Mike Pentelow, editor who stood by Fitzrovia for half a century
Editor of Fitzrovia News left a lifetime of hilarious memories
12 April, 2020 — By Peter Kirker
Singer Ben E. King meets Mike Pentelow
THERE is a cluster of streets around the BT Tower that has seen more artists, murderers, writers and revolutionaries than any comparable corner of England – all of them celebrated some years ago in an encyclopedic tome, The Characters of Fitzrovia.
One more character must now to be added to that Bohemian list: the man who wrote the book.
For more than 50 years Mike Pentelow lived and breathed Fitzrovia, and when he died in his home in Nassau Street on April 1 he was still in harness as editor of the community’s beating heart, a quirky yet polished newspaper which started life as The Tower and became Fitzrovia News in recognition of a name that Mike himself was instrumental in reviving, when the area opposite Soho, on the other side of Oxford Street, had been at serious risk of becoming Noho.
Bashful about his rather posh schooling in Hampstead, Mike was pleased to bypass university and get straight to work in newspapers, starting as a trainee reporter on the Thurrock Gazette.
The docks at that time were riven with the industrial strife that came with containerisation, and his sympathies were from the outset – as they always remained – firmly with the workers. But his copy was objective and he was professional enough to maintain cordial relationships with the employers.
Always an ardent Watford fan, Mike found a way to combine his love of football with his socialist values by becoming a sports reporter with the Morning Star. He took a break to study economics, only to discover when he came back with a degree that he had been promoted from sport to the industry desk.
He was stepping into shoes once worn by communist luminaries such as Bert Ramelson and Mick Costello, where his irrepressible streak of flippancy and an innocent unawareness of anything coming close to PC sometimes made for an uneasy fit.
But he became a much-loved character in the then still extant industrial lobby, and was close to the “awkward squad” of lefty trade union leaders who were to become a thorn in the flesh of New Labour.
He counted earlier socialist trade unionists such as Rodney Bickerstaffe and Ken Cameron among his friends, and took inspiration, perhaps in more ways than one, from two hard-drinking, erudite and highly cultured leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers, Lawrence Daly and Mick McGahey.
The fun side of Mike’s nature found voice not least in his forming the International Stand By Me Club – the only club, so he claimed, dedicated to a single song. In a drunken midnight coup he and a chum appointed themselves “self-styled joint world presidents” and accepted Deputy PM John Prescott’s bid to lead the parliamentary section.
The Mansfield MP Alan Meale listed it as his club in his Who’s Who entry and Ben E King, the first of hundreds to record the song, looked in to lend his support when visiting the UK.
Mike had no family of his own but was fond of David and Clare, the son and daughter of his brother Guy.
Indeed he loved all youngsters, and developed close and lasting bonds with the children of his friends, sometimes counting on them to get him into pantomimes – one of his passions, along with Music Hall, stand-up and most other forms of live entertainment.
He was particularly proud to have trodden the boards himself in an amateur production a Ken Campbell’s panto staged in Belfast to rowdy audiences of disadvantaged kids at the height of the Troubles, when all professional productions were on hold.
In his later career Mike spent many years turning out publications for the Transport and General Workers’ Union in tandem with, and sometimes working for, his lifelong buddy Chris Kaufman – Chris had masterminded the campaign when Mike stood for the Communist Party in a local election, winning 63 votes.
In recent years, largely at their own expense and through their own endeavours, the brothers kept the Country Standard title afloat, latterly as an occasional Tolpuddle-focused Morning Star supplement.
When I chatted with Chris Kaufman shortly after Mike’s death we were in naturally subdued spirits. But within minutes the mood gave way to laughter as hilarious anecdotes came tumbling into the conversation.
As Chris reflected, it will be the case in years to come that whenever Mike is brought to mind, heartfelt unconstrained laughter will quickly follow.
It’s a priceless legacy.