Gerald Isaaman obituary

Other lives: One of the last local newspaper editors who lived and breathed his “patch’

My former colleague Gerald Isaaman, who has died aged 85, was one of the vanishing breed of local newspaper editors who lived and breathed their constituencies. He joined the Hampstead & Highgate Express – the Ham & High – in north London in 1955, working his way up to editor in 1968, a role he occupied until his retirement 25 years later.

Gerry would hold court at lunchtimes in the Flask pub in Hampstead, returning to the office with a sheaf of news tips. Under his editorship, the Ham & High’s circulation rose from 10,000 to just under 25,000 and its size reached 144 pages. Reflecting Gerry’s deep interest in the arts, nearly half the paper was devoted to that topic, with Margaret Forster, Margaret Drabble, Ion Trewin and Michael Foot among the book reviewers.

Gerry used to boast that 16 of the 18 cabinet ministers in Harold Wilson’s government lived on his “patch”, and the Ham & High fought local campaigns such as saving Hampstead town hall from sale and fighting plans to carve motorways through the area, but also tackled international issues such as the Vietnam war, causing the New York Times to dub it the only local newspaper with a foreign policy.

One of four children of Lily (nee Finklestein) and Asher Isaaman, an upholsterer, Gerry was born and grew up in north London (with a brief wartime evacuation to Wales). Having edited a youth club magazine, at the age of 16 he joined the Stoke Newington & Hackney Observer as a messenger and trainee reporter. But it was the nearby area covered by the Ham & High, with its bohemian mix of artists, actors, musicians, media executives and politicians, that attracted him.

A stream of his staff there went on to brilliant careers. Dame Liz Forgan, a former Ham & High chief reporter, said: “Gerry Isaaman is what you mean when you mourn the loss of local and regional papers. He knew his patch, posh and poor. He was a player in local affairs but also a formidable critic of local politicians. He thought global and acted local. And he hired and trained an extraordinary band of future politicians, scholars, and national figures in culture and the media.”

Gerry was a member of the Press Complaints Commission from 1993 to 1995, a trustee of the King’s Cross Disaster Fund, 1987-89, and a non-executive director of the Whittington Hospital trust in Highgate.

After retiring, Gerry and his wife, Delphine (nee Walker), moved to the west country, first to Newent, in Gloucestershire, then Marlborough in Wiltshire. Gerry continued as a freelance journalist and helped run the Cheltenham literary festival between 1998 and 2011.

He is survived by Delphine, whom he married in 1962, their son, Daniel, and grandson, Max, and two of his sisters, Jeannette (his twin) and Betty. Another sister, Sheila, predeceased him.


Phil Sommerich

The GuardianTramp

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