Tributes to former LBO editor Andy Wallis who was ‘Mr Leighton Buzzard’

Andy Wallis
Andy Wallis

Former colleagues of journalist and ex-Leighton Buzzard Observer and Dunstable Gazette editor Andy Wallis have paid tribute to him following his death last week.

Andy, who was 72 and had fought a nine-month battle with cancer, passed away on December 5 leaving behind his wife Lucy and son James.

Andy, of Ridgeway, Wing, was born in Houghton Regis on February 19, 1944, and lived with his parents in Leafields.

He was educated at Dunstable Grammar School from 1955 until 1961.

He joined the Dunstable Gazette and eventually became sports editor, a job through which he became extremely well-known and popular in the area. In the early 70s he transferred to the Gazette’s sister paper at St Albans, the Herts Advertiser, where he was chief sub editor.

Here he worked alongside Den O’Donoghue who was sports editor at the time.

Den recalled: “While we worked at St Albans, Andy managed to overturn his Robin Reliant just south of Redbourn on the way to work. I came across the accident scene just after Andy was loaded into an accident recovery vehicle.

“His three-wheeler had slid down the A5 on its roof with Andy’s leg somehow hanging out of the window. For some time, after he was fit to return to work, I used to collect him from his and Lucy’s flat in Hayhurst Road, Luton, get him and his heavily bandaged and strapped leg across the back seat of my car and ferry him backwards and forwards to work.”

Andy returned to Dunstable in the mid-70s as editor of the Dunstable Gazette when the previous editor, Geoff Compton, departed for Fleet Street.

Den said: “I later joined him again as his deputy. In the early 80s he went to the Leighton Buzzard Observer and became Mr Leighton Buzzard.”

Later in his career he moved to the Welwyn Times, where he was a senior sub editor until his retirement in 2007.

Den added: “Andy was a terrific, popular and sociable man; an old-school journalist who knew that there were plenty of stories to be found via the pub landlords and their customers. He had a marvellous contacts book and knew Dunstable and Houghton Regis like the back of his hand.

“In the past few years he had become a keen bowler, at his local club, and had played for Dunstable School Old Boys’ Association in their annual match against Dunstable Town Bowls Club.”

Former LBO chief reporter Mick King got his big break in journalism thanks to Andy.

He said: “Andy took a chance and gave me a job and the opportunity to change my life. Someone once said ‘you can’t do enough for a bad boss, you can’t do too much for a good one’ and Andy was one of the best.

“He was easy going and had a wry, dry, sense of humour, always willing to forgive and forget minor infractions, but woe betide anyone who tried to take advantage of his good nature.

“He could crack the whip but preferred the carrot and even sometimes a little drop of Scotch when the day looked like going down the pan.

“I recall he liked a bet and was convinced he would one day perfect his system to bust the bookies. A good ol’ boy of the first order. Never heard anyone say a bad word about Andy. A big man with a big personality and I am sure he will be much missed by everyone who knew him.”

Reflecting on Andy’s time as sports editor at the Dunstable Gazette, John Buckledee, former editor of the LBO, Dunstable Gazette and Luton News said: “One of the great things he did was to help organise a football competition at Bennett’s Rec in Dunstable for any schoolboys who liked to get together to form a team.

“It was a huge success and he persuaded the newspaper to donate quite a lot of money for trophies etc... a commitment which continued when the competition became more formalised in later years. And each week he wrote a potted history of pubs in the town... a real labour of love!”

“Famously, he created a chart which gave detailed measurements of the exact width of every letter in every typeface in every size.

“That was invaluable in the days of hot-metal printing when trying to find a large headline that fitted the width of the page – no adjustments were possible in those pre-computer days.

On Andy’s return to the Dunstable Gazette as editor, John added: “He made many friends in the town and he and his wife Lucy became great friends with Betty Hill, the Gazette’s popular columnist, and her husband Billy.

“He enjoyed a regular game of snooker at the Conservative Club, just a few doors away from the Gazette’s old office.”

Andy’s funeral is at Amersham Crematorium at 3.15pm on Monday, December 19.

Son James said: “We would welcome any of his family and friends who would like to pay their respects and celebrate his life.

“Following the loss of his eldest son Mark to Leukaemia in 1998, Andy was keen to raise funds for related charities. We’ll therefore be setting up a donation fund to Cancer Research and Bloodwise (formerly Leukaemia& Lymphoma Research).”