Thursday, March 17, 2022


 Dear Readers 


I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth which resulted in me being undernourished as a child. My dad owned Markhams, the men’s clothing business that had branches in Cape Town and Johannesburg when I was sent to Bishops. To prepare me for Big School I first went to the very fashionable Wet Pups (Western Province Prep School).

Dad had been the 1921 Bishops Rhodes Scholar, so as the eldest of three boys a lot was expected of me when I became a border in School House. Unfortunately I let the side down badly as I plugged matric. I’m now waiting for the pass mark to be reduced to 10% before trying again.

I redeemed myself slightly with some success in athletics not only at school but afterwards when I represented Western Province at the SA Junior Championships putting the shot and throwing the javelin. “All brawn and no brains,” was what masters at Bishops might have said.

          After a short time training to follow my Dad into Markhams I decided it was not for me. It was too boring measuring men for suites; asking them which side they hang and generally being subservient. My present wife Gayle is constantly reminding me that if I had stuck it out she could have been the wife of a millionaire now and not a struggle ex-journalist turned Private Eye. My old man sold out to the Foschini Group, which inexplicably changed the name to Markham (without the S) and now has close to 200 Markham outlets.

At aged 22 I spent a year criss-crossing Africa hitch-hiking alone to get to England to become a journalist. On the way I bought a dug out canoe from one of the locals and paddled 700 miles down the Congo that is reputed to be the deepest river in the world. This was by far the craziest part of my African safari because I had no life jacket and I can’t swim. If I had drowned Bishops would have been to blame for not stopping me from ducking swimming when I was there.

Kenya was being terrorised by the Mau Mau when I arrived, so to replenish my meagre finances I spent three months in the Kenya Police Reserve in charge of a Police post at 12 000 feet on snow capped Mount Kenya. That had its moments.

For instance some joker had ensured that there was an unexploded hand grenade down the long drop. It was never occupied for long that’s for sure.

My brief stay at Dr Albert Schweitzer’s hospital at Lambarene in French Equatorial Africa was a real eye opener. The sanitary arrangements for the patients and their hangers on would never have been allowed anywhere in his native France, and certainly not at a hospital. Yet it was the founding of this that was the main reason for him being awarded the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize.

I hadn’t cased the joint at all before I arrived in England. A great start for a would-be journo. The unions were very strong then and the one for journalists decreed that an apprentice started at 17. I would have had to have been paid as if I had several years experience, so papers were not rushing to employ me. Miraculously I got a job on the Melton Mowbray Times, a weekly that was so small it had missed the union’s scrutiny. The town is famous for pork pies of all things.

The paper consisted of a weedy little editor dominated by a Fleet Street veteran with long, nicotine stained finger nails, effectively running the show as the news editor with three reporters, a girl and one other chap about the same age as I was. It was a real sweat shop. The girl was in tears almost every day and after eight months I was the most experienced reporter.

I moved on to bigger weeklies and the Express and Echo, a daily in Exeter before joining two ex-Fleet Street journalists to form the Exeter News Agency.  It was a reporter eat reporter jungle in which we not only wrote for all the Fleet Street papers, like the Daily Mirror, the Daily Express etc, but also competed with their own West Country correspondents.

          I returned to South Africa to join the very conservative daily The Star in Johannesburg where I like to think I introduced investigative journalism. I won the grand sum of R70 for the best story of the year in 1971 for my tyre re-grooving expose`. From there I graduated to the Sunday Times to do investigations where I also wrote a hard hitting weekly column Business is Business for two years. Raymond Ackerman of Pick n Pay fame, the Patron of Bishops, who turned 90 in 2021, got a ticking off in one of them. We were in the same house at Bishops with him being a couple of years ahead of me.

Digging up the dirt on shysters earned me the runner up spot in the 1974 Stellenbosch Farmer’s Wineries National Award for Enterprising Journalism. In addition my muckraking resulted in two Government commissions of enquiry, a military board of inquiry and the first resale price fixing conviction several years after this was outlawed. It involved Pentax cameras sold by a subsidiary of Premier Milling.

          I left journalism to become a self employed Private Investigator specialising in life insurance. For 20 years all the major life companies like Liberty Life, Old Mutual and others that have since been taken over or gone under had me chasing all over Southern Africa, and even to India on one occasion to get to the bottom of illegitimate claims.

On a personal level I was about as successful as I was in my matric. Journalism and marriage don’t mix, was my excuse. It took me two wives before I found Gayle, who has been such a glutton for punishment that she has stuck with me now for nearly 50 years. She was also responsible for typing miles of reports and doing the admin that was the backbone of our two person PI business.  She is a St Mary’s (Joburg) Old Girl (she’ll kill me for saying that).

Sadly in addition to my parents I have survived two ex-wives, my younger brother Michael and a half brother David, who were both at Bishops, and two grown up children Simon and Samantha. These are the crosses you have to bear the older you get. My youngest brother, health crank, artist and bridge teacher Anthony is still alive and at 80 is doing his best to catch up with me. If I could have had my life over again I would have taken him to task for embarrassing me at the old school by not only passing matric, but going to university as well.

My wife Gayle who 
deserves the biggest
Long Service Medal 
of them all

Gayle and I have a daughter Belinda married to Cam. A designing woman (aren’t they all) she is a fair dinkum Sheila now with her own fashion house in Melbourne. Then there are the older ones in South Africa, pretty Mandy, a former hairdresser now living a life of luxury married to Erick, an advocate and on the go transitional coach Sally; Gayle’s daughters from her previous marriage. Sally became a Covid leper after she survived it twice, but hopefully people speak to her now. The customers fortunately didn’t know that when she was promoted to a Brand Manager at Clover Dairy she fell with her bum in the butter. She is married to paddler of note Alan Witherden, who has been a canoe judge at the Olympic Games and other international canoeing events for as long any anybody can remember. He’s an international business consultant in his spare time. And to think that we once thought he had a steady job.

 Alan, who is almost as old as I am, didn’t go to Bishops and nor did the husbands of the other two. Obviously Gayle and I were not very happy about that, but I better shut up now because to say I am outnumbered would be a gross understatement.

From the Bishops magazine

For the last 12 years I have been far from gainfully employed on my DearJon-letter Blog. Google pays peanuts and I’m the monkey. My Blog might well be sited as the other woman if I ever get divorced again. I have written posts on a wide range of subjects from congratulating the Yanks for celebrating my wife’s birthday on the 4th of July to an investigation into how Jersey BBC radio host, Murray Norton effectively cyber bullied my 47 year old son Simon to death. This was not long after his sister Samantha, who was living in England, had jumped off a car park building a few months after the birth of her first child. There is also one on how I might have become King of England if my mother had not been so picky.

I have self published two books Dearjon Exposed, a collection of the best posts from my blog and The Butcher of Rosebank. This is a true story about Dr Wynne Lieberthal, who was possibly South Africa’s worse orthopaedic surgeon ever. It was based on information I collected during one of my PI life insurance investigations, because he was not only a terrible doctor, but a crook as well.

My wife and I now live in Cape Town near Kommetjie in an estate appropriately named Imhoff’s Gift for us blue blooded Abbott’s. It’s made particularly picturesque by flocks of flamingos on the adjoining vlei with mountains in the background.



P.S. Fellow OD Mike Mathews’ memory is better than mine (I haven’t yet found a surgeon who does brain transplants, unfortunately). This is what he told me. “I recall your letter some years ago to the old OD magazine calling for a change in its format, design etc and have been much impressed with the new-look, biannual magazine which resulted from that letter. Well done!”















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