TRIBUTES have been paid to a well-respected businessman known affectionately by his four daughters as the godfather for the colourful life he led.

John James Lowe, 85, served in RAF and then fought in the Malaysian jungle with the SAS, before spending a stint as a private investigator and going on to forge a successful business career. He was an accomplished musician, a dab hand at cake decorating and commodore of a yacht club.

His family has invited RAF veterans to join in giving him a send off when his funeral cortege travels down Woodland Road, Esh Winning, at 10.30am on Tuesday.

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Daughter Nickie Gott said: "My father was a larger-than-life character.

"We always likened him to the godfather. When we four girls were little he liked to dress us all the same and parade us around town. He loved being on show."

Mr Lowe had a tough start to life. He was evacuated from London at the age of four along with his brother in September 1939. As his mother worked as a messenger for Winston Churchill in the Admiralty, she could not go with them.

They were evacuated for six years and only saw her mothers twice during this time. Mr Lowe learned while he was staying with foster parents that his father had died.

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He left school aged 14 and by this time his mother lived in Lancashire, where he went to work with her in the mills. In 1953 he enlisted with the RAF and spent three years as an armourer.

He later "got the tap on the shoulder" and was assigned to the SAS and fought with them in the jungle of what was then Malaya for three years.

Mrs Gott said: "He never told us any of the details, because they were were sworn to secrecy, we enjoyed him telling us the amusing stories.

"One was of how they used to take in turns to stay awake at night on patrols. They would tie a piece of string to their toe, attached to a trip wire, to alert them to dangers.

"My dad's toe got pulled once and he woke everybody up and got them ready for action, for them discover it was only a monkey, much to everyone's amusement.

"He had a Malayan girlfriend and was guest of honour at dinner at her parent's home. He was at the head of table when came out they with linen baskets. They lifted the lids and it was a monkey. He had to eat monkey brains, because not to have done so would have offended his hosts."

Back in civilian life he spent some time in the role of a private investigator "catching people in the act of committing adultery".

Mr Lowe met his wife Cecelia at a nursing social event. They married in 1963 at St George's Church, in Jesmond, and returned to renew their vows on their 25th and 50th anniversaries.

Mr Lowe went into the paint industry, working for a company that painted lines on the road. In 1979, the whole family relocated to Malta where he was made managing director of a paint company.

On his return to the UK the family took over Oliver's Coffee Shop in Durham's Silver Street, where he was chief baker and known for his harvest sheaves and cake decorating skills.

He later went back into the paint industry with Durham Chemicals, travelling the world as export manager. On retirement he became an export adviser for County Durham Business Link, helping firms expand into overseas markets.

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An accomplished musician, Mr Lowe could turn his hand to any instrument and played the saxaphone, clarinet, piano accordion and harmonica. He was part of the Fred Duckworth Big Band and other ensembles, including the San Fulgencia band in Spain.

Mrs Gott said: "We went to see him in the chapel of rest we were all combing his hair and putting it right. My father would have been delighted. He loved nothing more than having his four girls fussing over him.

"He is going to be laid to rest in his white tuxedo. He said he felt like James Bond when he had it on. And in his pocket he'll have his mouth organ. He never went anywhere without it.

Mr Lowe's coffin will be draped with the RAF flag. Social distancing will be observed along the cortege route. A private service will be held at St Paul's Church in Waterhouses.

Mr Lowe is also survived wife Cecelia, daughters Michelle, Jacqui and Natalie, ten grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.