A former Ham&High editor who was "as much a part of Hampstead as the Heath and the buildings" has died aged 78.

Matthew Lewin, who edited this newspaper for six years until 2000, died on Friday (December 23).

Originally from South Africa, Matthew joined the Ham&High in 1973 under editor Gerry Isaaman.

Matthew's wife Vivienne said getting the job was a "huge event in his life".

"He loved the work from day one and thrived," she said. "When Gerry retired Matthew was appointed editor of the Ham and High, and put his own stamp on the paper.

"Those six years were, he felt, the best time of his life, and a huge privilege.

"Sadly, on a fateful day in 2000 his position as editor was brutally curtailed by the then management, whom he considered to be intellectual pygmies.

"He was brutally evicted from office, both in terms of his life-work and physically removed from his office, being told to make an appointment to collect his possessions. 

"It was a shocking time for him as he had, like Gerry before him, become Mr Hampstead, well known, well liked, a celebrity." 

Ham & High: Ham&High editors (l-r) Matthew Lewin, Gerry Isaaman and Geoff Martin at Burgh House in 2013Ham&High editors (l-r) Matthew Lewin, Gerry Isaaman and Geoff Martin at Burgh House in 2013 (Image: Nigel Sutton)

Matthew grew up in Johannesburg during Apartheid, but escaped the regime as soon as he was old enough to do so.

He lived in Israel for a year but returned to South Africa to attend Wits University.

Vivienne said he claimed "being very lazy, he excelled at nothing".

"But he developed a passion for social anthropology – which gave him a deeper understanding of the human condition," she said. "He also made deep friendships with fellow students which remained alive and important until he died. 

"After graduating, he drifted into journalism almost by accident, but once in, he became completely hooked. It was something he felt 'I could do and be good at', and that feeling never left him."

He travelled through America, north and south, during the "peace and love" era of the late '60s filing copy for consumption back home.

Vivienne said he saw England as his "spiritual and intellectual home" and when he arrived in London in 1970 he did not anticipate being treated as a foreigner. He was relieved when he finally gained British nationality five years later.

In the meantime, after a "dull" time working for Oxfam, Gerry Isaaman appointed Matthew news editor of the Ham&High and his career was set.

Ham&High cartoonist Ken Pyne, who worked with and was a friend of Matthew, said: "It is terrible blow not only to those nearest to him but to the whole of Hampstead as he belonged here and was as much a part of the area as the Heath and the buildings."

Matthew also had a great passion for crime fiction and published three Horatio Parker mysteries set around Hampstead.

After he left the Ham&High he reviewed crime novels for the Guardian.

Matthew became involved in Burgh House and served for a period as chair of the trust.

Trustee and Hampstead Town councillor Linda Chung said: "Matthew was one of the most charismatic people I have ever met.

"He was a popular and well-known figure and we often exchanged pleasantries but I did not get to know him well until I became a trustee of Burgh House. Matthew was a trustee there for over 17 years, and chair for 13 years until 2019." 

She said he made a great contribution to Burgh House, adding: "Its current success is due in large part to his period of leadership. 

"He had immense, quiet charm, and though a man with numerous accomplishments, he could be self-effacing. He was a wonderful source of information, and his recall of people and places was spiced with anecdotes. Time spent in his company was always entertaining."

Among his other activities, Matthew was a non-executive director of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust; a member of an NHS Research Ethics Committee; a trustee of the Royal Free Charity; and a member of the Royal Free’s works of art committee and patient and staff experience committees. 

He wrote restaurant reviews and humorous columns for his website Matthew’s Table.

Ham & High: Matthew Lewin with one of his tables in 2019Matthew Lewin with one of his tables in 2019 (Image: Matthew Lewin)

Journalist and writer Tom Bower met Matthew in the 1970s, and paid tribute to his "zest for journalism".

"Of course, the Ham&High under Matt was Britain’s greatest local newspaper," he said. "He was an excellent editor. Many of us thanked him for his careful, critical attention to the council’s proposals."

Friend Derek Waldman said: "He was my friend. A man has few such friends in in his life."

In recent years Matthew realised his long-dormant passion for carpentry and had a workshop in Wood Green.

Vivienne said: "It was a very happy time for him, and a passion that has kept him going, strongly engaged with life through a period of increasingly poor health.

"He was hoping that he will be remembered at his funeral with a laugh and a smile, rather than tears, saying he felt sure he would rest just that little bit easier in that cardboard box in front of us."

Matthew Lewin is survived by his wife, Vivienne, and stepsons Saul and Matthew.