Gerald Isaaman OBE 1933 – 2019
Gerald Isaaman, a founder of Marlborough News Online (the forerunner of marlborough.news) died on Monday of this week at home in Guildford to where he had recently moved. Below is an obituary for Gerald, penned by his son Daniel. Our thoughts are with Delphine, Daniel and the rest of his family.
Gerald Michael Isaaman OBE was born in December 1933 in Burnt Oak, North London, in a house where he says his sisters used to sit in deckchairs on the garage roof to watch the occasional flying circuses at the nearby Hendon Aerodrome. He was a premature twin to his sister Jeannette, weighing not much more than four pounds, and often claimed to be proud to have made it all the way to the age of 85.
Having been evacuated to Barnack and then South Wales, he returned to North London after the war and continued his education at Dame Alice Owen’s grammar school, where History and Geography were his favourite subjects, and books and words his favourite resource.
Having first edited a local youth club magazine called Uphill, he joined the Stoke Newington & Hackney Observer, aged 16, as messenger boy and trainee reporter, and where he recalled happily interviewing golden wedding couples, visiting police stations for stories of fires and car crashes, meeting MPs and attending council meetings. He then joined the Hampstead and Highgate Express four years later, in 1955, working his way up to Editor in 1968, a role that he continued for 25 years until his retirement in 1994.
During this time he also worked for a while as a Saturday reporter and then on the news desk of the Sunday Express, giving him insights and access to the national press, and after retiring from the Ham and High he continued as an editorial consultant to Home Counties Newspapers, and also worked as a freelance journalist, spotting stories, making connections and writing articles and book reviews for many local and national titles as well as helping many other people and organisations in his unique way, and based on his extensive knowledge and experience.
He died in Guildford in April 2019 after a short battle with cancer, having recently moved to Surrey to be nearer to his son, daughter-in-law and grandson.
During his almost 40 years at the Hampstead and Highgate Express, he built something that was described as setting the gold standard for British weekly newspapers (The Independent) and as the only local paper with a foreign policy (New York Times). Its book pages were hailed the equal of any national newspaper, and why not, when Margaret Forster, Margaret Drabble, Ion Trewin and Michael Foot were among an eclectic band of reviewers he hired.
When he joined the paper its circulation was around 10,000 copies a week and its profits marginal under its then independent owner, Arthur Goss. The circulation subsequently rose to just under 25,000 copies a week at its peak, and the paper’s income reached £5M in its heyday, as its size rose from just a dozen broadsheets to, on one occasion, 144 pages. There is no doubt that his involvement in so many local committees, building up the trust and respect of so many local people and organisations, and fighting for causes and campaigns on their behalf, had a lot to do with this success.
Indeed in later years, he was introduced at events as “Mr Hampstead”. He had a keen interest in local historical heroes including Keats and Orwell, as well as championing the work of local writers, artists and poets throughout his career.
Some of his other external roles and recognitions included:
External examiner for City University Department of Journalism
Member of the Press Complaints Commission 1993-95
Chairman of the Management Board Camden Arts Trust 1970-82
Exhibitions Committee Camden arts Centre 1971-82
Trustee of the King’s Cross Disaster Fund 1987-89
Non-executive Director Whittington Hospital NHS Trust
Member of the Camden Festival Trust 1982-93
Founding trustee of the Arkwright Arts Trust 1971
Member of the Cheltenham Literary Festival board 1999-2011
He received a special presentation for distinguished services to journalism by the British Press Awards in 1994, was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and received an OBE for services to journalism in 1994. He is also listed in Who’s Who.