Farewell to a much-loved colleague and proper journalist

One of the recurring themes when I talk to people about stroke issues is that they never think about it until it happens to them or someone close to them.

This despite the fact that according to statistics from the Stroke Association, there are 152,000 instances of stroke in the UK every year; that's one every three minutes 27 seconds. Despite the fact that there are over 1.2 million stroke-survivors in the UK today. Despite the fact that stroke is the fourth-largest cause of death in the UK and second-largest in the world. Despite the fact that half of all those 1.2 million stroke-survivors are left disabled. Like too many things, we don't think about it until it hits uncomfortably close to home - by which time, it's too late.

Of course, I hear about lots of people going through this scenario; relatives and friends of stroke-survivors who visit websites and Facebook groups in search of advice and help. But I never see or know those people other than in the virtual world and on rare occasions at seminars and conferences. And this week, stroke came as uncomfortably close to home for me as it ever has since the day when it nearly killed me.

A former colleague on the Birmingham Post, someone from whom I sat yards away for too many hours, five days a week, for several years, died of a stroke this week at the age of 68.  I knew John Cranage for several years when he worked on the business desk of The Post (for some of that time, all four business reporters were called John, which caused predictable mayhem whenever anyone rang wanting to 'speak to John"). The business desk was situated next to the sports desk, so while we concerned ourselves with the irrelevancies of football and cricket, they busied themselves with chronicling the future of industry in the West Midlands - it was an incongruous partnership.

The business reporters were what would today be described as 'old-style' journalists. There wasn't a figure on either side of the industrial fence that they didn't know and both unions and management knew what they said would be fairly reported. Of course, this meant going out of the office and meeting and cultivating contacts. Often, this would result in long and fairly liquid lunches and it became a standing joke on the sports desk that you didn't wonder why the business desk typewriters (for those were the days....) were quiet until late-afternoon; the reporters were out 'getting stories'.

They were good ones, too. John and his ilk were contemptuous of press-officers and other 'spin-doctors' spoon-feeding journalists watered-down pap. They wanted the proper stuff and although the bean-counters who have come to infest the industry may have felt they didn't care because they weren't constantly at their desks churning out copy, they cared more than anyone. Yes, their alcohol intake could be prodigious at times but when the job wanted doing, the story needed getting, they would be there making sure they did their best.

It was high pressure, long hours, all the things that make journalism such a stressful trade. But they all loved it (we all did) and to a man, they were bloody good at it.

John Cranage had his faults (he wasn't a man to get on the wrong side of, particularly when he was up against a deadline) but the number of people lining up to pay genuine tribute to him tells its own story. It's often easy for the trained journalistic eye to tell when apparently-heartfelt obituaries are nothing but; the people saying nice things about John Cranage really mean it.

The fact that he was taken relatively young by a stroke seems to prove the point I often make about the merciless, driven, nature of the journalism trade. Yet when I think of him, hunched over his typewriter or computer turning out real stories which made a difference, I will always smile.

John's funeral will be on Friday December 9 at 10am at Streetly Crematorium, near Walsall.