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Farewell to 'Gentleman Jim'

The final curtain has come down on one of the most illustrious journalism careers in Newsquest’s history with the retirement of the Oxford Mail’s editor Jim McClure.

Jim first joined the paper 37 years ago as a sub-editor and is the only person in the history of the Oxford operation to edit every title.

A stretch limousine brought Jim and his wife Lorly to Osney Mead for his last day on December 19, where they enjoyed a day of celebrations.

Proceedings kicked off with a glimpse at the future – a tour round the spectacular new press hall at Osney Mead, which is due for completion late next year.

There then followed a slap-up meal with fellow managers at an Oxford eaterie before an emotional reception and buffet for all the staff in the restaurant at Newsquest’s Osney Mead base.

Managing director Shamus Donald said Jim had achieved more in one lifetime’s career than other people could in five and paid tribute to his unique gifts and wide-ranging talents.

Colleague and close friend Peter Unsworth, assistant editor on the Mail, presented Jim with parting gifts, including a dictaphone which Jim plans to use for his next venture – research for another detective novel.

Jim thanked all the staff at Osney Mead for their friendship and professionalism. He parted with a goodwill message in Zulu from his native South Africa.

Jim first worked as a sub-editor on the Oxford Mail in 1966, when The Beatles and The Stones were topping the charts.

Since then, he has edited more editions than Sir Mick Jagger has had hot dates, and has enjoyed every minute.

He planned to retire at 65 next autumn, but decided to bow out gracefully after surviving a series of life-threatening conditions.

“I have been very fortunate over the years, in a number of different jobs,” he said.

“As a reporter I was shot at five times, and when I was working as an undertaker in Abingdon I had my nose broken by some toppling coffins.”

After leaving Osney Mead in the mid-70s, he wrote a series of critically acclaimed detective novels, set in South Africa, where he started as a 23-year-old photo-journalist on the Natal Witness.

His Gold Dagger award-winning novels were acknowledged by contemporaries including Inspector Morse author Colin Dexter and Dick Francis, who both named characters after him in their books.

He also found time to focus on fact rather than fiction, and his 1980 book Spike Island, written after six months on the frontline with Merseyside Police, confirmed his skills as an investigative writer.

Cop World followed in 1984 after a long hot summer in Southern California with the San Diego police.

In 1986, he returned to Osney Mead as a sub-editor and rose through the ranks to become editor of The Oxford Times in 1994, before taking the helm at the Oxford Mail in 2000.

Jim has the distinction of being the only editor in the history of the Oxford operation to edit every title.

As well as The Oxford Times and Oxford Mail, he has also edited the Herald Series, Bicester Advertiser, Witney Gazette and Oxford Star.

He said: “I spent six years working on two police books and during that time I realised I was temperamentally unsuited to being a writer in a garret and more than anything enjoyed the company of work colleagues and that is why I came back, and that more than anything is what I will miss.

“When I first arrived in Oxford, we were almost as poor as church mice. At one stage, five of us all lived in a two-bedroom flat off Cowley Road.

“I know what it’s like to live in cramped, difficult circumstances and feel I have great affinity with many different kinds of people in this city.”

His wife Lorly, a nursing lecturer at Reading University, and children James, (38), Alistair, (36), and Kirsty, (34), are looking forward to seeing more of him.

But the Wallingford-based wordsmith is not finished yet. He is planning a return to crime writing, this time with an Oxford-based detective, to add to his 12 novels and three non-fiction books on policing.

He said: “I want to create an English detective who is not dysfunctional or hopelessly middle-class, and actually enjoys what he or she is doing.”

Jim is retiring as the Oxford Mail celebrates its 75th birthday, and predicts another prosperous three-quarters of a century for the title.

He said: “The conventional view of an editor is someone who has power and influence in the community.

“For me, the attraction of being an editor has been to influence first and foremost the community I work in, seeing colleagues realising their own talents and discovering just how good they can be.”

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