OBITUARY: Geoffrey Pinnington

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The Independent Online
Geoffrey Pinnington looked a heavyweight and his journalism matched his physique. He had a bull-like determination and was almost impossible to deter when he had decided on a course of action. This did not endear him to all his colleagues, but his Fleet Street career progressed because his judgements usually proved to be correct.

His RAF service was typical of his life. Naturally he flew in bombers. He decided early on that the Wellington was his sort of aircraft. Like him, Wellingtons could absorb a lot of punishment and still reach their target, and he made it his business to operate in them long after more glamorous bombers had been developed. He became one of the most experienced navigators in the RAF, serving in Bomber Command and the Middle East. He ended as a Squadron Leader after serving from 1940 right through to the end of the war.

Pinnington was essentially a Londoner, devoted to its theatres and its restaurants, and spending all his working life in the capital and suburbs apart from one brief sortie to Manchester. He was educated largely at Harrow County School and later studied at London University. He began in journalism as a reporter on the Middlesex Independent before moving to local papers in west London, where he became editor of the Kensington Post.

He entered national journalism through the old Daily Herald. He was swiftly moved to the news desk when his talents were recognised and promoted even more swiftly to become northern editor. Brought back to London in 1958 as deputy editor, he might well have become one of the series of Herald editors appointed by the fading paper in the perpetual search for a winning formula. But an apparent lurch towards unilateralism by the Herald when he was temporarily in charge of the paper proved too much for its political masters at the TUC. It was made clear to him that he would never edit the paper and he made clear that he did not accept the decision. He left to join the Daily Mirror.

It was at the Mirror that his reputation really grew. The paper was then at its peak, the most popular daily in Britain, with a circulation approaching 5 million, and in 1961 he became its night editor. The night editorship of any popular paper is always a key post but Pinnington made it a vital one. He dominated the section known as the back bench, where a paper's make-up and content is largely determined, and he continued to do this after he had been promoted to assistant editor. He wielded more power than many editors. He attracted great loyalty from his production colleagues as well as admiration from many in other areas of the paper, but he also created critics despite his continual success.

In a repetition of what had happened at the Herald, it became obvious that he would never become editor of the Mirror, and when a vacancy occurred at its companion paper, the Sunday People, he filled it. For the next 10 years, from 1972, he edited the People with enthusiasm and confidence.

It was a difficult task because he had to compete not only with Rupert Murdoch's News of the World but also with the Sunday Mirror which, like the People, was owned by what was then the International Publishing Corporation. Pinnington felt, rightly or wrongly, that IPC's heart was really with the Sunday Mirror, and that when it was a question of allocating resources his paper took second place. Nevertheless, he was delighted to have an editorship of his own at last, even though it was with a paper which was down-market from his own taste. When he retired in 1982 he did so with a sense of fulfilment.

He was a member of the Press Council from 1982 to 1986, continuing rather unusually after his retirement from active journalism. He was vice-chairman from 1983 to 1986.

Pinnington was a man of considerable humour and as adept at assessing the worth of a story as he was at devising the make-up of a front page. He would have made his mark on any paper.

In any list of interests Pinnington always placed his family first. This was not a gesture. His family - he was married with two daughters - was the centre of his life, though nobody seeing him in operation on a major news night would have guessed this. Unlike many Fleet Street marriages his was outstandingly successful. His devotion to his wife Beryl was as palpable as when they first met more than half a century ago.

Terence Lancaster

Geoffrey Charles Pinnington, journalist: born 21 March 1919; Deputy Editor, Daily Herald 1958-61; Deputy Editor, Daily Mirror 1968-72; Editor, Sunday People 1972-82; married 1941 Beryl Clark (two daughters); died 24 December 1995.