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James 'Dane' Sinclair

WWII Pilot, Herald columnist, ­engineer and musician

WWII Pilot, Herald columnist, ­engineer and musician

Born December 24, 1920; Died August 3, 2014

DANE Sinclair, who has died aged 93, was a pilot in the Second World War, a talented writer and an accomplished musician.

Leaving Glasgow University mid-way through his degree, Sinclair joined the Fleet Air Arm as a member of 812 Squadron, flying torpedo bombers on missions in the Arctic, Atlantic and Mediterranean from aircraft carriers including Furious, Argus, Eagle and Ark Royal.

In May 1943 Sinclair was shot down during an audacious night operation to drop a mine in the harbour entrance at Catania on the eastern coast of Sicily. Pulled from the sea, he was taken prisoner and held in Italian and then German prison camps until the end of the war. He subsequently wrote about the experience in typically entertaining detail in one of his many columns for The Glasgow Herald. Commenting on what he saw as the unlikely success of BBC TV's prisoner of war series Colditz, Sinclair noted that "the most obvious feature of these establishments was that hardly anything ever happened. To make a runaway dramatic success from such unpromising material is clearly a creative achievement of some distinction."

Dane Sinclair was born in 1920, the son of William (later Sir William) and Dr Patricia Sinclair. He was educated at Rendcomb College, Gloucestershire - "All running, jumping, javelin-throwing and cold showers," as he later described it - and where he developed a lifelong aversion to sport. He nevertheless regularly braved the freezing waters of the seawater swimming pool The Trinkie during summer holidays spent with his Free Presbyterian relations in Wick.

Sinclair met Barbara Barclay-Bishop, a chief wren officer from Hertfordshire while they were both stationed at the naval air base in Crail, Fife. They married in 1948 and set up home in Eaglesham, Renfrewshire, where their first two children were born.

For a while Sinclair made his way as a musician and composer writing and arranging music for shows at the Citizens Theatre. He and long-time collaborator James Gilbert worked alongside performers including Stanley Baxter, Fulton MacKay, Duncan Macrae, Roddy Macmillan, Joan Sims and Molly Urquhart.

The pressures of a growing family forced Sinclair to take a proper job with Dunlop, first in Glasgow, then Birmingham before being appointed as the group's chief press officer in London. He nevertheless persuaded Gilbert not to follow in his footsteps and instead to pursue his dream of becoming a television producer, which he did, with notable success.

In 1964 Sinclair moved the family back up to Glasgow where he was appointed public relations officer at the engineering company G & J Weir Ltd (later The Weir Group PLC) based in Cathcart, and where he worked until his retirement.

During this time Sinclair also wrote as a pundit for the Glasgow Herald and various trade journals and had a series of short stories broadcast by the BBC. He took pride in his command of language and worked very hard to achieve a style that seemed effortless. But he was no less gratified to win a competition to describe in a few words who would win in a fight between Dr Who and the crew of Star Trek. (His money was on the crew of Star Trek).

After his retirement, Sinclair worked part-time for the Institute of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland and continued to be called upon by Lord Weir to help write his speeches.

His passion for music never waned and he played piano and arranged music for a variety of semi-professional ensembles on the Glasgow jazz circuit, including the widely-admired Bill Fanning Big Band and his own Little Big Band.

In 2008 Sinclair was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and, although dementia forced him to give up playing the piano, he continued to enjoy listening to music and going to gigs. In 2010 he travelled to Portsmouth to be a guest of honour at a party to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the latest incarnation of the Ark Royal, where he was presented to the Queen.

In the last two years of his life Sinclair became the subject of a blog for the Glasgow Herald, My Demented Dad, written by his elder daughter who moved back to Glasgow to help look after him. He is survived by his younger sister Jean and his children, David, Jill, Susan and John.

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