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Geoffrey Sumner (Read 239416 times)
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Geoffrey Sumner
Apr 25th, 2012, 4:43pm
 
Geoffrey Sumner, a long-serving senior journalist in the Radio Newsroom and at Parliament, has died.  More details to follow.
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Re: Geoffrey Sumner
Reply #1 - Apr 26th, 2012, 10:00pm
 
Geoffrey Sumner died at his home in Blackheath on Monday evening.  He had learned his trade on local newspapers and became a correspondent in Cairo for the Westinghouse broadcasting group in the US.  He joined the BBC Radio Newsroom at the end of 1973 and rose rapidly to become a Senior Duty Editor.  He moved to Parliament where he edited radio and television programmes, including Westminster Live on BBC2, shortly after the cameras were allowed into the Commons.  He was known for his strong attachment to the correct use of language, and for being convivial company after work.  Details of the funeral plans will appear on this forum.
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Re: Geoffrey Sumner
Reply #2 - Apr 27th, 2012, 9:50am
 
Nicholas Jones writes:

Geoffrey Sumner, a former senior duty editor with BBC News, died suddenly in tragic circumstances at his home in Blackheath on the evening of Monday 23 April.  I received a call from Lewisham Police to say that Geoff had called an ambulance after complaining that he could not breathe but he was found dead on arrival.  I have since been told by the coroner’s office that a post mortem showed he died of natural causes.  According to BBC pension records Geoff had no next of kin and the local authority have now assumed responsibility.  I have been told that a council-appointed undertaker will make the necessary arrangements and I have asked that former colleagues be kept informed and told the date, time and place of his funeral.  I will of course pass on any further details I obtain but the coroner’s office told me that the wheels of officialdom move slowly in such cases as sometimes next of kin are traced.

I had arranged a walk with Geoff on the South Downs the previous Monday but he called it off saying he had a virus and a bad cough; he emailed back to say he thought he had “turned the corner”.  As former colleagues will know Geoff was an intensely private person, a loner in the true sense of the word, and his childhood and early life was a closed book. It's understood he spent some of his childhood either in a Barnardo’s home or foster care.  He grew up in Croydon, where he went to school, and started work on the South London Press (a colleague on his first newspaper was the late BBC radio correspondent Mike Vestey).  For a time Geoff was on the staff of The Journal in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and then moved to Egypt before joining the BBC; he took early retirement in 1995.    
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Re: Geoffrey Sumner
Reply #3 - May 11th, 2012, 5:12pm
 
Nicholas Jones writes:

Lewisham council said their search of Geoff’s home – completed on Wednesday May 9 -- did not reveal any hint of next of kin or a will. One lead still being followed up is that the council is checking with the solicitor Geoff used for purchasing the property but apparently their response was not encouraging. Neighbours and the caretaker confirmed that Geoff lived quite a reclusive life.
Lewisham say that Geoff’s death will be registered on Friday May 11 and a minister is being contacted to conduct a funeral service. My details will be forwarded to the minister...and once I have a name and any further information I will pass it on as soon as possible.
If no will is found, the council draw up a valuation of the estate and it is forward to the Treasury solicitor.
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Re: Geoffrey Sumner
Reply #4 - May 14th, 2012, 4:25pm
 
Nicholas Jones writes:

The funeral service for Geoffrey will be at 3.15pm. on Monday May 21 at 3.15pm at Hither Green Crematorium in Verdant Lane, Catford London SE6 1TP.  The service will be conducted by the Reverend Barry Bluck. My details will be forwarded to him so that I can give him some details of Geoff’s career etc. I know that some members of Geoff’s group at Birkbeck College – where Geoff was doing a PhD in history – will be attending and possibly the Professor of History Joanna Bourke who was supervising Geoff’s thesis and of whom he had a very high regard.  The last I heard was that no next of kin had been traced.
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Re: Geoffrey Sumner
Reply #5 - May 22nd, 2012, 1:08pm
 
Geoff Sumner was given a fitting send-off.  Former BBC colleagues and a contingent from Birkbeck College attended the funeral, conducted by the Reverend Barry Bluck.  Joanna Bourke, Professor of History at Birkbeck, was engaging and masterful in a touching tribute to Geoff as a mature history student.  She spoke particularly of the encouragement he had given to fellow students.  Former BBC correspondent Nick Jones, who worked with Geoff in Radio News and at Westminster gave his own tribute:

Geoff could be good company.  He always enjoyed an outing. He loved organising them. They were perhaps the family outings which he never had as a child. I knew from the way he would reminisce that his favourites were probably days out and long summer lunches with the teams of journalists he had worked with at the BBC in Westminster, on the parliamentary programmes which he edited with such distinction and in which he took such pride.  Another favourite was a winter evening spent eating and gossiping with BBC colleagues.

