For the JC August 5 2019
This is the story I hoped never to have to write, an appreciation — in every sense of the word — of my dearest late boss, Geoffrey Paul.
GDP, as he was known throughout the Furnival Street headquarters of the Jewish Chronicle, was one of the kindest men I have ever met. He gave me a chance when he took me on, directly from the JC’s local paper in Manchester, and from then on, it was as though I had my own private university tutor.
Geoffrey, who never quite lost his Liverpool accent, was the same with all the juniors at the JC — he encouraged us and inspired us. We all, I think, wanted to do better, to impress our editor and his beloved team-mate, the similarly much-missed deputy editor, David Nathan.
Geoffrey became editor in 1977, coming back from Jerusalem where he had been the JC’s Israel correspondent, to succeed William Frankel as editor. In somewhat typical GDP style, he had been foreign editor before his Israel stint and succeeded in sending himself to Israel as the paper’s correspondent.
Back in London he set about putting a fresh face on the Old Lady of Furnival Street, setting Anglo-Jewry by the ears by running a special section devoted to the — he believed, neglected — Jews of Redbridge.
He inherited a paper in some ways still stuck in the 19th century, not least in the basement composing room staffed by somewhat bolshie union members of the National Graphical Association.
But GDP was determined to make the paper as up-to-date as he could, and eventually a deal was brokered with the print union, while he and the managing director, Sidney Moss, searched for a new way of producing the JC.
Last week, visiting him, I heard him for the first time tell how he nearly lost the proof pages of the JC — they had been “lifted” from his train compartment luggage rack while he was on the way back from Southend to Liverpool Street station.
Fortunately, as he recounted, a grave-faced station porter helped him face down the pages’ “thief” who was thumbing through the proofs of that week’s issue on a bench at the station platform. “I couldn’t imagine how I was going to go back to London to tell them I had lost that week’s paper”, he said, laughing.
And laughter was the hallmark of GDP’s editorship. Always a man who would rather laugh than cry, it wasn’t that he was flippant, but that he genuinely took the amusement out of otherwise ridiculous situations.
So it was Geoffrey who saw the funny side when, famously, his over-the-top American car repeatedly broke down at Jerusalem traffic lights.
“The lights went red, then green, then red again,” he would say. But his car steadfastly refused to move. Instead, a gorgeous Jerusalem policewoman slinked up to him, and, draping herself over the driver’s window, purred: “What’s the matter, you don’t like any of our colours?”
Or there was the time — funny but unfortunate — when the paper went to press with a front page story about Israel’s inability to make peace with any of its neighbours.
Sadly for that week’s paper, the brand-new TV set which Geoffrey had had set up in the front window of the JC’s building was pumping out a news story for the delectation of every passer-by — Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in November 1977.
On Fridays — the paper went to press on Thursday nights in those days — the entire staff would crowd in to Geoffrey’s office while a post-mortem was conducted about that week’s edition. What we had got right, what we had got wrong.
People who had done well were praised, but I rarely remember anyone being chastised in front of colleagues.
Instead, and you really wished for it never to happen, if Geoffrey needed to tell you off, you would be asked to stay behind, the red light on the editor’s door indicating “do not disturb” would go on, and, genuinely, more in sorrow than in anger, Geoffrey would tell you what you had done wrong.
He almost never lost his temper with the staff — and we responded accordingly.
In his later years, as a stalwart of Golders Green Synagogue and a regular member of a weekly shiur, Geoffrey displayed all the love of Judaism that had been his trademark as an editor.
I used to think it was comical that he always wore a kippah in the office when he had to write his Rosh Hashanah leader but now I think it was to get him in the right mood.
He was so proud of his heritage as a Jew and a journalist that it was no surprise that when he and his wife Rachel had a son, Joshua, he brought the baby into the JC for a wonderful Pidyan Haben (redemption of the first-born) ceremony, with chief sub Sidney Lightman, who was a Cohen, “ransoming” Joshua in exchange for coins.
If I learned anything from Geoffrey David Paul, it was his remarkable ability to speak to every denomination of the Jewish world, from Reconstructionist to strictly Orthodox. And for his wisdom and determined inclusivism. And to make a specialist paper, devoted to the lives and doings of Jews, matter in the wider world.
Oh, and, naturally, not to overwrite.