Former editor of The Northern Echo David Kernek, better known to many under his adopted surname of Flintham, has died from cancer at the age of 74. PETER BARRON pays a personal tribute

ABOVE all else, I'll remember David Flintham - as I knew him when he edited The Northern Echo in the nineties - as one of the best writers I ever worked with.

He had the highest standards when it came to the use of English and never wasted a word.

It was my privilege to be his deputy and he taught me a great deal, principally about the art of 'leader writing' - the daily task of giving The Great Daily of the North an opinion about whatever was happening in the world.

In truth, he didn't particularly enjoy being in the North-East and once admitted to me over a lunchtime glass of red in the King's Head, next door to the Echo head office: "I'm a bloody fish out of water up here."

Consequently, he would disappear to his family home in Bath whenever he could, though he was always great company when we were together.

He had a sardonic wit, didn't suffer fools, and on many occasions left me in tears of laughter with his rants whenever he was frustrated by someone - or something (like the time the fire alarm announcement was faulty and wouldn't shut up).

Yet, at the same time, he was kind, charming, and a deep-thinker.

Having said all of that, I have to confess that our first meeting was painful for him - and embarrassing for me...

We'd both been seconded to the launch of a national news agency, called UK News, in Leicester. David was editor of The York Press at the time but it had been announced that he was to become editor of The Northern Echo.

One evening, after work in Leicester, I was having a swim in the hotel and spotted him at the other end of the pool. I decided I should breast-stroke over to introduce myself to my new boss.

We had a nice, polite chat and he asked if I'd mind if he borrowed my goggles so he could do a few extra lengths.

"Of course not, David," I replied.

However, as I pulled them over my head, the elastic snapped and the goggles catapulted into David's right eye.

I profusely apologised and David was typically polite, but I still squirm at the memory of seeing him with a blood-shot eye at breakfast the next morning. We laughed about it several times over the years that followed.

He was a lovely man, and a very fine journalist. He also had a fascinating family back-story, which he was researching while he was editor of The Northern Echo. It was research that led to him changing his surname and is explained in the beautiful obituary that follows from Allan Prosser, another former editor of The Northern Echo...

...David, who was born in London and brought up on the Balls Pond Road, started his journalistic career on the Basildon Standard Recorder and worked his way through the Slough Evening Mail, the Western Mail, where he was a leader writer, before becoming Lobby Correspondent for The Northern Echo, a newspaper which he later joined as deputy editor.

His career flourished through the Pearson subsidiary, Westminster Press, and he edited four of its daily newspapers ― the Bath Evening Chronicle, the Brighton Evening Argus, the Yorkshire Evening Press, and The Northern Echo. He lived in Bath with his wife, Diana Cambridge, who is also a journalist and writer, and their daughter Clare.

David was kind, considerate, witty and intelligent. He had very good political instincts and his direction and influence on that aspect of The Northern Echo’s coverage during the bitter and divisive miner’s strike of 1984-85 was full of clarity and consistency. I also remember him confounding Margaret Thatcher at a meeting when she turned on him and said ‘Well, I don’t know whose side you are on!’

David was on the side of ordinary people, and against the pompous, the self-interested, and anyone he regarded as anti-democratic. He had an outstanding grasp of history and an impressively economic writing style in which every word earned its place. He tried to share this talent with many young journalists embarking on their careers.

David’s mother, Greta, fled from Linz in Austria to London in 1939 as a 19-year-old to avoid the Holocaust. By the war’s end, she was a young mother ― and a penniless, stateless “enemy alien” ― living with a toddler in the home of a man who had employed her as housekeeper.  When she became pregnant by him, David, the new arrival was put up for adoption after she made an unsuccessful attempt at abortion. David did not meet his birth mother for 45 years and, when he did, he began using her family name, Kernek.

David was a journalism fellow of the University of Minnesota and spent a year in the United States. This encouraged at least two dominant interests in his life: photography, at which he excelled, and a love of the Rolling Stones, about whom he had an encyclopaedic knowledge, particularly of their Blues roots.

After retirement his energy and love for journalism could not be contained and he launched and maintained a hyper-local news website, The Bath Telegraph, which took a wry look at the activities of local authorities and statutory bodies. One of his final campaigns, during the Covid-19 epidemic, was to prevent Bath Council demolishing an outdoor bar erected for the benefit of customers in the large garden of the Hare & Hounds ‘one of the city’s finest inns.’

I corresponded with him frequently on the issues of the day and he could be relied upon to provide pithy commentary. But I noticed his answers becoming shorter. On the day I sent him a text saying ‘Charlie Watts has died’ I received one word back: ‘impossible.’ It was the last time I heard from him.