Friends and colleagues have been paying tribute to freelance journalist and former Guild member Andy Collings, who died suddenly at the beginning of March. He was 70.
Andy had all but retired although he continued to contribute occasional features – as well as the long-running Jack’s Diary column each month – to Farm Contractor & Large Scale Farmer magazine where he started his career in journalism.
Andy was born and raised on a large council estate on the west side of Northampton – an unlikely location for a future career of any sort in agriculture.
But after leaving school, he worked on farms and began writing by offering freelance copy to any magazine that might take it – farming journals, womens’ magazines and others.
He was able to pursue his interest in writing full-time when recruited as a reporter on Farm Contractor magazine, joining publisher Anthony Collier and Peter Hill, and was later appointed editor of the monthly publication.
A move to Farmers Weekly as machinery editor followed, working with fellow Guild members Andrew Faulkner, Geoff Ashcroft, Ian Marshall and Nick Fone while commuting from his home in Towcester to the RBI offices in Sutton, Surrey.
Freelancing and freedom from commuting beckoned, with Andy then contributing features to Farmers Weekly, Farmers Guardian, Profi International, Farm Contractor & Large Scale Farmer, Classic Tractor and others.
He also contributed the enduring Jack’s Diary column for Farm Contractor – now published by Guild member Malcolm Benjamin – that related the trials and tribulations of a fictional agricultural contractor.
Winding-down in 2016 towards semi-retirement gave Andy more time to realise his ambition of publishing a farming-based novel. Harry, me and boiled bacon was published in 2017, followed by the sequel Harry, me and bottled tea in 2018.
He was pleasantly surprised that these comical fictional accounts of a farmer’s boy in the 1960s, which no doubt drew on Andy’s own experiences of ‘life on the farm’, continue to sell (albeit in modest numbers, he acknowledged) through Amazon.
Apart from regular walks with his dog, Andy’s diverse leisure interests included sea angling, playing the piano and other musical instruments, and flying a microlight aircraft – until, as Andy put it, “the landings became too scary”.
The Guild sends its heartfelt condolences to Andy’s wife Julia, and to their son and daughter, Tom and Emma.
If any Guild member would like to add a tribute or recollection, please email Peter Hill at email@example.com.
Geoff Ashcroft: Andy was my editor when I joined Farm Contractor in 1989 and started my career in agricultural journalism. He taught me an awful lot, and shared much of his craft with me in the five years we worked together then, and again at Farmers Weekly.
He was a master of his craft. “You’re writing for the reader, and no-one else. And if you don’t get them in the first paragraph, you’ll never keep them.” Wise words indeed AC, and I’ve even passed them on myself to help a younger generation.
Andy became a thorn in New Holland’s side as a transmission issue plagued its 40-series tractors in the 1990s, costing the company millions as Andy highlighted a safety issue and was keen to help readers understand the error of the company’s ways.
His sharp wit and cynicism earned him the nick-name Cynical Sid, and his appreciation of company cars was a particular hoot – while carpets were layered in cigarette ash and dog-ends, the paintwork was equally dulled by a lack of soap and water.
A kind-hearted guy, whose humour, skill and cynicism will be missed enormously. I have a lot to thank him for.
David Williams: I was always delighted to find that I was on a trip with Andy anywhere.
Grant Sherriffs: I worked with Andy at Farmers Weekly when I joined the production team in 1995, up until he left. He was very amusing (we drank lots of tea, with the odd cigarette!) and had some good laughs!
Andrew Faulkner: Andy, to me, was one of the last of the old school of farm machinery journalists. Fag in one hand, pint in the other, occasionally looking a little dishevelled (which I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me saying), he was nonetheless, in so many ways, the consummate professional and fiercely protective of the traditional values of independent business reporting.
As proven at various times throughout his career in machinery journalism, he never shied away from challenging corporate executives if he felt their products or services weren’t up to the mark, and he certainly wouldn’t allow the commercial pressures of publishing to divert him from what he regarded as his primary task — to inform and represent his readers.
As a writer, there were few who could compare. During our period together at Farmers Weekly in the 1990s, I marvelled at how Andy was able to attend a half-day machinery launch and then return to the car park where he would bash out his copy on a laptop within the hour. Then on the journey home he’d pop his roll of film into a roadside post box. Job done – and invariably to the highest standard.
When I was starting out in machinery journalism, Andy was the best possible mentor. He would make time to correct my frequent mistakes as well as provide positive feedback on how to improve, and, just as importantly, he could always be relied upon to leap to my defence whenever I found myself in a tricky situation.
How will I remember Andy? A man of seemingly limitless talents: journalist, author, pianist, clarinettist, accordionist, angler, microlight pilot … and I’m sure there’s a load more, of which I’m unaware, to add to that diverse and hugely impressive list. Above all else, though, I will remember Andy as excellent company and a thoroughly good bloke.’
Julian Cooksley: How very sad. Andy was a great guy and a real character, one of the original team.
