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Norman Lucas

Published on 2nd December 2014

Norman LucasNorman Lucas, a long term member of the Guild and former assistant editor on Power Farming magazine, died towards the end of November. He was 88.

As a machinery writer, Norman specialised in the detailed reports that the former Reed Business Information magazine published.

His funeral, attended by several machinery writer colleagues, was held on what would have been his 89th birthday.

Norman Lucas was a very special character, writes former colleague, Stephen Howe. He was a consummate professional in everything in which he became involved. From his long-standing career in technical journalism, to his involvement with his local Conservative Association, or his enthusiasm in the late ‘70s for the whole-crop harvesting technique which was to change his career until he finally retired.

I first met Norman in 1971. His reputation as a technical machinery journalist had long been established. He knew the industry inside out, his knowledge of farm machinery was vast and his skills as a technical writer embraced detail and accuracy which were perfected by research before, as well as after, any assignment.

Norman had gained a degree in agriculture – an industry in which he’d always held an interest – and after a short spell working for Meltham-based UK tractor maker David Brown, he joined Farm Mechanization and became its deputy editor.

Farm Mechanization was a very technical, monthly publication and Norman’s professional writing style and attention to detail fitted in perfectly with the magazine’s content which, in addition to its excellent in-depth features, provided very detailed, engineering-quality, cut-away drawings of tractors, their component parts and a host of other farm machinery, plus a comprehensive review of new machinery coming on to the market.

Norman was a great asset to the magazine and there’s no doubt he enhanced its reputation. It became a must-read title for technically-minded farmers, agricultural engineers, machinery dealers and college lecturers who found a ready-made source for lecture material. He worked alongside another great character of his day, Tom Hammond Cradock, who had practical farming experience and had also worked as an agricultural engineer. The two complemented each other perfectly and were the best of friends.

Farm Mechanization merged with Power Farming in the late ‘60s; Norman retained his role as deputy editor; Tom as technical editor.  By 1971 Power Farming had incorporated some, but by no means all, of Farm Mechanization’s content; more importantly it inherited one of its key assets – Norman Lucas. As was his nature, he gave his all to Power Farming which also had a good reputation among practical farmers and lovers of farm machinery. The magazine’s detailed technical coverage was enhanced by his knowledge and input both in the office and while on assignments.

His skills as a proof reader in the run-up to, and on press days, were second to none. Norman’s ability to spot spelling errors in foreign names, incorrect cross references and errors in tabular material was incredible.

He was also a master at reporting major shows, such as SIMA in Paris or the DLG (now Agritechnica) in Germany. His technique involved walking every avenue to study each stand to spot new tractors or equipment or changing trends in design. It was a gruelling procedure carried out over just two or three days.

But as Norman explained, it was the most reliable way to keep informed and build contacts in the farm machinery industry. It kept readers up-to-date and, if truth be known, many UK machinery importers in business. It also made ‘Norman Lucas’ a household name in most farm machinery companies in the UK and Europe.

It was his reputation as a machinery expert that resulted in his being head hunted by the Swedish engineering company Kockums. The company was in the process of developing a whole-crop harvesting system for cereals in conjunction with a number of collaborators, which included universities in Sweden.

Norman’s new role included liaising with the researchers, potential end users for whole-crop, which included Rank at the time, and the equipment manufacturers.

Kockums’ gain was Power Farming’s loss. However, Norman never lost touch with his colleagues in technical journalism which was good news – not least because off-duty he was great fun.

He had a brilliant sense of humour and to hear him re-counting some past experiences or new anecdote, particularly if Tom Cradock was present in the room, would rival a script from Only Fools and Horses. He never lost his boyish charm, and always chortled when telling a story, which made it all the funnier.

For Norman’s, friendship, training skills, patience and the knowledge he imparted, I for one remain very grateful. I’m sure many others would share that sentiment together with the UK’s farm machinery sector which benefitted greatly from his professional skill and input.

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Norman Lucas far right, with machinery journalist friends and colleagues at a retirement gathering for John Briscoe, former Massey Ferguson PR man.

Any Guild member who would like to send a note in tribute or share memories of time shared with Norman should send them to Peter Hill for the Guild website.

Stephen Howe: Very saddened to hear about dear Norman. He was my mentor for several years when I first joined Power Farming in 1971. He became a great friend as well as a respected colleague.

David Cousins: That’s sad. He was a cheery chap.

Michael Bird: I had the great fortune to meet and talk with Norman on many occasions when working as assistant machinery correspondent on Farmers Weekly in the late '70s/early '80s, and admired his analytical dissection of farm machinery and its inner and outer workings. Little did I realise I would be stepping into Norman's mighty shoes when he left Power Farming to pursue a growing interest (some said "passion") in the development and application of whole crop harvesting.

I first heard of Norman's pending departure from Stephen Howe when attending a cultivations demonstration in Warwickshire in 1984. As editor of Power Farming, Stephen rightly believed that he knew well his staff, their ruminations and ambitions. However, he told me that he hadn't seen this one coming, especially as Norman was 58 at the time.

I took over Norman's seat on the magazine on the same day he left the company attired, as ever, in his trademark bright blue sleeveless pullover and leaving behind a vast compendium of knowledge, preserved for posterity in the bound issues within the magazine's archive.

One thing that left the room with Norman was the intoxicating aroma of a fried breakfast which, several years later, he told me enjoyed greatly every day of the week. His clothes smelt so strongly of fried egg and bacon because he dried his freshly-washed clothes on an airer suspended directly above the cooker!

From that day onwards, whenever I caught a whiff of a tasty fry-up, I always recalled Norman, his twinkling eyes, ruddy cheeks, infectious chuckle - and impeccable logic.

Please convey our condolences to Norman's family, friends and colleagues. He was a truly gentle man of the old school.

Graham Fuller: Norman was always the 'go-to' man if a particularly puzzling piece of farm machinery surfaced at any of the great European shows. On one occasion, when I was enthusing about something that caught my eye over a beer late one night he quietly remarked it probably had no relevance to UK agriculture, thereby saving me much embarrassment down the track. A top technical writer, job well done old mate.

Ian Marshall: I'm saddened to hear of Norm's passing. I'll always remember him for the patience he had with me when I joined Power Farming as a trainee and the help he gave me. And for being the only man I know who loved his Austin Allegro!

I'll also remember his droll sense of humour; one day, for whatever reason, Steve Howe, Ted Fellows, Jim Nalder and I were having a discussion in the office at Surrey House on how to kill pigeons. We went through the whole gamut - basically from throwing stones to hand grenades - when this quiet voice from the corner said: "You hang them, don't you?"

Peter Grimshaw: I’m so sorry to hear about the death of Norman. When I found myself mingling with the glitterati of UK machinery journalism, it was Norman’s quiet authority that inspired me to adopt the pretence that I deserved to be among that amazing bunch.

Together, we travelled the world, shared our jokes, tolerated one-another’s weaknesses, and gave poor, benighted corporate information managers a hard time.

Norman was a true professional, a guiding star in times of doubt, totally dependable and seemingly unflappable: a true gentleman. They don’t make men like him any more. Thanks, Norman.

 

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