IT WAS with sadness that I learned of the death of John ‘Tex’ Hennessey, a good friend and former colleague on the Daily Mail. Tex was a sports sub-editor who doubled as the paper’s snooker correspondent, spending his holidays covering major tournaments including the highlight of the year, the world championship in Sheffield. He wrote several books including Eye of the Hurricane, a biography of Alex Higgins.
It was Tex more than anyone who made me welcome when I arrived in Fleet Street from the Manchester office in 1986, even though I was on news and he was on sport. Perhaps one of my former northern colleagues had asked him to look out for me.
And it was Tex who convinced me that I should move to his beloved Southend-on-Sea, for which my wife Margaret and I will be eternally grateful. I have described before how he would look out over the Thames from Westcliff Esplanade, with the oil refineries of Canvey Island and the grim industrialisation of the Isle of Grain, and exclaim in all seriousness: ‘Best view in the world!’
Our friend was born John Edward Patrick Hennessey in 1944. I once asked him how he gained his Texhood and he claimed that as a child he was sent away to boarding school. One of the boys, who took it upon himself to bestow nicknames on other pupils, asked him his surname. ‘Hmmm, Hennessey,’ he mused. ‘Rhymes with Tennessee. But we can’t call you Tennessee because that’s too long. I know, we’ll call you Texas. Aw’ight, Tex?’
The Hennessey journalistic career began on various papers in Essex, where he built up contacts with promoter Barry Hearn’s Matchroom snooker outfit, and he joined the Mail in about 1980. A true workaholic, with a love of subbing and of all sports, he also did shifts on the Mail on Sunday and Boxing News, and set up his own snooker magazine with a bloke from the Mirror.
He left for the Express when they offered him a better salary and, more importantly, the right to do his snooker reports in the firm’s time rather than his own. Sadly we lost contact with him after we moved to Kent to be near Margaret’s ailing parents. There were later rumours that he had bought a lot of slum property in the North, specifically Burnley, and that he had retired to Lanzarote.
In fact he settled in Golf del Sur, Tenerife, with his second wife, Val, and became features editor of the English-language paper The Canarian. Although a staunch Catholic he became friendly with the Rev John Poole, an Anglican minister.
Mr Poole wrote: ‘I first met Tex whilst on holiday in Tenerife and here in Golf del Sur, long before I ever thought I would come and work here. On the Sunday, there was no Anglican Eucharist for some reason so Rosemary and I attended the Roman Catholic celebration here. Tex appeared to be someone who had some responsibility and I remember that he came forward and gave some notices at the end of Mass. I got to know Tex better after arrival here to take up my post as priest in charge of the Anglican community in south Tenerife. He often stayed on to worship with us Anglicans and to accompany Val here at San Blas after the morning Roman Catholic Mass.
‘Tex was a keen Chelsea supporter, and one of his first comments to me, if we met on a Sunday, would be about Chelsea’s performance the day before. There was always some friendly banter between us when Chelsea was playing my team, the mighty Wolverhampton Wanderers.
‘The circumstances of his death are rather sad. He had been suffering
from dementia for some time. I noticed that he no longer
remembered how his beloved Chelsea were doing when we met on a Sunday, although he did a fine job of covering it up, usually by asking me how they had got on the previous day because he had not yet caught up with it! He remained coherent but the change in his behaviour was becoming increasingly clear and Val reports that sometimes he was not sure who she was.
‘The end came on 22nd December last year. He would accompany Val to hospital for her regular appointments with her traumatologist after she suffered an accident at work. He would remain in the cafe and read a paper while waiting for her. On this day when she returned from her appointment he had disappeared. After a frantic search of the vicinity the police were informed but an extensive search by them and friends over the next few days revealed no trace of him. There was a sighting by someone who saw him (or someone matching his description) walking in the general direction of his home, though he apparently gave no sign of being lost or in distress. The distance from the hospital to his home is about eight miles. Judging by the distance he had covered and that there was no further sight of him, it seems that he met his death on the day he went missing.
‘On the evening of 26th December his body was found by the police in a shallow ravine by the roadside that he must have fallen into on his walk. He was 78 years old. Given the problems with his knees, it is
remarkable that he walked as far as he did. No suspicious circumstances were identified.
‘His Funeral Mass took place on 10th January attended by a large congregation. He is much missed by all who knew him here.’
Among the tributes from former Mail colleagues came this by Jon Culverhouse, who now runs a successful fireworks company: ‘Tex was the funniest and most generous guy I ever worked with. He lit up the subs’ desk every evening with his never-ending fund of jokes and general bonhomie. I’ll always remember the one about the monkey and the coach crash. It was the way he told ’em! Those of us there at the time will also fondly recall the useful electrical items he would sometimes turn up with, courtesy of his brother Ginge! My last memory of Tex was visiting him at his home back in the late 80s. As I drove down his street, my path was blocked by a very large tree lying across the road. And there was Tex, chainsaw in hand, apologising to his neighbours for a slight miscalculation in where the tree was supposed to fall! Happy days.’
The Mail’s former deputy sports editor, Jim Hopkins, added: ‘With hindsight, there was almost an inevitability that someone who led such a full and colourful life should bow out in such tragic and dramatic circumstances. My only hope is that he didn’t know too much about what was happening to him in those final days.
‘Quite simply, Tex was one of the kindest people you could wish to meet. My late wife Stella and I were joint owners of a slightly upmarket dress shop and I can remember one evening when Tex and I were discussing how quiet trade was. We weren’t tearing up any trees but we weren’t in trouble either, but Tex decided that we needed an urgent injection of cash into our business. The next thing we know is that Tex’s [first] wife Andrea arrived at the shop in darkest Kent armed with a chequebook to boost our sales.
‘I’m not sure if she actually found anything to her liking to buy, but that didn’t matter. It was the gesture that counted. It was Tex personified.
‘There was only one thing that mattered more to Tex than his friends, and that was his family.
‘Tex made a genuine contribution to the sports pages of Fleet Street, both as a sub and a snooker writer . . . and I know that he was also seldom happier than when lending his considerable talents to the team at Boxing News.
‘I have never been one to keep lists or dossiers about friends and colleagues, but if I did then Tex would be up there with the very best of the Good Guys.’
The last word comes from Barry Hearn, who said: ‘Sad news. Tex was a fun guy who invented the Vodka Club at the world championships in the Eighties – less said the better!!’
Rest in peace, old mate.
Old jokes’ home
I went to the zoo yesterday and all it had was one little dog in a cage. It was a shih tzu.
A PS from PG
The spirit of the Woosters felt as if it had been sat on by an elephant. And not one of your streamlined, schoolgirl-figured elephants, either. A big, fat one.
PG Wodehouse: The Mating Season