Emily Padfield: Such sad and shocking news about Andy. Gone too soon.
Steve Mitchell: My most vivid memories of Andy are of countless hours spent in hotel and airport lounges whiling away the time during European press trips – time that was best spent listening to him play extraordinarily good piano whenever there was one to hand, or matter of factly producing a pack of playing cards and proceeding to dazzle the assembled crowd with a variety of unfathomable card tricks.
Maybe he missed his vocation, who knows, but on his day Andy was a first class journalist with a great nose for a (preferably exclusive) news story. He’ll be sorely missed.
Hugh Symington: He was taken too young and still had so much to offer. Great book Harry, me and boiled potatoes; I recommend it if you haven’t read it.
Dominic Kilburn: Andy was one of the first ag journos I really got to know as a cub reporter back in the mid-90s – and he successfully led me astray on many of the European press trips we all travelled on together! Andy’s infectious smile and laughter will stay with me always.
My standout memories: First, on a press trip in a European hotel bar, late at night, Andy sauntered over to a stunning grand piano positioned in the middle of the room and proceeded to ‘tickle the ivories’ with consummate skill. Everyone in the room fell quiet, and a huge round of applause followed when he’d finished. A memorable end to the night!
Second, on a press trip to Sweden we found ourselves aboard a 60ft sailing yacht in the Baltic. One of our colleagues had partaken in a little too much of the local brew when they fell down the hatch as the boat tilted. Who was there to catch them at the bottom….Andy of course!
When I say ‘catch’, actually, they just landed on top of him, but nonetheless, he’d cushioned a fall which otherwise might have resulted in serious injury. None the worse for his heroic actions, another glass of the mysterious blue-coloured schnapps was had by all!
Ken Fletcher: Had much fun and laughter with him and I still use one of his jokes!
Malcolm Benjamin: I first met Andy in 1989 when I joined Farm Contractor magazine. We became and remained good friends, as well as colleagues until he died.
We both enjoyed playing musical instruments and loved to entertain at ACP Christmas parties in the early ‘90s, (although I could never play the piano as well as he did).
The ‘Iron Down Calypso’ (written by Andy) was a particular favourite. He was a true professional to his craft and for the past 11 years was contributing monthly to the magazine, alongside the Jack’s Diary column. We will miss him dearly.
Ian Marshall: I worked with and alongside Andy for many years and I will always remember him for his skill as a writer (especially the opening sentence of any report), his perceptiveness and his wry sense of humour. There was also his virtuosity as a musician; his piano and accordion playing livened up the late evenings of many a press trip.
Anthony Collier: I first met Andy at his interview for a position on our journal Farm Contractor & Large Scale Farmer many years ago. He had been working in farm management and I was struck by his enthusiasm for a change to journalism, his obvious intelligence, sense of humour and liking for a pint or two!
He proved a highly competent editor of the journal and also of Amenity Management, which he edited alongside Farm Contractor, bringing new ideas and expertise to both journals. Diligent and hard-working, he was also easy to get along with; so important in a small team.
He eventually decided to move to a more challenging position as machinery editor on Farmers Weekly, but he had become well-qualified for that position and felt he needed to further his career.
Later in life as a freelance journalist, he wrote for many farming publications, including Farm Contractor, and was a popular figure at farming events and demonstrations.
His death was untimely, unexpected and tragic. He will be greatly missed by family, friends and colleagues.
Chris McCullough: As a journalist based in Northern Ireland, I often met Andy on overseas press trips and having travelled a good few air miles together in the past I always found him to be friendly and respectful.
He often used my freelance stories when he was an editor which was most appreciated when I was starting out as a freelance agri hack. I will remember him as one of the good old school journos who always had a word or two of wisdom to offer.
Richard Whiskard: Having known and worked with Andy from when he first joined Farm Contractor at Iron Down, he was always the consummate professional with a very good eye for a story and sticking to his guns. But it was not just his journalistic skills that impressed.
He could turn his hand to so many things, such as playing an array of musical instruments or flying a microlight. An hour in Andy’s company, especially if a pint of beer was involved, was never wasted and his wry observations on life were always very entertaining. His take on the implications of following a car with a ‘Baby on Board’ sticker in the rear window is one that particularly springs to mind.
Another memorable story was on the occasion of a press trip to southern France with Renault. Prior to travelling out in the afternoon, Andy had been at FW’s Easton Lodge and picked up a sandwich on the way down to the airport for his lunch.
By the time we arrived in France, he was feeling decidedly unwell and rather that attend the evening dinner and presentation, he retreated to his bed. By the following morning, he was back to his old self and entertained us over breakfast by describing the screaming contest between him and the poor girl who had been given the job of leaving gift packs in the rooms of those attending while at the presentations, and having entered his room and turned the light on, was greeted by Andy waking up on the top of the bed with not a lot on.
Due to being away I was sorry not to be able to attend his funeral and say goodbye so someone who will be greatly missed in the industry.