For generations of readers in Fenland, George Wells, who has died suddenly at his Wisbech home aged 82, was the face of Archant Norfolk’s Eastern Daily Press.
When he retired after 28 years as district reporter in May 1991, Fenland District Council made a rare, if not unique award of an individual civic shield to an exemplary journalist of class and quality.
When he arrived in 1963 at the EDP’s newly-opened office, he faced formidable opposition from long-established weekly newspapers. But as he made his mark with his impeccable shorthand, reporting news and especially sport, sales began to lift.
Born on the edge of the fens at Isleham, he won a place from his village school to Soham Grammar School.
Then after the ‘six most miserable weeks of his life’spent as a bank clerk, he joined the Newmarket Journal in 1945.
He spent 18 years in the country’s horse-racing capital where he met many rising stars including a 14-year-old Lulu and virtually unknown comic, Frankie Howerd.
He covered the villages of East Cambridgeshire on a cycle, sometimes riding 18 miles on a single job. And at Burwell, village news items were left for him under an ash tray at the British Legion Club.
He didn’t take to Newmarket, and once said: ‘It was a town where you’d be forgiven for being ignorant of the identity of the Prime Minister but not for being unaware of the winner of the 3.30 at Brighton that afternoon.’
He also reported for the Cambridge Daily News until he moved to the capital of the fens. In his career, he reported countless stories including the 1978 Wisbech floods in which one person died and a quarter of the town went under water.
‘You saw Wisbechians at their very best and some at their very worst,’he said later.
Wisbech made headlines again in September 1979, when the RAF mid-air collision involving two Harriers from Wittering saw three lives lost including a two-year-old boy.
One jet crashed leaving a 50ft deep crater, 15ft wide in Ramnoth Road as a house was wrecked. In summer 1973, a whirlwind stole across the Fens and changed the face of Parsons Drove. A massive branch from an oak was left on the green and the nearest oaks were two miles away, he wrote.
He had an eye for detail, loved words and took great pride in Fenland. It was no surprise that he would complete the Times crossword with rapidity.
In a memorable article for the EDP, he wrote about the controversial role of gangmasters in farming’s economy, even noting that Karl Marx wrote a chapter in Das Kapital on this scourge.
A keen sportsman, who had been a stylish batsman and handy with the ball, he had also been a good footballer. He wrote authoritatively on sport and in retirement played bowls and captained a local team.
He also supported amateur dramatic productions, especially the Angles Theatre.
He married Monica in 1954 and leaves a son, Dennis, who lives in Australia, daughter Gail, and six granddaughters.
A funeral will be held at the Fenland Crematorium, March, on Monday, July 18 at 2.15pm.