Joseph Compton obituary

Other lives: Environmental health officer who tackled the problems of slum housing in 1950s Manchester

My father, Joseph Compton, who has died aged 96, was an environmental health officer whose long career in local government was focused on improving public health.

Joe was born in Hazel Grove, Cheshire, to Jessie (nee Bennett) and Harry Compton, a cost accountant. He attended Stockport Commercial school, winning a prize for coming top of his class in 1938. The second world war interrupted his education and in 1943 he volunteered to join the Royal Air Force. Rising to the rank of flight lieutenant he spent the war years in South Africa, where he trained as a bomb aimer/navigator, in France and back in the UK.

Demobbed in 1948, he embarked on training at college in Leeds to be a sanitary inspector, now more grandly called an environmental health officer. His first job in Manchester in the early 1950s involved tackling the multiple problems that had their roots in slum housing.

At work, Joe met Doreen Broughton, whom he married in 1952. With their growing family, they moved around the country as he advanced his career, living in Scunthorpe, Tewkesbury and Felixstowe, before settling in Frome, Somerset. In 1982 they bought and renovated a bungalow. Over the next 36 years, their home with its extensive gardens brought them immense pleasure.

On local government reorganisation in 1974, following his appointment as chief environmental health officer at Mendip district council, Joe embarked on a mission to improve hygiene in food outlets. He called a spade a spade, once telling someone who had contracted food poisoning after eating out: “You might as well have eaten raw sewage.” The offending restaurant was ordered to close until they had corrected their work practices.

Retirement in 1985 brought the opportunity to enjoy himself: overseas holidays, rambles across the Mendip hills with friends, watching cricket, eating ice-cream and reading the Guardian (after first extracting the crossword for Doreen).

In 2017 Joe was diagnosed with vascular dementia. Years of treasured memories disappeared. He had survived Nazi U-boats on his voyage to South Africa in 1943, a road traffic accident in 2006, a heart attack in Palma de Mallorca in 2009 and Covid-19 in January 2021, but this time his body was too frail to recover.

He is survived by Doreen, his son, Richard, and me.

Barbara Compton

The GuardianTramp

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