THE first time I heard Ian Dewhirst speak at an event was over 40 years ago.

The Yorkshire Ridings magazine, where I was employed, held some very successful literary events.

On an early occasion, Magnus Pike was booked to speak, but the day before he phoned to say he couldn’t come due to illness – panic!

My editor, Winston Halstead, picked up the phone: “Ian, would you like to speak at our next literary event?”

“Oh, I would!” said Ian “Yes, yes, I’ll just get my diary.”

“You don’t need your diary Ian,” replied Winston. “It’s tonight!”

We needn’t have worried, Ian had the audience in tucks of laughter – guests begged us to invite him again. We did, this time with Jeremy Beadle, who was a very popular TV and radio presenter at the time. To a full house, Ian spoke first and once again the audience roared with laughter and he sat down to thunderous applause. I remember Jeremy turning to me and saying, “do you really expect me to follow that?!”

Jeremy invited Ian to London for a weekend and to take part in his popular late-night radio show.

Ian’s appearance was unrehearsed yet a great success. Some years later Jeremy was asked “who is the most amusing person you have ever met?”, to which he replied “the man who spoke just before me at a literary dinner in Yorkshire!”

A year later, Ian was again speaking at an event where our main speaker was the well-known newsreader Jan Leeming. Jan had obviously been ‘warned’, for the first thing she asked us was “can I speak first?” She did, and signing her books after dinner she wrote in mine “I can’t remember when I laughed so much!” The next morning Ian came down to breakfast clutching Jan’s book with a great big smile on his face as he proudly showed us what she’d written in his – “To Ian. What a night!”

There were many more such occasions when Ian met famous writers – sometimes as fellow speakers, sometimes as a guest.

Ian would always recall and relate these amusing incidents at our annual magazine reunion.

The last reunion was held in September last year and I asked a colleague to give a tribute to Ian, and of course he immediately rose to reply. Little did we know that this was the last time we would hear him.

How many talks had he given? “Well over 4,000,” he told us.

Someone once said that the most precious gift you can give is a happy memory. Ian gave many happy memories to thousands of people. He was the voice of Keighley. An honest, modest man who we are all glad to have met and will never forget.

Our world will be a sadder place without him.

JOAN LAPRELL Ex-Yorkshire Ridings magazine