Former Yorkshire Post journalist Geoffrey Winter died early on Saturday, 10 May, a fortnight short of his 84th birthday.
Geoff, who wrote for the newspaper for nearly 50 years, will be mourned not only by his family but also by the many people in journalism who benefited from, or simply enjoyed, his wise and funny friendship.
The youngest of three children of a draper and a milliner, Geoff was born in Marsh, Huddersfield, in the same street as the actor James Mason – who was delighted by the coincidence, when Geoff eventually interviewed him, and signed a copy of his life story “To a fellow Croft House Laner”.
Other favourite interviewees included the novelist Maeve Binchy, who became a lifelong friend. Geoff counted most of his life a bonus, having been a victim of tuberculosis at the age of 20. He lost most of one lung in the drastic operation which was then the only answer to the disease.
He started his career on the Huddersfield Examiner and moved to the Yorkshire Post in 1950, as a reporter, based in Hull, York and then Leeds. In Leeds, he was appointed to the paper’s first specialist features department and he was chief features writer from 1971 until his official retirement in 1984.
His jobs included big news stories, from the Aberfan disaster to the Charles and Di wedding, but his anecdotes were always about the lighter moments.
His writing was beautiful. One of his first features, on the unpromising subject of a boot museum in Doncaster, was used by an examination board as an example of clear and concise prose, for an O level English paper. Other honours followed and Penny Wark, a former Yorkshire Post journalist, has paid tribute to the quality of his advice and his example in her column in The Times.
After retiring from the staff, Geoff became the Post’s much-respected film critic for nearly 15 years. He had a few serious love affairs and many fond female friends. But he lived most of life as a bachelor – the latter half of it in a rented house in Grove Lane, Headingley, surrounded by newspapers, notebooks, jazz records, pipe-smoker’s paraphernalia and cats, which either belonged there or had got used to visiting.
He had a bachelor’s disregard for interior decor but did treasure a portrait of himself by the Leeds-based artist Jacob Kramer, who was part of his circle of friends when the Yorkshire Post was based in the heart of the city. Probably his closest friend, though, was the late Michael Parkin, of The Guardian, who shared Geoff’s tastes for gossip, good journalism, beer at Whitelocks, in central Leeds, and fish and chips at Brett’s of Headingley.
The house in Grove Lane was a refuge for Yorkshire Post staff needing lodgings and a necessary port of call for those returning “home” from Fleet Street. To Geoff’s amusement, one young reporter heard so many people talking about being “at Geoff’s” that she thought it was a wine bar.
His own nieces and nephews, through his brother Jack and sister Phyllis, also sought his company as often as they could, as did their children and a variety of friends and neighbours.
The National Union of Journalists honoured Geoff with life membership in 1989. He was proud to have been a member since 1938.
He was doggedly independent until the end of April, when arthritis suddenly laid him low and he ended up being taken into Leeds General Infirmary with pneumonia. That and complications left him struggling with his remaining lung-power and he told visitors that he knew a “good innings” was over.
He died in the hospital, early on the morning of 10 May. The funeral was due to take place at Lawnswood Crematorium, Leeds, on Tuesday 20 May.
Chris Benfield, Yorkshire Post