Ivor Smullen, who has died at the age of 78, was a news and feature editor’s dream – a freelance with a supply of tips, ideas and stories that was inexhaustible right to the end, when he was still filing pieces from his hospital bed.
One of journalism’s unsung foot soldiers without whom newspapers cannot survive, Ivor ran a punishing sevendays- a-week, one-man operation, sending his “smullens” – typed on small slips of paper – to grateful newsrooms and periodicals, local, national and international, from the Sunday Express and Daily Telegraph to BBC History Magazines and the San Francisco Chronicle, helped by an uncanny nose for a good story.
Born and educated in Manchester, he worked as a reporter in Hong Kong, where he met his wife Rita, returning to Britain to work on papers in Nottingham and Hull, and then as a staffer on Weekend and Tit-Bits in the capital in the 1960s.
In the early 1970s, he and Rita moved to Leeds, where he set up his freelance agency in a cramped first-floor bedroom/office, becoming – and staying – an unmatchably prolific feature writer and ideas man.
During my time as a reporter and on the newsdesk with the Sunday Express in Manchester from the 1970s to the 1990s, I always looked forward to hearing his deceptively tentative voice, because it invariably meant a story idea that would have me salivating, suggested – never pitched – with his characteristic dry understatement.
However, I will remember Ivor as more than a superb journalist. He was the best companion in the world to share a pint and a laugh with.
With his fastidious shorthand and old-fashioned manual typewriter – and gentlemanliness – Ivor was a throwback, but always eager to go forward in new directions.
Recently, diabetes drained his energy, so he ignored it, taking on new jobs. His widow and their daughter, Kin, have lost a loving husband and father. Journalism has lost a dedicated practitioner and I have lost an irreplaceable friend.