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Alan Exley

By 17th March 2010July 27th, 2023No Comments

Former Guild chairman and Senior Fellow Alan Exley, who launched what would become Livestock Farming magazine in the early 1970s, has died at his home in Australia.

His wife Susan writes: “Alan enjoyed his 90th birthday last August, when we were lucky enough to have several members of his family with us, and he died at home here with me after a short illness.

“While in the later stages of his working life he left the rigours of journalism for the rigours of farming and running a riding school, he always proudly described himself as a ‘journalist’.”

Alan Exley relaxing at his home in Australia

Guild general secretary and former colleague Don Gomery recalls that Alan lived a long and interesting life.

“I guess I first met Alan when he was editor of Farming Express and remember his launch of Beef & Sheep Farming, which later became Livestock Farming, when I was editor of Dairy Farmer,” says Don. “He then took on a then very young Marcus Oliver to take over as editor when he wanted to become involved in the equine world.

“He is remembered with great affection and respect among members of the Guild, having been Chairman in 1962, an Honorary Member, a Fellow and a Senior Fellow,” he adds. “He was a great guy and someone I always regarded as a very close and personal friend, even though we were so many miles apart in recent years.”

Riding off towards the Yorkshire Moors, western style; no
bit, just a bosal

Edward Hart writes:

I remember Alan Exley as a farmer’s son from Malton, North Yorkshire, who took to writing for local newspapers before moving to London and, after serving in the Second World War, edited Farming Express for Lord Beaverbrook, whom he often quoted.

Having launched Beef and Sheep Farming – later Livestock Farming – Alan welcomed contentious features, which I tried to produce. Always full of idea, he risked the start of his publishing career with Your Sheepdog and Its Training, also my first venture in authorship.

A fellow Yorkshireman, Alan had an inexhaustible fund of stories from post-WW2 days, when Press hospitality was tax free and virtually unlimited. He was a fine raconteur but allowed no-one to skate over the horrors of German prison camps, which he had helped liberate.

Former colleague Marcus Oliver recalls Alan Exley’s life and publishing exploits:

While still awed by the sleekly polished boardroom table at the Adelphi offices of FJ Parsons, publishers of the Hastings & St Leonards Observer, just off the Strand, a copy of the Financial Times dismissed my reveries as it thudded onto the rich mahogany. Alan Exley, for it was he, asked me to peruse the main story prior to him asking some questions.

“Take your time, there’s no hurry,” he said in the comforting Yorkshire tones which were to become so familiar.

The facts of the savage Nigerian-Biafran War, under way in early 1967, were clear enough and I must have satisfied Alan because he offered me my first job in journalism on his newly started Beef and Sheep Farming. Throughout the interview the man had never sat down. The whole thing was over within minutes.

This hands-on, no-nonsense approach to business was Alan’s characteristic. He told me later that he preferred to stand or walk about at work. “It helps me think,” he said. It did too; to see him hammering away at his hefty Remington on a chest-high sloping lectern was inspiring. A potent and pungent editorial would be dashed off in 10 minutes.

He was a Fleet Street journalist who had worked as a general reporter on the Evening News, covering among other stories the infamous Penge bungalow murder, and then onto the Daily Mail as agricultural correspondent when Percy Izzard retired. I couldn’t believe my luck to have secured a position with such a successful and highly professional journalist.

In addition to working on the Daily Mail, Alan served as a presenter on Southern Television’s farming programme and as a producer of BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme, a role he continued throughout the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak of 1967-68. Many a morning, after his broadcast, he would turn up in Sussex stepping out of his very fast-driven Mini Cooper S with an ear-to-ear smile.

His last job as an employee had been to edit the new weekly Farming Express, set up by Lord Beaverbrook, back at the Daily Express, as an attempt to spike Edward Heath’s first attempt to negotiate a place for the UK within the Common Market. With the firm ‘non’ from France’s General de Gaulle a few years later, Farming Express was shut down by Beaverbrook – mission accomplished – and Alan decided to invest his redundancy pay in his own publishing business at Little Homestead Farm, Netherfield, East Sussex.

As I learned, Alan Exley was an exceptional individual. He had grown up on a farm near Malton, North Yorkshire, got a trainee reporter’s job at 16 on the local Malton Messenger and joined the 5th Battalion Green Howards at the outbreak of World War II. He was evacuated from Dunkirk courtesy of the destroyer HMS Impulsive and then sent back as part of the D-Day invasion, landing on Juno beach.

After fighting his way through France, Belgium, Holland and finally Germany, as part of 739 Artillery Company, Royal Army Service Corps, he helped liberate the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp just outside Hanover. I remember him telling me he encountered emaciated men ‘with dead eyes’ in black and white striped clothing.

Beef and Sheep Farming was a trail-blazer in agricultural publishing in many ways. It was the first ‘controlled circulation’ title in the UK, whereby readers had to register to receive free copies. Unless they had a minimum number of acres and livestock they could not enjoy the service. As such, the title also broke new ground in that it was the first regular periodical to reach farmers through the post as a ‘polythene wrapped postable item’.

We, the team, occupied various farm outbuildings. Susan, his wife, efficiently ran the accounts and central office with Alan in a converted abattoir. Lil ran off the address list on a monthly frequency inside a beautiful old Sussex barn, while I and my colleague Kim Cardell, each occupied static caravans, which had seen better days on Bexhill seafront.

I recall taxing Alan on one occasion on the working conditions inside these £30-vans – such was the drumming effect on the tin roofs that it was impossible to carry on a phone conversation during the lightest of rain showers – when suddenly the poor guy lost both feet up to his knees through the rotten flooring!

But on the whole these were very happy days. Alan was great fun to be with and always enthusiastic. With the addition of dairy cows and several thousand new readers Beef and Sheep Farming became Livestock Farming.

He published a marvellous hardback book Your Sheepdog and Its Training, by Tim Longton (1966 Supreme International Championship Winner) as told to Guild member Edward Hart. He bought and published the Horse World magazine. In between Alan operated as a special constable with the local police, found time once a year to act as a scrutineer for the Daily Express sponsored Power Boat Race and owned and sailed his own boat on the Thames.

One day a huge limo scrunched down the farm lane and a smooth-looking publishing executive from Morgan-Grampian, Woolwich, got out and slapped a large cheque book onto the car roof. Minutes later a suitably huge cheque was ripped off and given to Alan. We had been sold!

Alan and Susan stayed on at Little Homestead as farmers before heading back to the North Yorkshire Moors where they set up a thriving horse-riding school. From there they headed off to Tasmania and then to Australia proper.

If ever a man deserved a decently long retirement in the sun it was Alan (who died in his 91st year). Always gregarious, thought-provoking and multi-talented, this man will be missed by numerous journalists and others who had the good fortune, as I did, to know him.