A FORMER editor of the Lancashire Telegraph has died after a five-year fight against cancer.

Ex-colleagues have paid tribute to Michael Brown, a ‘larger-than-life character’ who once hired a JCB digger to rescue a dog stuck down a rabbit hole.

He took over as editor in 1979, aged just 34, before moving to a national newspaper in 1985. He is also remembered for launching the successful Telegraph Heartbeat Appeal, raising money for hospital equipment.

In 1994 he quit newspapers to set up his own media training company, working with celebrities including chef Jamie Oliver. He ran the business successfully until his death on Christmas Day, aged 69.

He suffered from lymphoma for the last five years and lived between Devon and London. His wife Heather Fraser, 67, another ex-Telegraph employee, said he was admitted to hospital in London for a stem cell transplant but died after catching pneumonia. She said: “He had treatment which we all thought was going to save him, but he picked up this infection. He fought the cancer really bravely and was working right up until the end.

“We met at the Telegraph, as I worked as a rep in circulation when he came in as editor. He was very well respected and fair.

“He famously once hired a JCB digger when a dog had got stuck down a rabbit hole, which was typical of him. They got the dog out and he certainly wouldn’t have settled until they did.”

During their time in East Lancashire, Michael and Heather lived in Wilpshire.

Peter Butterfield, Mr Brown’s successor at the Telegraph, said: “He was a great bloke and I really got on with him. He was a larger-than-life character and was well known in Blackburn. He was also a very, very good journalist. I will miss him.”

Lancashire Telegraph picture editor Neil Johnson, who was then a photographer for the paper, said: “He was a very forthright editor and certainly shook things up when he took over. He was a very good editor to work for. He was out in the community a lot and went to all the Rovers home games. He was very well liked but didn’t take any nonsense.”

Plymouth-born Mr Brown took his first job as a cub reporter on the Staffordshire Advertiser, moving to the Reading Standard in 1963, and then became a sub-editor on the Reading Evening Post. In 1976 he moved to the North East, as deputy editor of the Evening Gazette in Middlesbrough and executive assistant at the Newcastle Chronicle and Journal.

His first marriage broke up after he moved to East Lancashire to become editor of what were then the Lancashire Evening Telegraph and Burnley Evening Star newspapers. In 1985 he moved to London to become assistant editor of Today, a new national title, and later moved to the the Sunday Mirror as assistant editor, before setting up his consultancy firm.

He also leaves son Dominic, who works in public relations in London, and stepson Christian Fraser, who attended Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School in Blackburn and is now the BBC’s Paris correspondent.

Christian, a long-standing Burnley fan, said: “I remember him telling me what a shock it was walking into the politics of local football at the Lancashire Evening Telegraph.

“He had been warned about the rivalry between Blackburn and Burnley fans and his first induction was at Wilpshire Golf Club.

“He was there as a guest at the same time as then manager Howard Kendall, but acutely aware he was being watched for any bias.”

The funeral will be at St Mary’s Church in Wimbledon Village, London, at 2pm on Friday. The family have requested no flowers, but donations to the Lymphoma Association would be welcomed.