Obituary: ‘Mr Sudbury’ - there when John Lennon and Yoko came to Suffolk
PUBLISHED: 06:10 28 November 2019 | UPDATED: 10:59 29 November 2019
Alan Cocksedge was our Sudbury chief reporter for 36 years. He ‘showed a straight bat to hit cancer for six for as long as possible’
Telling the stories of people's lives and times was in journalist Alan Cocksedge's DNA. So, as wife Carolyn says, it was so typical of him to "get something down on paper". That is, he penned his own obituary.
Fittingly, many other people have written their own words in praise of a man who helped them along in life, was kind and fair, made them smile, dissected the events of a cricket match with them, and so on. Social media is awash.
And here, in his own words, is probably Alan's final story. For once, it's about himself. And deservedly so.
Alan was born in 1942 at Cockfield - where, during the 1920s-30s, his grandfather was the village policeman. In his early years he lived with his grandparents and mother, with father away in the Suffolk Regiment.
He moved from Cockfield to Sudbury, aged six, with his grandparents and mother Olive, which was around the time his parents divorced, in 1948.
Unusually, both his parents had the same surname of Cocksedge - one of the oldest family names in Suffolk, going back hundreds of years. Alan always contended his parents were not closely related. Some suggested otherwise!
He spent his first year of education at Cockfield village school, but later - attending North Street Infants School, Sudbury - was found to be unable to count from one to ten, or spell his name. At Sudbury he was put back a year because the village school had not taught the very basics.
He enjoyed North Street infant and primary schools, but once managed to obtain nought out of 10 for a spelling test - possibly not the best grounding for journalism.
He did not look forward to taking the 11-plus to get to the grammar school. He was not worried about failing the exam, but passing it! He felt a life of grammar school homework might cramp his wish to play sport every evening on People's Park, opposite his home in Waldingfield Road.
From the front gate-post of his home, he loved watching the travelling fairs and circuses arrive on the field.
Sport, words and folk dancing…
At Sudbury Secondary Modern School he captained the cricket team and played football for the school. In his fifth year he took a key decision to abandon thoughts of O-levels to join a commercial class. Shorthand and typing would later offer the opportunity to become a trainee reporter with the Suffolk Free Press at the age of 16.
The paper was obviously impressed that in his final year he achieved the acclaimed educational hat-trick of the school awards for sports, carpentry and folk dancing!
While at school he had started playing adult cricket for Sudbury British Legion and, upon leaving school, football for a season with Sudbury Youth Club. By then he had also joined Sudbury Cricket Club. But soon his winter Saturdays were spent reporting Sudbury Town.
At 24 he married Carolyn Scott, who had been three years below him at school. It is difficult to believe today, but they met at the weekly social nights of the local Young Conservatives.
They married in 1967, and went on to have two much-loved daughters (Tania and Amanda) and two grandsons. Alan, despite his absences on various sports fields, was proud to have helped mould a happy family, and also later to have survived the development of advanced prostate cancer long enough to celebrate his golden wedding in 2017.
John and Yoko
In 1966, aged 24, Alan joined the Sudbury office of the EADT as chief reporter, and stayed until retiring 36 years later in 2002. It made a total of 44 years reporting in the town.
Having for many years annoyed Babergh council by revealing numerous confidential council documents, he was the guest of honour at the chairman's annual reception, where he was praised for his professionalism and integrity.
As a journalist, he strove to be aware of every little thing that moved. Little escaped his attention. He was a real local scoop [unearther], and his more memorable exclusive stories included being the only reporter present when John Lennon and Yoko Ono filmed a hot air balloon ascent from Lavenham Market Place (in December, 1969).
The Saturday afternoon escapade remained unknown to the outside world until the following Monday's EADT - something that would be unachievable in today's world of instant information.
The story has continued to attract world-wide attention, including Alan being interviewed for the BBC One Show half a century after the event.
The spectacular transfer of Ballingdon Hall a quarter of a mile uphill was another event he had a pretty much exclusive hand on. The reporting of Sudbury Town's late 1980s FA Vase journey to Wembley was another of the scores of pleasurable and memorable missions he was involved in.
Quality of life
Part of his role as a senior reporter at Sudbury was to train more than 30 young journalists, and most went on to forge successful careers, having been moulded by Alan's secondary modern school knowledge and their slightly more academic university backgrounds.
He valued quality of life above being promoted to Ipswich office, and self-retired at 60, rather than work another five years for his full pension.
During his career, he realised that if he ran an efficient, tight ship he would be left alone. His visits to headquarters were rare, and for some time a notice board in Ipswich showed a picture of an emergency worker in a nuclear-proof uniform. The caption stated "Alan Cocksedge visiting head office."
Devotee of socialism
In his late teens he had been sent to cover a Conservative Party rally and was shocked and appalled by the arrogant tub-thumping colonialism that seemed to dominate the audience. He immediately decided to desert his family's traditional Tory support and became a devotee of socialism.
