Games legend’s tough start to life only inspired him to succeed.
A Scottish marathon legend has spoken for the first time of how his long-lost family were reunited with the help of The Sunday Post.
Commonwealth Games gold medallist Jim Alder was just five when he was orphaned after his mum Margaret Carroll died of tuberculosis.
His dad, Noel Deane, had been blown up by a German bomb the day before the Nazis surrendered to the allied forces in the Second World War.
But despite tough years of living in a Barnardo’s home in Glasgow and being passed around foster carers, Jim rose to become one of Britain’s best long-distance runners.
His astonishing win in the 1966 Commonwealth Games marathon in Kingston, Jamaica, cemented his place in the annals of athletic history. But Jim, who was adopted by the Adler family in Morpeth, Northumberland, knew little about his mum and dad.
Now, he has revealed for the first time how an interview with The Sunday Post’s famous Hon Man while on Olympic training led to him being reunited with relatives he never knew he had.
Jim, a 74-year-old builder, said: “The Hon Man wrote an article in which I said my father was killed in the war, that we lived in Glasgow and that I had a sister Pat and a brother in New Zealand.
“My uncles in Ireland were reading it and I got a visit three weeks later.”
A rotund but fashionably-dressed Samuel Deane, a 1960s opera, soul and club singer from Bushmills in Northern Ireland, arrived on his doorstep saying he was Jim’s cousin.
At first, Jim was sceptical.
But he said: “He showed me pictures of my dad with me as a toddler in his arms and a letter from my mother. She was asking for help because she had three kids to feed.
“Before that, I didn’t know who they were and they didn’t know who I was, but they told me a lot of things about my father that I never knew.
“It was conclusive proof that we were related. The Sunday Post article opened up a whole new vista for me.”
Noel Deane was a ‘Jack the lad’, a former Merchant Navy serviceman who had travelled to South Africa where he settled for a while as a farmer, Jim learned. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Noel went to fight as a mercenary.
Jim said: “He went there to fight for one side for a couple of months but then realised he didn’t agree with what they were fighting for and switched to the other side.
“He was also one of nine survivors of the SS Nirvana, which was sunk during the war. It seems he was quite a character.”
Jim was born in Henderson Street, Glasgow, just a short sprint from Partick Thistle’s Firhill Stadium. His early life was spent running through the back streets and parks, playing with sister Pat and brother Terry.
Jim vividly remembers the day his mother received the dreaded telegram informing her that her husband was dead.
Jim, now a married father-of-two, said: “I can clearly remember a Gingham, white and blue checked tablecloth on our dining table. My mum was stood by the table. She read the telegram and said, ‘Your dad’s dead’.
“I just said, ‘What’s for tea?’ You don’t understand something that big at that age.”
Within months, Margaret had succumbed to tuberculosis. In the years that followed, Jim and his brother became Barnardo’s ‘home boys’, orphans who were clearly recognisable because of their uniforms of herringbone-patterned shorts and red socks.
“I remember jumping on and off the trams in our uniforms. It was easy to see we were homes boys. There was the odd comment but kids have always been cruel.”
The brothers also contracted TB and were fostered out to families to stop it spreading throughout the orphanage.
“Pat and I called five different women mother between the ages of five and nine,” said Jim. “At the time it was like a bad dream, you are lying in bed thinking, ‘What’s going to happen next?’”
Jim’s disjointed life was given some stability when he went to live with the Alder family in Morpeth, changing his name from James Deane to James Alder. When he went to school, he was teased for his Scottish accent.
“They said I talked funny,” he said. “Within months I changed my voice to Geordie but, as much as I love the north east, I was Scottish-born.
“I was always going to be a champion for Scotland.”
It was the start of an athletics career that saw him represent Scotland in international competitions across the globe until he was 41. And the secret of his success?
“Train, train, train. I would run 140 miles a week in the winter and 120 miles in the summer,” said Jim.
“I was training three times a day while I was working in the building trade. I would run to work each day, about five or six miles.”
His name still appears in the world-record section of the International Track and Field Annual, in the list marked, ‘Long Distance World Track Bests’.
He achieved the furthest distance ever covered in a two-hour track race, 37.994km (23.608 miles), on 17 October 1964 and went on to win three medals at two Commonwealth Games.
Jim represented UK at the Mexico Olympics in 1968 and won a marathon bronze in the following year’s European Championships in Athens. He was awarded the MBE in 2007, four decades after his gold medal triumph in Kingston.
Fittingly, Jim will take the Commonwealth baton over the English-Scottish border for this year’s games.
Jim, who is president of Morpeth Harriers running club, said: “My early life would have broken some people but it made me more determined.
“I just trained harder and ran further than anyone else was at the time. It paid off. I’ve had a wonderful life.”
Jim Alder knew he would have to run the race of his life to win the marathon in the 1966 Games in Jamaica.
He had ignored Scottish Athletics management orders not to run the six-mile (10,000m) five days earlier.
He took bronze Scotland’s first medal of the games and received “muted congratulations” from management, who warned ominously, “don’t fail in the marathon”.
That started at 5.30am to protect the athletes from raging tropical temperatures.
Australian Ron Clarke began to lead the 19-strong field but was crippled with exhaustion, leaving Jim and Coventry gas-fitter Bill Adcocks at the front.
As the pair neared the finish, the Scotsman opened up a 200-yard lead. However, the Royal Family arrived at the stadium at the same time as the leaders were finishing.
Jim said: “The race marshals, who were supposed to show us where to go, all ran into the stadium to see the Royals. David Coleman, in his commentary said, ‘There’s something wrong here.’ All hell broke loose.”
In the confusion, Adcocks ran straight into the stadium while Jim, following directions from a Scottish official, became lost in the car park.
When he ran into the stadium, he was horrified to see Adcocks 50 yards ahead.
He said: “I couldn’t believe what had happened, but I just thought, ‘I’m going to get him’.”
He chased his rival around the empty stadium, passed him on the back straight, and won by six seconds yelling “Geronimo!” as he crossed the line.
ANDY CAWLEY TAKING PICS 1PM ON FRIDAY
n Jim setting the pace in Jamaica in 1966. Below, Jim today with his medal haul.