Remembering Big Hec

Bic Hec Brian Dowson
Bic Hec Brian Dowson

I have been asked to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of one of South Tyneside’s most colourful characters – charity champion Big Hec.

Hec, whose real name was Brian Dowson, died in March 1996, aged just 38.

Yet this “larger than life” character, he was 6ft 6ins tall and wore size 19 boots, and well known throughout the North East for his charity fundraising efforts, is still fondly remembered by a great many people, including Time Of Our Lives reader Colin Campbell.

And it was Colin who wrote to me, asking if I can feature an article on Big Hec, whose death is marked with a memorial plaque on Lloyds Bank, in Laygate.

Colin wrote: “I first met big Hec in Bensons one Friday night in 1980,

“Pete Edmunds, Another local legend who was ahead of the times, opened the first wine bar there, up above Saville’s record shop.

“Hec was collecting for charity, shaking his white enamel bucket at the customers.

“I asked him if he wanted a drink, ‘Me?’ was his reply, I said ‘yes’, and thats how I met Big Hec,

“He was always cheerful, and always sharp when it came to collecting for charity.

“He lived in Charles Street, Boldon Colleiry, I had flats up there in the 90s and saw him often in the street.

“Then he was no more.

“Characters are few and far between, and Big Hec was certainly one of them.”

During his lifetime Big Hec raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for good causes throughout the 80s and 90s.

Among the charity champ’s achievement was taking part in a series of sponsored walks in aid of hospital charities.

The other good causes he supported were South Tyneside Animal Rescue, the baby unit at South Tyneside District Hospital and the RAF Association.

And he even staged a party to bring some cheer to homeless men at a hostel in High Lane, Hebburn.

In 1990, he recorded a version of Lee Hazelwood’s classic These Boots are Made for Walking.

The gentle giant also mixed with the stars, meeting glamorous actress Stephanie Beacham, star of TV’s The Colbys, at the height of her fame in 1986.