He never regretted it, and before long also became a follower of the cause of humanism, rather than traditional religion.
His journalistic career raised his social awareness, and introduced him to a wide range of interests. In 1969 he helped attract 60,000 to Melford Hall in his role as honorary marketing man for the Sudbury Mammoth Olde Tyme Rallye - repeating the feat three years later.
He joined the giddy social heights of the Round Table. It literally did take him up in the world - when he and five others jumped from a plane for charity.
Subsequently, he joined Sudbury 41 Club, including 15 years as chairman, during which he used his warped imagination to write hilarious annual meeting minutes that seldom bore any resemblance to the actual proceedings.
He became a member of Gainsborough's House Society and the Sudbury Society. For 30 years he was a governor, and one-time vice-chairman, at Uplands Middle School, Sudbury, where his children had studied.
In his younger days he was a keen follower of motorcycle scrambling, and around 50 of his photographs make up an important part of the Sudbury Motor Cycle Club's archives. Several of his photographs of other events help make up the town's photographic history web site.
Field of dreams
He played for Suffolk Under 16s at cricket, and joined Sudbury Cricket Club after leaving school - playing for nearly 50 years, including more than a dozen in the first team.
His dynamism encouraged a sponsor to be found, and enabled the club to begin engaging a professional. It transformed the club's fortunes, and allowed it to set out on the path to what it has become today.
Alan organised the development of the club bar, as well as two major extensions of the club house, and led fund-raising for the projects.
He accidentally discovered the club was much older than imagined, and when it reached its 200th anniversary in 1987 he wrote its first history, Cricketers of Sudbury, which amounted to 30 pages.
To mark the 225th anniversary, he wrote 90 pages of Tales from the Dew Drop Inn, claiming it to be an important contribution to Sudbury's social and sporting history. He was a life member of the club.
The great outdoors
Alan was a keen gardener from schooldays, having taken over from his grandfather the long garden at the family home in Waldingfield Road. He enjoyed gardening so much he took it up semi-professionally for a decade after retiring from journalism.
As a member of the Ramblers' Association, and a cantankerous leader of a small group of former Round Tablers and partners, he helped form a monthly walking group - Stour Valley Strollers.
He led them on a 250-mile trek round the Suffolk boundary, and for more than 25 years holidayed with the group in the UK or abroad.
His favourite places were Sudbury and the Lake District, and particularly Loughrigg, near Ambleside. On several occasions he led the Strollers on a Saturday arrival day march up Loughrigg, followed by the dubious pleasure of refreshments in a fish and chip shop.
He and Carolyn walked with Ramblers Holidays in the Himalayas, which included an 11-day Annapurna circuit trek to celebrate their silver wedding.
They walked elsewhere, including South Africa twice, and Sri Lanka, at the same time combining Alan's life-long dream of watching England play cricket abroad.
Since retirement, he has extended his interest in golf, being co-opted to the Newton Green centenary committee in 2007, and raising £10,000 sponsorship. He then helped with Dora George to develop the club golf week as a successful annual event.
Alan joined the main committee in 2009 and became membership and marketing chairman. He used his journalism and photographic skills to enhance Newton's image. He introduced the concept of special offers, such as Davey membership, which helped sustain membership in the face of a nationwide downturn in the fortunes of the sport.
He conceived the idea of - and raised £5,000 for - the Arthur Davey starters' shelter. He also introduced the club to the idea of a vintage car show to mark its 110th anniversary, and was blamed for selecting obscure, contemporary art for the revamped club house!
For the last 20 years he attended an annual golf holiday with male cronies who make up the Saturday Morning Ultimate Golf Society (SMUGS). He was also a member of the Wednesday Hackers and Golfers Society (WHAGS).
The beautiful game
As a soccer follower and reporter, Alan covered the former Sudbury Town FC. He was a season ticket holder at Portman Road in the Bobby Robson era, attending regularly with life-long friends Terry Watson, David King and David Rippingale.
In 1962 he founded the Sudbury Sunday Football League, being its first secretary, and saw it grow to 36 teams. He won trophies and helped form the successful Sudbury Park Rangers, including playing in the national Sunday cup.
A life-long follower of the Arsenal, he became a member at The Emirates in retirement - making pilgrimages most years to see matches.
Not surprisingly, Alan was an admirer of Arsène Wenger, his favourite singer, Frank Sinatra, and artists of the Picasso style.
He hoped to be remembered, possibly over-optimistically, as a person of ideas, and a positive, loyal individual.
His cricketing days had been renowned for his reluctance to give his wicket away, and this followed him into recent years, when he showed a straight bat to hit cancer for six for as long as possible.
Alan had amazing care and compassion from both St Nicholas Hospice and NHS staff during the last days of his life.
The family is holding a celebration of his life - Alan's "party", as he wished it to be - at AFC Sudbury, Brundon Lane, CO10 7HN, on Monday, December 16, at 2.30pm.
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