Scandal, the arts and April Fool’s Day pranks - three Ham&High editors meet in rare reunion

Gerry Isaaman, former editor of the Ham&High (centre), with his successor Matthew Lewin (left) and c

Gerry Isaaman, former editor of the Ham&High (centre), with his successor Matthew Lewin (left) and current editor-in-chief Geoff Martin. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Three generations of editors of the Ham&High were side-by-side last Thursday in a rare reunion that celebrated the life and career of former editor of 25 years, Gerald Isaaman OBE.

Mr Isaaman regaled audience members at Burgh House, in New End Square, with anecdotes from a career that provided residents with political scandal, a staunch defence of the Hampstead community and esteemed coverage of the arts.

Interviewed by another former editor of the newspaper, Matthew Lewin, and with current editor-in-chief Geoff Martin listening in the audience, Mr Isaaman spoke of his beginnings as a young reporter and his 40 years at the Ham&High, which he left as editor in 1994.

Whether it was saving Burgh House from being sold off by the council, stopping Keats House from falling into disrepair, or telling McDonald’s to “Burger off!” when they tried to open in Hampstead High Street, Mr Isaaman and his reporters continued the paper’s reputation of not being scared of a fight.

The paper’s coverage was always extensive, leading to it being described by the New York Times as “the only local newspaper with a foreign policy”.

But one of Mr Isaaman’s favourite stories continues to be the front page splash that Hampstead Heath was to be sold to an Arab business group and developed into a hotel complex, complete with helipad.

He said the April Fools prank caused a furore in the town and led to “multiple” panic-stricken phone calls to the editor’s office.

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His influence on the paper’s newsroom remains to this day, including advice he used to regularly give his staff.

“I used to remind my reporters to always remember one thing – be careful with what you write in the Ham&High as you are speaking to an audience far more intelligent than yourself.”