A great newsman from a vanishing era
02 May, 2019 — By John Gulliver
Gerry Isaaman as seen by cartoonist Trog
GERRY Isaaman, who died on Monday, belonged to a vanishing breed of journalists and editors.
Self-taught, lovers of books and the theatre, they would join the local paper as a copy boy or tea maker, and slowly graduate to junior reporter. No university for them, no degree in journalism! Instead, a long apprenticeship in real local journalism – and then off to other papers – or in Gerry’s case editorship of the paper he loved, the Ham and High.
He and I had links before I met him – his first newspaper was the Stoke Newington Observer, then part of the stable that expanded and started the Camden Journal in the 1970s.
I first met him around 1971 when he came to my Hampstead home to interview me about my adventures in China, and we became friends over the years.
He was editing the Ham and High at the time and had a scintillating column, Heathman’s Diary, where my story would be slotted.
He wasn’t just a by-stander, observing local society – he took part in it, and was a keen supporter of the Labour Party. Though this never really showed in the pages of the Ham.
He built up the Ham’s sales until they reached 20,000 copies a week because he knew the area, what people cared about, and because he’d come up from the backstreets of Hackney and had a feel for people you can never learn in textbooks.
He blossomed as an editor partly because the paper was owned by a small firm who let him get on with what he knew best. But after it had been taken over by a bigger company, it was never the same. And he left at quite a relatively early age of around 60.
But he was too good a journalist to leave it at that.
So, he called me, and we met several times, usually at his favourite club, the Garrick, and after a bit he signed up as a special feature writer for the New Journal. And what a great signing that was! His copy was clean, sharp, and delivered to the deadline – always the professional.
His Ham ran many successful campaigns – and today whenever I pass the old Hampstead Town Hall I think of Gerry. He used the Ham to lead the campaign to raise more than £2million when the council were going to sell it off. Instead, it remained in public hands, and is now used for the arts and education.
Part of his great legacy!