One of Manchester’s first Turks, Beyhayettin ‘Uncle Jimmy’ Mentesh dies aged 86

Manchester’s Turkish Cypriot community was plunged into mourning after learning that one of their oldest members, Beyhayettin Ali Mentesh has died.

Affectionately known as ‘Uncle Jimmy’, Mr Mentesh passed away peacefully in his sleep at Lefkoşa Dr. Burhan Nalbantoğlu State Hospital in North Cyprus on Wednesday, 24 June. He was admitted to hospital last weekend with water in his lungs, where his condition quickly deteriorated.

He had travelled to Cyprus in February and became stranded there due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Beyhayettin Ali Mentesh was born in Ayakebir (now known as Dilekkaya), about 21 miles east of Lefkoşa, in February 1934, when Cyprus was a British colony.

Twenty years later, he and a few of his fellow villagers decided to set sail for Britain on a boat from Limassol, travelling first to Beirut and then to France, before reaching the UK.

He acquired his nickname from his first wife Lilian, who on hearing his full name said: “Oh I can’t pronounce that. I’ll just call you Jimmy!”

The young men arrived in London eager to start their new lives. A few decided to try their luck outside of the British capital, and when Beyhayettin heard there were job vacancies in Manchester, a few months he decided to move up north to see for himself.

Beyhayettin ‘Uncle Jimmy’ Ali Mentesh in his younger days

This group were the first wave of Turkish Cypriots to live in Manchester. They initially settled in Moss Side, just south of the city centre. Living on the door step of Manchester City Football Club, the young Beyhayettin soon became an ardent supporter.

He found employment quickly, working in a variety of different places in Trafford Park, before responding to a vacancy for a job on the railways, where he remained for 15 years. He then had a stint working in a corner shop, before opening a clothing factory, which he ran with his younger brother Halil Kartal Mentesh until retiring.

He acquired his nickname from his first wife Lilian. When they met, she asked his full name. Her response was, “Oh I can’t pronounce that. I’ll just call you Jimmy!”

In the 1960s, Jimmy’s home became the first stop for many other Turkish Cypriots seeking a new life in the UK’s third biggest city. His hospitality, larger-than-life character, and status as one of the community elders made him a well-loved personality among the small group of Turkish Cypriots who settled in Manchester – thought to be around 1,000 people. The Turkish community has grown significantly in recent years through the influx of people originating from Turkey.

Uncle Jimmy’s nephew Oral Mentesh described him as, “full of laughter”, who was “always making jokes, always had a story to tell.”

“When he walked into a room everyone would smile no matter how old or young. He’d always be up dancing at parties and weddings. He lived life to the fullest,” he added.

Beyhayettin ‘Uncle Jimmy’ Ali Mentesh was laid to rest at Lefkoşa Municipal Cemetery on Friday.

He leaves behind his wife Havva Mentesh from his second marriage, and three children, daughter Shukran, and sons Lawrence and Marcus.