Obituary: Gerald Michael Isaaman OBE

"Mr Hampstead" - The editor who "set the gold standard" for British weekly journalism


Backed by an eclectic band of book reviewers, including Margaret Forster, Margaret Drabble, Ion Trewin and Michael Foot, Gerald Isaaman was noted for building the Ham and High (Hampstead and Highgate Express) into a national institution. 

Rare among local weeklies for its cultural and cosmopolitan style and content, it set the gold standard for British weekly newspapers, according to The Independent ,while the New York Times hailed it as the only local newspaper with a foreign policy.

When Gerald Isaaman, who has died aged 85, joined the paper in 1955, 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 £3 million in its heyday, as it rose from just a dozen broadsheets to up to 144 pages. It happened during his 40 year career on the paper, the last 25 years under his watch as editor,.

Isaaman was born in Burnt Oak, North London, the son of Lily (Finkelstein) and Asher Isaaman. He was a premature twin to 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. 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 a trainee reporter, where he recalled interviewing golden wedding couples, visiting police stations for stories of fires and car crashes, meeting MPs and attending council meetings. He joined the Hampstead and Highgate Express (Ham and High) in 1955, 

During this time he also worked for a while as a Saturday reporter and then on the news desk of the Sunday Express.After retiring from the Ham and High he continued as an editorial consultant to Home Counties Newspapers, and worked as a freelance journalist, spotting stories, making connections and writing articles and book reviews for many local and national titles. He was also instrumental in helping many other people and organisations in his unique way, based on his extensive knowledge and experience.

There is no doubt that his involvement in local committees, building the trust and respect of local people and bodies, and promoting their campaigns had a great deal to do with building his 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. Isaaman’s social awareness was evident in his trusteeship of the King’s Cross Disaster Fund 1987-89 and he was a non-executive director of Whittington Hospital NHS Trust.

His interest in promoting journalistic excellence was evident in his role as External examiner for City University Department of Journalism. He was a member of the Press Complaints Commission, 1993-95. 

A strong promoter of the arts, he was Chairman of the Management Board of the Camden Arts Trust, 1970-82, and a member of the Exhibitions Committee, Camden Arts Centre,1971-82 as well as the Camden Festival Trust, 1982-93. He was a founding trustee of the Arkwright Arts Trust 1971, and a member of the Cheltenham Literary Festival board 1999-2011.

Isamaan 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. He died at home in Guildford after a short battle with cancer, having recently moved to Surrey with his wife, Delphine, to be nearer their children. He is survived by Delphine, his son Daniel, daughter-in-law Michele De Casanove, grandson Max, and his sisters Betty Grann and Jeanette Kurlander. His older sister, Sheila Fersht, predeceased him.


Gerald Michael Isaaman OBE: Born December 22, 1933. Died  April 29, 2019

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