Obituary: Desmond Lyons

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The Independent Online
Desmond Lyons, former Production Editor of what journalists have come to call "the old" - i.e. pre-Maxwell - Daily Mirror, was one of a vanishing breed of ebullient yet highly professional Fleet Street characters.

Born in Bray, Co Wicklow, he was brought to Bristol at the age of seven and sent to Prior Park School, which he hated. He subsequently read law at Bristol University - grounding which stood him in good stead when holding his corner, which he did most spiritedly, with office libel lawyers.

He joined the Navy in 1943, becoming a sub-lieutenant and taking part in the Normandy landings. Later he served in Malaysia, Singapore and Java, where he played the piano in a brothel. With this experience and his law studies, he was now doubly qualified to become a journalist.

After the war he was taken on by the South London News Agency, when he shared a flat with Sir David English, as he now is, the future Editor and Chairman of the Daily Mail. He then moved north to work on the Lancashire Evening Telegraph and the Manchester editions of the News Chronicle, Daily Herald and Daily Express before returning to London as a Daily Express sub-editor. He switched to the old Daily Sketch and then after a brief stint on the Observer, which he loathed - "bunch of limp-wristed toadies" - he at last found his home on the Daily Mirror, where he spent 11 years, first as Night Sub, then Chief Features Sub and finally Production Editor.

An a newspaperman, Lyons was probably at his happiest as Chief Features Sub, when he presided over a table of motley talents who ranged from the bolshie to the eccentric.

He was in his element arguing with the office lawyer or querying a wretched columnist's slipshod grammar. A scrupulous and knowledgeable guardian of the English language, he had an elaborate points system with most of the paper's writers whereby, if he caught them out on a grammatical slip or they could prove him wrong, the victor in the debate was awarded so many points, a score of ten being rewarded by a drink at the Mirror pub across the street, the Stab in the Back - "and none of your small ones" he would crow, having flushed out a dangling participle. He was one of the few backroom boys who dared face up to the formidable Marje Proops with a crisp analysis of her faltering syntax. She came to respect his judgement and accept his corrections meekly.

Off duty, Lyons was a rollicking companion, whether in the old Press Club, the Stab, El Vino until he was barred for some misdemeanour, or the other Fleet Street watering holes. He was greatly in demand at leaving parties for his prowess as a jazz pianist which had earned him, in his Navy days, the title "Jive King of Java". In his South London apprenticeship he had played professionally at the Windmill Theatre, and with his vast repertoire he would happily thump away at a pub piano for as long as the drinks were still flowing.

Des Lyons took early retirement in 1976 after some heart trouble and moved to Padstow, Cornwall, where he ran a controversial weekly column on the Cornwall Courier, and later did phone-in shows for Radio Cornwall. He kept in touch with some of his Daily Mirror colleagues with characteristically pungent letters but was never nostalgic about the old hot metal days. He did, however, regret the passing of the times when Fleet Street was fun, and the Jive King of Java regularly tinkled the keys at the Stab having given a misapplied gerund its come-uppance.

Desmond Dunne Lyons, journalist: born Bray, Co Wicklow 8 May 1925; married 1955 Ada Duckworth (three sons, two daughters, and one son deceased; marriage dissolved 1981), 1981 Anne Gregson; died Earlestoke, Wiltshire 8 April 1997.

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