By Andy Hirst

Huddersfield has this week seen the end of an era.

At the age of 81 Denis Kilcommons has written his final column for The Huddersfield Daily Examiner after 50 years on the paper and 65 years in journalism.

Yes, you read it correctly, 65 years.

We all remember people who have inspired us in life, those who have led by example, those who take whatever they do to new heights which others try to match.

I joined The Huddersfield Daily Examiner in June 1987 and quickly realised Denis was someone special.

Special in that even though he’s quite small – he says he’s 5ft 6in ‘on a good day’ – everyone who aspired to do well in journalism looked up to him.

Even by then he’d been at the Examiner for 15 years and had led by example, not only for the staff but also for the town.

In the early 1970s racism was commonplace across the UK but Denis set about changing people’s mindset by specialising in race relations at a time when hardly anyone else in the media bothered.

Denis knew Huddersfield was a strong multi-cultural community at heart and set about proving that by profiling Asian restaurants, race relations trailblazers in the town and championing everything positive that the influx of immigrants from Pakistan, India, the West Indies and many other countries brought to the town, keeping the textile industry going, setting up their own businesses and giving it a new vibrancy.

It was an interest borne from experience and he’d even travelled the length of Pakistan by train, plane and automobile. In the early 1960s Denis was night editor of the Uganda Nation in Kampala in East Africa, arriving at Entebbe Airport just as colonial activist Jomo Kenyatta was leaving and Denis even nodded to him as they passed on the tarmac.

“I don’t think he was leaving because of me,” Denis said later.

In the 1970s Denis had also turned his attention to Huddersfield’s music scene and gave it such intensive and knowledgeable coverage goodness knows how many thousands of people he tempted through the doors of the town’s pubs and clubs to watch live music. He helped make the town tick.

As a journalist he covered some of the biggest stories from the M62 IRA coach bombing which claimed 12 lives near Hartshead Moor Services in February 1974 to Princess Di’s funeral in 1997.

He’s also a widely published author and in the 1980s his first gripping thriller, The Dark Apostle, won the John Creasey Award from the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain.

He took the success in his usual modest, unassuming style, accepting praise and congratulations with a shrug of the shoulders. Denis has since had more than 20 books published in America and around the world, translated into nine languages.

But he’s best known and most loved for his Examiner columns which he started in 1989 and was then asked to write three columns a week after he retired at the age of 65 in 2006.

He reckons that’s about 6,000 columns and six million words over the last 34 years.

Denis says that this picture of him was taken in 1866 when his literary rival was one Charles Dickens

Any journalist will tell you that writing one column a week is a big ask. Writing three is virtually impossible but Denis being Denis has never disappointed with his quirky comments and incisive insights into anything topical and the hilarious tales of characters he’s known throughout his life, never more so than his delightfully dotty Aunty Doris.

His sense of humour is dry, his writing magnificently easy to read and so often the stories end with a cracking last line to leave the reader wanting more.

A relative of mine once said: “I read Denis’s column yesterday and laughed and laughed.”

“What did he write about,” I asked.

“I can’t remember,” she said. “But it was so funny.”

And that’s Denis, using a lifetime of experience and sheer craftmanship to make the unremarkable remarkable, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary and making everyday folk the stars of his one-man show. That’s a very special skill.

When Denis joined the Examiner after eight years at the Blackpool Evening Gazette in December 1972 where he met his wife, Maria, he reckoned he’d only be here for a couple of years.

So, Huddersfield Examiner readers have had an extra 48 years and what a bonus that’s been. Denis is synonymous with the Examiner and was the last link to a bygone age in the 1970s, 80s, 90s and early part of this century before technology changed local media forever.

I feel so lucky to have known Denis as a boss, a colleague and someone who believed completely in the power of local newspapers to support its local community, laugh with it in the good times, cry with it in the tough times and never let it down.

That’s why Denis is so special. That’s why we all looked up to him. That’s why Denis inspired me and others to do our best every day we worked at the Examiner as nothing less would ever do.

Thanks Denis, from all of us.

And here’s a last word (or several) from the man himself…

Denis writes: “This was me when I started on The Examiner in 1972. Before arriving here, I’d worked on The Uganda Nation newspaper in East Africa, a couple of provincial titles and did eight years on The Blackpool Evening Gazette.

“On The Examiner I was news reporter, race relations correspondent, rock writer and chief feature writer before becoming columnist in 1989. When I retired in 2006, I was asked to carry on as columnist and have done another 17 years.

“Friday was my last Examiner column before full retirement. That makes 65 years as a journalist, 50 of them at The Examiner. I’ve been running longer than Coronation Street and loved every minute. As someone once said, it’s been the best game in town.

“And as someone else once said, it’s now goodnight from me and goodnight from that young bloke of 32.”

  • Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR ( specialising in press releases, blogging, website content and copywriting