irvine and had latterly been Deacon of the Tailor Craft. Between his Trades role and his membership of the Irvine Carters Society, Lex was heavily involved in the Big Pie, the Trades Ball, the Marymass procession and a host of other fundraising activities in the town. He was also a Freemason in Irvine and had graduated into the Royal Arch.
It would be remiss not to include the two other great loves of his life, the Delta Bar and the British Legion Club, just round from the Irvine Herald office. Lex and fellow wags would refer to the three points around Irvine Cross as “the Bermuda triangle” where, according to Barry Manilow, “people would disappear”.
Lex was always at his happiest when supping with his pals in the two establishments. He rarely went elsewhere.
They’ll be raising their glasses in both places right now. Though someone will be missing.
And reporters old and new, especially those who worked with him, will be looking back with a mixture of fondness and sadness. AW