Ian Nelson became a bit of a legend as the sole journalist to interview Elvis the only time he set foot on British soil.

THE king is dead; now so is the man who got the great Elvis exclusive. Ian Nelson, one of the best and most dedicated journalists with whom I ever had the privilege of working, was 89.

Some said he bore a certain resemblance to Alan Whicker, others – mainly me – to the guy who sells fried chicken. Doubles notwithstanding, Ian remained unique.

Towards the end of his full-time working life he achieved much as the Echo’s man in east Cleveland, even once told the ladies and gentlemen of Saltburn and Marske parish council that if they hadn’t stop blethering by 9.30pm, he was going home. “The council never looked back,” he recalled.

It was the Elvis story, however, on which he could forever have dined out – and which, rather poignantly, took up a page of the nursing home newsletter in the days before his death.

It was March 3, 1960, Ian the Daily Mail’s man in western Scotland.

Elvis had just been demobbed from the US Army in Frankfurt, leaving the tearful 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu – a captain’s daughter, whom he had been dating – in tears at the airport.

For just 90 minutes, the only time that Presley ever set foot on British soil, the plane stopped to refuel at Prestwick airport in Ayrshire. Alone, Ian’s journalistic radar picked up the flight.

“He was just like the kid next door,” Ian once recalled. “I had 20 minutes with him in a small lounge while the plane refuelled. He was very cooperative.”

The great man did ask if he could leave his cap on, the picture taken by a fellow sergeant. “It kinda breaks the uniform, if you know what I mean,” said Elvis.

Ian had also once sat in the next chair to Frank Sinatra in the Prestwick barber shop, the request for an interview met altogether more brusquely, as two words tend to be.

Ian had himself been a wartime flight lieutenant in RAF intelligence, though he seldom talked about it.

After moving south, he worked for the Scarborough Evening News and the Evening Gazette, in Middlesbrough, before, at 58, joining The Northern Echo.

Someone – probably me again – asked if he weren’t a bit old for a new challenge, but his enthusiasm, professionalism and nose for news outdid those getting on 40 years his junior.

Ian was only just beginning.

He retired at 65, working not only on his golf swing but as the Darlington & Stockton Times correspondent – penny-a-line men they used to be called, and the rate may not greatly have increased – in the Saltburn area.

Even among the municipal minutiae, even into his 80s, he retained the same zest and commitment to accuracy as if Elvis’s ensign had been clandestinely hoisted over that peerless pier.

We’d meet at least once a year, New Year’s Day dominoes in Lune Street Workmen’s Club, until Ian left Saltburn last year for a nursing home near his daughter in Dunblane.

It was a Hogmanay fixture, England v Scotland, to which he introduced the concept of firkling.

I’ve still no idea what it means – Scots readers may be able to help – only that England almost always lost. The etymology will further be explored when I give the eulogy at Ayr crematorium on Friday.

WARKWORTH, half-way up the Northumberland coast, may be a classic English village – ancient castle, Norman bridge, lovely church, riverside walks, peaceful charm.

It was thus a little surprising last week to see that the menu frame outside one of its pubs had been completely taken over by British National Party propaganda.

The literature had headlines like “Punish the pigs”. The pub was the Black Bull, its landlord Peter Mailer, one of the North-East’s BNP candidates in the European elections.

Mr Mailer has twice been arrested over what’s on the walls inside, but the Crown Prosecution Service decided against action. “How the hell can I be racist, I live with a Jock?” he protested.

Ten yards away, another poster urged “Keep Northumberland red”

– a reference not to politics at the opposite extreme but to grey squirrels.

Whether they or the BNP are the greater nuisance must remain a matter of opinion.

ON the subject of punishing the pigs – for the BNP poster refers to greedy MPs – John Lambard in Wolsingham has been reading A View From the Foothills, the newly published diaries of Sunderland North MP Chris Mullin.

Wednesday, May 1, 2002: “Andrew Mackinlay dropped a little bombshell at this afternoon’s meeting of the parliamentary committee.

“Under the Freedom of Information Act, apparently, MPs’ expenses will retrospectively be subject to public scrutiny from January 1, 2005.

Goodness knows what mayhem this will cause.

“’We are in a jam,” said Robin Cook. “Few members have yet tumbled to the juggernaut heading their way.”

Mr Lambard’s to the point. “Seven years is a long time. I wonder what caused the delay?”

WOUNDING within tent, the column two weeks ago queried the Echo’s own use of the phrase “marquee signing” – this time about former Newcastle Falcons rugby player Jonny Wilkinson, but also used of Sunderland footballer Dwight Yorke.

“Does it mean,” asked David Burniston, in Darlington, “that Toulouse are hiring him out for weddings, as well?”

Brian Madden queries this one, too – “a stupid American saying,” he protests though, like the grey squirrel, it seems insidiously to have crossed the Atlantic.

“Marquee” is an American term for the canopy outside a theatre on which big-print details of the production and its stars appear. A “marquee signing” is thus one that makes the headlines.

This is the column that knows the ropes.

SOME Americanisms are rather smarter (or, perhaps, less dumb).

David Kelly in Mickleton, Teesdale, sends the results of the Washington Post’s annual search for new meanings for old words – though one or two still seem familiar.

“Flabbergasted”, for example, is now said to mean “appalled at how much weight you’ve put on”, willynilly to be impotent, lymph to walk with a lisp and “balderdash” to be a rapidly receding hairline.

“Circumvent”, of course, is the vent at the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

It’s not presently possible to say how they redefine Pokemon, but we may have plucked up courage by next week.

Looking North

LAST week’s note on the first German plane to be shot down on English soil during the Second World War – by Flight Lieutenant Peter Townsend, Princess Margaret’s future beau – said that it had crash-landed on farmland north of Whitby.

The claim brings stinging return fire from Brian Madden, a former Darlington lad – and Stanley pub landlord – now in Illinois. “Anywhere north of Whitby is in the North Sea,”

he says.

Midsummer nights’ dream world, it recalls a 1991 debate over whether the sun can set over the North Sea – and the best picture, probably the only good one, I ever took.

Jobbing journalists had just been issued with basic cameras, known to the down-the-nose photographic department as idiot-proof. “The description is a top-table invitation to Fate, like describing the Titanic as unsinkable,” the column observed at the time.

As Brian Madden suggests, the coastline around Whitby runs almost east-west. For a few days either side of the summer solstice, it was claimed, the sun could, indeed, be seen sinking beneath the waves.

We were eating out on a fairly gloomy Whitby evening when, halfway through a particularly clarty Mississippi mud pie, the sun put in a better-late appearance. Idiot proof of the pudding, I fled towards the west pier, camera in hand.

The column got carried away.

“There, magnificent in a told-you-so sort of a way, the sun was tipping a toe into a silver salver sea.”

The photograph, though sadly not able to be reproduced in colour, may be evidence enough – but any evening now, with luck, the North- East will be able to see for itself.