TOMORROW morning (Thursday, July 27), it is the funeral of Nick Cole, my first journalistic hero.

When I joined the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph as a green, frightened 18-year-old in 1981, Nick showed me the ropes, as he did countless other juniors who were fortunate enough to get their first job in the unpretentious steel town.

Indeed, he gave me my first story. Appreciating the first-day nerves of the new boy, he shook hands, introduced himself and handed over a crumpled beer-mat with a name and phone number scribbled on it. “Give that fella a ring,” he said. “He’s got four greyhounds all named after The Beatles, and he’s taught them to sing along to their records.”

In truth, it turned out that only one of the dogs whined a bit when a Beatles’ record was played, but I was up and running…with a little help from my new friend, the local legend, Nick Cole.

At the end of my first day, he came over for another word: “Have you got a driving licence, mate?” he asked.

So, began my three-year stint as Nick Cole’s chauffer, driving him round, watching him work, learning from his example. “God bless,” he’d always say when he was dropped off at home.

Occasionally, me and the other trainees would earn an extra fiver by helping him shift fridges, cookers, tables, chairs and beds in the back of one of the Telegraph vans. Either he was running some sort of unofficial removal service on the side, or he just liked doing favours for people. I suspect it was a bit of both.

Nick was a kind of Claude Greengrass of local newspapers, and certainly the heartbeat of the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph. Rough round the edges, fiery at times, but mostly kind and gentle. He was the office father-figure, pulling us together, organising social events, promoting the local music scene, running football teams. Everyone knew him and, on quiet days when Scunny was a news-free zone, the quietly-spoken, bespectacled editor, Mick Robins, would invariably turn to Nick to politely ask if he might be able to find a front page “splash”.

“Give me half an hour,” Nick would mumble and, a few phone calls later, his clackety old Olivetti typewriter would start banging out headline news – like magic.

He was the first to teach me the value of getting off your backside and out into the community, mixing with locals in the pubs, picking up stories, judging the mood, building up a network of contacts, understanding what people considered important, fighting their corner.

If we are not very careful, it is an art we are in danger of losing in the regional press.

Nick died at the age of 72 after a short illness and, until very recently, he was still doing what he did best and what he loved – writing for his local paper with an understanding and feel that no one else could hope to match.

If they haven't done so already, they should name a beer after him in Scunthorpe. Better still, a pub.

RIP Nick. God bless.