Mike Pentelow obituary

Other lives: Journalist who was instrumental in the revival of the term Fitzrovia to describe the London district in which he lived

My friend Mike Pentelow, who has died aged 73, was a journalist whose work and actions were instrumental in the preservation of the unique character of Fitzrovia, the London district north of Oxford Street from Soho in which he lived for 50 years.

His book Characters of Fitzrovia (2001) – a pantheon of artists, murderers, musicians and revolutionaries who had peopled that bohemian area – came to print after he squeezed his manuscript through the letterbox of a neighbour who was also a multi-millionaire publisher. Felix Dennis had been a defendant in the notorious Oz trial, and may have been persuaded by Mike’s scrawled note: “You’re on page 242.” Dennis’s friend Marsha Rowe wrote an introduction for the book.

Mike had been involved in the revival of the term Fitzrovia to describe the area many years before. In 1973 he and some local friends launched a festival for the then nameless community. They decided to call it the Fitzrovia festival, bringing back a name that had been used whimsically in the 1940s and 50s in the literary coterie around Dylan Thomas’s local, the Wheatsheaf in Rathbone Place, but that had fallen out of use in the 60s. A few years later the community newspaper, the Tower, which Mike went on to edit until his death, was relaunched as the Fitzrovia News.

Other books Mike authored included a walks guide, Freedom Pass London (2014), and A Pub Crawl Through History: The Ultimate Boozers’ Who’s Who (2010). He shared the credit for both with his long-term collaborator the photographer Peter Arkell.

Born in Sheffield but soon to move with his family to Staines, Surrey, and then Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, Mike was the elder son of Joan (nee Topham) and Jack Pentelow, an accountant with Smiths Clocks and Watches.

Bashful about his private schooling at University College school, in Hampstead, Mike initially bypassed university and went straight to work in journalism with the Thurrock Gazette. This was in the late 60s, when the docklands were riven with industrial strife. As always thereafter, Mike’s sympathies were with the workers, but his copy was objective.

In his spare time he helped run a yearly rock festival in Grays, Essex (1969-71), giving amateur bands chances to play to sizeable beach audiences.

He was able to combine his love of football with his socialism when in 1970 he joined the Morning Star as a sports reporter. He took leave to study economics at Central London Polytechnic (now the University of Westminster), and when he returned with a degree in 1979 discovered that he had assumed the industry brief and alarming political responsibilities. But he was soon a much-loved character in the industrial lobby, and took inspiration, perhaps in more ways than one, from two hard-drinking and erudite NUM leaders, Lawrence Daly and Mick McGahey.

In 1983 he went on to a colourful 20-year stint on T&G and Unite in-house titles, where he was known for his show-stopping dancing at work parties. As Unite’s chief of staff Andrew Murray wrote in the Morning Star: “Mike put the social in Socialism.”

Mike had a wonderfully kind temperament; he applied his journalism to the common good and was renowned for his sparkling repartee. He had no immediate family of his own, but developed wonderfully supportive friendships with the children of his friends.

Mike is survived by his brother, Guy, and a nephew and niece.

Peter Kirker

The GuardianTramp

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