Obituary: Gordon Winter

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The Independent Online
Gordon Winter, journalist and writer: born London 17 May 1912; married twice; died London 8 July 1993.

Surreptitiously, for fear of alarming his wife, Gordon Winter began to ride again at 65; aged 79, he started learning dressage and won rosettes. Every Thursday he joined his friends in the Honourable Artillery Company's saddle club in the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace, and it was there, on horseback, that he died, merely leaning forward over the pommel of his saddle. His friends could not have wished him a better end. He himself had often said that he would have liked to die on a horse.

Winter's love of horses seemed particularly to suit a personality that was innately chivalrous. To his colleagues at Country Life, he appeared the embodiment of professionalism and honour. Younger journalists - often much younger, since he continued working until the end - envied the speed not only with which he would ingest such heavy fare as government reports, but would formulate cogent new policies that the reports overlooked. This made him invaluable as a leader writer.

Little could disturb his concentration in front of the word processor (which he mastered in his late seventies); but, remarkably for a magazine office, anyone who interrupted him was treated with the courtesy that was his hallmark. Though he wrote many books, none of them reflected the scope of his ideas - refreshed, as they were, by an unquenchable zest for new experiences. Latterly, the modesty with which he wore his broad knowledge seemed a link with another age. He personified standards literally from top to toe: he was famous for his impeccably shining, frequently polished shoes.

Educated at University College School, Hampstead, Winter sometimes expressed the regret that his father's death had prevented his going to university. But that did not deter him, as a young man, from enjoying many of the sports that he would have found there. He was a long-standing member of London Rowing Club and enjoyed his last Henley, in perfect weather, a week ago. Reading copiously, he committed large sections of the classics, in a variety of languages, to memory. It made a fine end to a day at the Windsor Horse Show, for example, to hear Winter recite a stanza from Dante's Inferno, or sing from one of the Italian operas which he knew by heart. In 1937 he joined the Honourable Artillery Company, where he perfected his horsemanship. In those days it was necessary for each new recruit to be able to vault into the saddle from standing on the ground. Later, when he took up riding again, he was determined to recapture this technique. So, despite an artificial hip, he practised vaulting over the wooden horse in a local school gymnasium.

During the Second World War, Winter served in Italy and the Greek archipelago, becoming lieutenant-colonel when he administered an island. There, disapproving of his trim figure, his more generously dimensioned local cook measured his stomach and vowed that she would have improved his girth by the time he left.

Winter's first job in journalism, before the war, had been on the Field magazine. He also worked on Riding magazine, which was owned by Country Life, before finding his way to the Listener. Returning from the war, he joined the BBC and became manager of the French service - an important position, given the sensitivity of relations between the Allies. After a spell as European publicity officer, he accepted a posting as the BBC's representative in Canada. He came to love the country during the three years he spent there, and took up skiing at what was even then considered to be a relatively advanced age. Back in England, he went in 1958 to the Country Life office to offer an article on Eskimo carving. The then editor, Frank Whitaker, said that he had already run a piece on the subject, but asked if he would like a job instead.

Officially Winter retired from Country Life, as chief assistant editor, in 1977, but he continued to come into work on a daily basis until last year. His last article, which appears next week, had a special appropriateness, being on the National Pony Society: he was president of the NPS in 1991. In his last years he also worked as consultant editor to the magazine of the Country Landowners' Association.

Winter saw himself, above all, as a countryman. As a source of pride, his smallholding in Kent, where he lived with his second wife, Elspeth, came second only to his three children. He kept a flock of Clun ewes, and was never happier than at a favourite country event. One of the first people to appreciate the interest of 19th-century photographs, he built up an extensive library on country subjects, which he quarried for a series of books. His concern for conservation was expressed in the Farming and Wildlife Award, embodied in the Silver Lapwing trophy, which he established at Country Life and watched over for a dozen years. But he was no sentimentalist, perhaps the greatest cause that he championed being that of the working farmer, threatened by an invasion of bureaucracy and town values.

(Photograph omitted)