Obituary: Malcolm Barker

As editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post, Malcolm Barker launched the hugely succesful Half and Half Appeal for hospices in Leeds.
As editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post, Malcolm Barker launched the hugely succesful Half and Half Appeal for hospices in Leeds.
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The former Yorkshire Evening Post editor, Yorkshire Post columnist and author has died at the age of 84.

MALCOLM Groves Barker, editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post for 17 years until his retirement in 1987 when he was awarded an OBE for services to journalism, has died in his home town of Harrogate after a brief illness. He was 84.

As editor he established the paper’s enormously successful Half and Half Appeal for hospices in Leeds.

Admired and respected by his colleagues as a consummate professional and possessed of exceptional energy and curiosity, he was a writer whose work was enjoyed by generations of readers.

Mr Barker was born in Whitby, his father editor of the Whitby Gazette, as had been his own father before him.

After attending Whitby Grammar School, Mr Barker joined that paper as a reporter, and following his national service with the RAF, he became a reporter on the Doncaster Chronicle and the South Yorkshire edition of the Yorkshire Evening Post.

A fellow journalist in the Doncaster office was Janet Greenwood, the relationship they formed culminating in their marriage in 1958.

The previous year, Mr Barker had transferred to the paper’s head office in Albion Street, Leeds, where he became a features and leader writer, combining jobs which had previously been carried out by two colleagues working full time on each of them.

The speed at which he was able to research and write an article caused astonishment which tracked his career. While anyone else might spend a day shaping a feature, Mr Barker could have had two or three filed, and each of them thoroughly researched and a model of simple, unpretentious prose.

He could write movingly and with passion, and if the subject lent itself to a light touch with a hint of humour, he delivered that with the same expertise. A permanent undercurrent of humour would often rise to the surface, an absurdity often giving rise to a characteristically dry comment and mischievous smile.

He moved across to the Yorkshire Post in 1967 as that paper’s first features editor. Showing a visitor around the company’s purpose-built premises in Wellington Street, he was heard to describe himself as a “hack writer,” a typically self-deprecating description which did him no justice at all.

In 1969 he was appointed the paper’s deputy editor under the late John Edwards, and the following year was made editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post. It was during his 17-year tenure as editor that the paper launched its Half and Half Appeal, which encouraged readers to donate funds in support of the two Leeds hospices – St Gemma’s and Sue Ryder Wheatfields – with all gifts divided equally between the two.

The appeal is believed to be the longest running newspaper charity campaign in the country and is still going strong to this day, 33 years after its launch.

Tracy Dick, director of fundraising at St Gemma’s Hospice, said Mr Barker had shown tremendous support for the city’s hospices. “The Half and Half Appeal has raised millions over the years, enabling the hospices to provide expert medical and nursing care to many thousands of local people in need of specialist end-of-life care,” she said. “We will forever be grateful.”

After retiring, he continued to be a prolific writer, producing a popular weekly column for The Yorkshire Post entitled Barker’s Yorkshire, and contributing articles to the main paper and its supplements.

He wrote a number of books, his first being Yorkshire – The North Riding and included the Essence of Whitby and the Essence of the Yorkshire Coast. But the book he took greatest pride in, Portrait of a Lifeboat Hero, was a biography of his distant ancestor, Henry Freeman.

Writing was his life, and he remained a devoted son of Whitby, often adopting regional expressions in his conversation; a gesture showing that while he might have settled in Harrogate, Whitby was where his heart lay.

Paying tribute to him, former Yorkshire Evening Post editor Chris Bye said: “Malcolm became a legend in all newspaper journalism. He was a highly skilled writer and editor who made a great impact on the community he so ably served. He was well-loved by his staff and will be sadly missed.”

Mr Barker is survived by his wife Janet, their children Thea and Patrick, five grandchildren and a great grandson.