THE Guardian's letter page will never be the same again after our top contributor and former Fleet Street journalist Lesley Jerman sadly passed away yesterday (August 12).

The former air correspondent for the Scotsman who lived in Theydon Bois died aged 88 after a short illness from cancer.

Starting at the paper in 1938 he rose from tea boy up through the ranks to air correspondent before becoming London News Editor and Deputy London Editor.

Leslie was the ninth child of 18 born in East Ham to a father described as a poetry-quoting, library-loving, gambler and womaniser who delivered and sold papers at East Ham station.

Leslie read as many of his father's papers as he could and remarkably sold his first story at just eight-years-old to the East Ham Advertiser for ten shillings.

At 16 he went on to beat 199 other hopefuls as a copy boy on the Scotsman telling his family: “Once I saw my name in print, I knew what I was going to do.”

During the second world war he lived at the Scotsman's Fleet Street office rather than attempting to travel the seven miles home.

Of the war he said: “One good thing Hitler achieved. He drove all the bedbugs out of the East End because the humans on whom they feed were no longer at home!”

Leslie was well travelled, cycling to the south of France to meet Gracie Fields at her home, reporting on the Berlin air lift or dining out with Jayne Mansfield in a Hollywood nightclub.

He married journalist Betty Jerman in 1954 and they had three children, Seth, Stacey and Toby.

At his Theydon Bois home he was proud of his seed sown lawn which Alan Titchmarsh came to see and it was featured on the back of a Sutton's seed catalogue as an example of seed success.

Following a burglary at his home in the 80's Leslie was given the opportunity to meet one of the trio of youths who had robbed his family and he decided to intervene saying he did not want anyone to go to prison over material things.

He managed to get the boy a conditional discharge and stayed in touch with him for more than 30 years.

Leslie then became a prison visitor for 15 years visiting and befriending some 60 prisoners.

In 1991 he was awarded the Howard League for Penal Reform's fourth Annual Media Award for his stories in the Independent and Guardian on the need for offender / victim mediation and reparation schemes.

In his retirement Leslie regularly wrote letters to the Epping Forest Guardian, and encouraged young journalists as they started out.

He leaves behind his wife, three children and three grandchildren who said he will be “missed beyond words.”

The funeral service will take place at Parndon Wood Crematorium in Harlow on Thursday August 20 at 11am.

No floral tributes but donations can be made to Macmillan Cancer Support via Stuart Poulton Family Funeral Directors in Epping.