The planning was always meticulous: there was never any doubt about the venue, the instruction as to which train to catch, a rundown of the menu options, wine, beer or whatever else was on offer.  

In later years Geoff jumped at any chance for a day’s stiff walking in the countryside with a well-timed and well-proportioned lunch and perhaps another pint before catching the train back home.

The printed itineraries for these walks were always a joy: exact timings for trains and buses, colour reprints of ordnance survey maps showing the precise footpaths to be followed, historical references; often if we were walking around London a relevant quote from Charles Dickens.

Once I remember the print out for the day included a reproduction of Stanley Spencer’s painting The Resurrection on view at Cookham church; and of course that all-important list of hostelries along the route.  

On our last outing in March we got lost in woods on the North Kent coast, not far from Rochester. Geoff said that wouldn’t happen again; he emailed me a couple of days later to say he’d bought a gps satellite device ready for use on our next outing in mid April, that was the walk on the South Downs that sadly he called off, complaining of a virus and a bad cough.

Geoff was never one to attend funerals but I think he would probably have smiled, perhaps even in wry amusement at the arrangements made for this afternoon’s outing, for our gathering here at Hither Green.

He wouldn’t have said so, but I know he’d have been chuffed to think that so many of his former colleagues rated him for what he was, a talented, terrific journalist, a fine judge of news values. What would have touched him most of all was that we had all come to pay our respects.

Geoff joined the BBC radio newsroom at Broadcasting House in 1973; I had been signed up a radio reporter the year before. Geoff rose rapidly to become a senior duty editor.  Night after night he was taking the critical decisions, choosing the lead story for the 8am news bulletin at the top of the Today programme...the bulletin on which the BBC’s output would be judged.  

Later he moved to BBC Westminster editing Today and Yesterday in Parliament and television programmes like Westminster Live. Geoff was always at the sharp end of the BBC’s coverage of Parliament, in the hot seat, never afraid to take a decision and then stick to it.

Geoff wasn’t always the easiest of colleagues to work with. He had high standards, he was a superb writer, a devil for syntax and spelling, but even so he respected journalistic drive and effort.

He preferred working behind the scenes, assessing and shaping the work of others, rather than the perceived glory of being out on the road in the cut and thrust of news gathering. But he was a generous editor, only too ready to give a reporter the chance to shine.

During the industrial disputes of the Thatcher years, on the wet Sunday afternoon in February 1985 when the mineworkers finally called off their year-long pit strike, Geoff was editing the six o’clock Radio 4 News. He knew precisely what he wanted: “Nick, we’ll run all the actuality first and then I am giving you four minutes to assess the strike and its outcome.”  That was a big chunk of a fifteen minute bulletin. Geoff went through my script, word for word, reinforcing every point I was trying to make. I could not have been more grateful.

A decade later at BBC Westminster, when Geoff was editor of Scrutiny, a weekly BBC 2 television programme which examined the work of the House of Commons select committees, I was the presenter for a brief eight months. Geoff gave me free rein to beaver away, to go over to the Commons and the Lords to dig up whatever I could.

Then each Thursday evening, long after I’d gone home, Geoff would sit at BBC Westminster going through my scripts.  Next morning I’d arrive to find them transformed – light and engaging, witty, but razor-sharp politically. Never before had I received that level of support from a programme editor. I owe Geoff a debt of gratitude.

Another former political presenter, Peter Hill, who is here today, had an equally high regard for Geoff  both as an editor and producer, a sentiment which I know is shared by so many of those who worked with Geoff on the BBC’s parliamentary output.

Geoff took early retirement in the mid 1990s. He established his own company Sumner Media Services. He used his editorial and production skills to assist all manner of organisations with the publication of annual reports and the like.

