A former journalist who landed his first job after turning up to a newspaper office wearing a woolly hat and no socks or tie has died at the age of 76.
John Vivian, described as a ‘living legend’, spent the duration of his journalism career at the Surrey Comet after starting there in 1966 and remaining there for 26 years as chief sub-editor and later as assistant editor.
He left in 1993 after its takeover by Reed Elsevier and joined the Surrey Herald. He later moved to the Informer Newspaper group in Hounslow, where he worked until he was 69.
John, who became known for coining snappy headlines in the shortest time, died in hospital from kidney failure earlier this month.
Former Comet editor Brian West recalls John limping into the office and asking for a job wearing no socks or tie and a woolly hat.
Said Brian: “On the face of it, he was a prospective employee best avoided, but something about him persuaded me to give him a chance, and he did not let me down. I still regard him as one of my greatest successes as an editor and employer.
“What most impressed me, and all the other journalists who worked with him, was his awesome knowledge of English, his insistence on impeccable grammar and punctuation, and his brilliance as a headline writer.
“I thought I was a pretty good sub, but John was exemplary and his precision in casting off copy and writing headlines that always fitted, was never equalled by anyone who worked for me.”
John, who started his career on his local paper the Llanelli Star, leaves wife Rosaleen, daughter Caroline, by his first marriage, and three granddaughters.
His funeral was held in Leatherhead on 23 November where a eulogy was read out by Surrey journalist Tim Harrison who first met John while doing work experience at the Comet in the 1970s.
The two later worked together at the Kingston Informer.
Said Tim: “When I first encountered JV he was still in his 30s. Despite the hot August day he wore a blue knitted bobble hat on top of a woolly mass of hair which looked like the contents of a cushion. Instead of a shirt, he’d opted for a string vest, which made his tattooed arms look even more immense.
“As a fearless teenage reporter I once asked JV, after a few pints in the Griffin, how he’d got his limp. He told me he had been in the SAS before he went into journalism, and had been injured in a night-time parachute drop. The prosaic truth is that he had polio as a child, but I still prefer the SAS version.
He added: “Days were spent in the office, nights in the Druid’s Head pub – always standing, pint in one hand, Silk Cut in the other, regaling everyone with a stream of politically incorrect jokes and obscene limericks, accompanied by a laugh like rolling thunder.
“You’d have thought Barnum and Bailey were in charge of recruitment at the Surrey Comet, so bizarre were the lives of the oddballs, clowns and eccentrics who apparently filled editorial.”
John finished his career at the Kingston Informer just before his 70th birthday.