To me Geoff was always a journalist’s journalist. He started as a reporter on the South London Press, along with Mike Vestey, later to become another Radio 4 reporter.  After a stint on the Northern Echo, Geoff was off to Egypt as a freelance, writing for papers such as The Guardian.

Like so many of us who started out on local papers in the 1960s, Geoff missed out on university. I was so pleased when he told me he had become a mature student at the College of History at Birkbeck. He was soon engrossed in a PhD. He was researching aspects of Britishness, especially the symbolism – and myths – surrounding the eating of beef.

Only recently he’d told me he was busy writing up his literary review.  I did try to keep him supplied with the odd newspaper cutting. One I remember which amused him was from the Sun which created a hullabaloo when British Airways dropped roast beef and Yorkshire pudding from its in flight menu.

Geoff was clearly getting immense pleasure from lectures and sessions with his fellow students, from his studies in the library. I sensed, judging by his enthusiasm, that there was a book in the making. Geoff was in his element, he was inspired in a way I had never seen before.
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Re: Geoffrey Sumner
Reply #6 - May 27th, 2012, 9:13pm
 
This was Professor Bourke's tribute:

Geoff was a Birkbeck student: that was his identity when I knew him. On retirement, he had decided to do a degree in history at Birkbeck. I taught him at undergraduate level and then was the supervisor for his PhD.

It is hard to convey just how exciting it was to have someone of Geoff’s intellectual stature in a first-year undergraduate course. I like to think that we both conducted ourselves remarkably well under the circumstances. To illustrate: when I made a mistake, Geoff would delicately bring the issue up at a later date and – while always ensuring that I did not lose face – would tactfully correct me.

As a PhD student, he was brilliant, never handing in anything that was not perfectly constructed and analytically argued. He was researching the “British Beef Myth, 1880 to the Present” – which was really a series of historical reflections about what it meant to be British. The full-title of his thesis reflects its content and his wit: “The British Beef Myth: An Ingredient in National Identity, 1880 to the Present”.

I still recall our first full-length PhD supervision, when I was handing back a section of a chapter with comments. After dealing with the substantive issues, I returned his chapter with some annotations, mainly correcting minor issues of syntax. There was an embarrassed pause. Geoff cleared his throat and said, “Thanks, Professor Bourke…” (I knew I was in trouble when I heard “Professor” – everyone calls me “Joanna”). He paused, embarrassed, then said, “Professor Bourke, I think you will find that in matters of syntax, I am always right” And he was!

He was a leading member of the Birkbeck PhD community. After he died, I spoke to his colleagues. Here are some comments:

“He referred to people who only drank on weekends as part-timers – this made me laugh.”

“I always felt so comfortable in his company and really enjoyed our drinking evenings that a few of us had together. I think I can safely say that we all felt at great ease in Geoffrey's company and I admired him so much for embarking on the new challenge of a history degree.”

“He was wonderfully knowledgeable on all sorts of aspects of life but always respectful of other people's views and opinions: that made drinking with him and the others so much fun. We'd start off discussing our own peculiar challenges with the PhD and by the end of the evening we'd have put the entire world to rights (or wrongs!).”

“I always found him so fascinating to talk to and I'll miss him.  He was unusual among PhD students because he was genuinely interested in others' work.  An inspirational man who typified what Birkbeck should be about.”

“He always made me laugh”

From a PhD student working on the history of male heterosexuality: “One of his (many) suggestions for my research was that I should look at Littlewood's catalogues for ‘evidence of what was being worn between the wars by the smart man about Rochdale’”.

“I remember Geoff's amazing (and cutting) sense of humour, his ability as a historian, and the understanding he had of people and of popular culture”

“Geoff was a fabulous Birkbeck student and a lovely man.”

But, I want to finish by simply quoting from the second-to-last email that I received from Geoff.

The email began by setting out what he had been researching since our last supervision. This is how he ended it:

“I was going to hold on to ‘Propagation’ [chapter] until I had finished [the] ‘Attitudes’ [chapter] because it was likely that I’d need to tweak the former to dovetail with the latter. But I think I've now done that tweaking, so I could send you ‘Propagation’ forthwith.

However, before doing so, I'd like to resolve a style point arising from our last tutorial, i.e. the matter of 'The thesis argues that....'

Your objection, as I understood it, was that an author can argue, but a text can't.

I did have my doubts about this at the time (and I hesitate to raise it now) because one sees the usage constantly in books, articles and theses (many authors say: 'This thesis argues that...'), and it seems perfectly all right to me.

However, I have since been writing 'It is argued that ...' or similar, and a lot of the time it looks OK, or OK-ish.

But in a few places I think the active would definitely be better.

So how would you feel if I were to do that from time to time?

Best wishes

Geoff.”

I read this email, and laughed aloud. And, today, that is how I choose to remember Geoffrey.
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Re: Geoffrey Sumner
Reply #7 - Oct 24th, 2012, 10:24am
 
Geoffreys' Family would like to hear from anyone that knew him.

Their address is:-

ppbutton (at) hotmail (dot) com    

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Re: Geoffrey Sumner
Reply #8 - Dec 12th, 2012, 10:04am
 
Nicholas Jones writes:

I have been in contact with two of Geoff's second
cousins who were contacted by lawyers following  a posting on the Treasury
website that Geoff had died intestate with no known next of kin. One of the
second cousins gave me an explanation for what he said was Geoff's
"friction" with his former relatives.  When Geoff was taken into care by
relatives after he lost his father and then his mother he won a scholarship
to a grammar school in Croydon and the head said he was Oxford or Cambridge
material but Geoff was not allowed to go to university.

He left school at 16/17 and joined the South London Press.  
In recent years Geoff was a mature student doing an history PhD
at Birkbeck College, University of London. Iemailed Geoff's professor
-- Professor Joanna Bourke -- to tell her I had finally found "an explanation"
for Geoff's split with his relatives and his great affection for his course at
Birkbeck and the inspiration Joanna had given him.
I knew from talking to Geoff how much he had enjoyed the
collegiate atmosphere of university life. No wonder he was transformed in
those final years, finally getting to university, as Joanna's fond tribute
bears testimony:


Dear Nicholas,

this is interesting. Thanks so much for thinking of keeping me informed.

A few days ago, I hosted my annual dinner with my PhD students (all 11 of
them) and Geoffrey was greatly missed. He was a major person in our world --
and his fellow-PhDs spoke about him at length: his inspiration, sociability,
intellectual generosity, and passion. He was clearly enjoying his new life
as a PhD student interacting with other academic colleagues.

best
Joanna
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Re: Geoffrey Sumner
Reply #9 - Mar 10th, 2014, 9:52pm
 
The BBC TV genealogical research programme "Heir Hunters" recently ran the story of Geoffrey Sumner, which included a contribution from Nicholas Jones.

The programme was episode 4 of series 8.

At the time of posting, it is available on iPlayer here. (UK Viewers only).

The programme features the research into his family history, and describes Geoffrey's life.

" the search for relatives of a former political correspondent reveals the story of a talented man who went on to have an illustrious career in spite of a difficult childhood. "
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Re: Geoffrey Sumner
Reply #10 - Jun 21st, 2014, 10:20am
 
I see that as of today, 21/06/2014, Geoff's obituary log has received 143,836 views. Is this a record?
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Re: Geoffrey Sumner
Reply #11 - Jun 21st, 2014, 3:19pm
 
Massively.  We don't know why....?

Well spotted!

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Re: Geoffrey Sumner
Reply #12 - Mar 26th, 2015, 11:07pm
 
"Heir Hunters" featuring Geoffrey Sumner was repeated on 26/3/2015.



It may be downloaded from here, for a few weeks.

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Re: Geoffrey Sumner
Reply #13 - Mar 25th, 2021, 11:16pm
 
I was really sad to read of Geoffrey’s death so long after the evert. I worked with him as a very young new sub in the radio newsroom in 1981-2. I was in awe of him because he was such a brilliant, knowledgeable and talented journalist, and I was always a bit worried that he’d lose patience with me because I was so young and naive and not a typical newsroom hack. But  he took me under his wing and was incredibly kind and supportive. I think he realised that I didn’t quite fit the mould of other newsroom journalists so he was actually rather protective of me. He taught me a great deal, but I will remember him most for his sense of humour and his kindness.
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