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Remembering Mike Pentelow

MIKE PENTELOW, communist, journalist and author, has died peacefully at his home on Wednesday April 1 2020 aged 73. 

Mike started his journalism on the Thurrock Gazette before moving to the Morning Star sports desk, becoming the Star’s industrial correspondent in the 1970s.

In the 1980s he went to work for the Transport and General Workers Union (now Unite). 

He was chief reporter on the union’s newspaper the T&G Record (circulation peaking at half a million) and myriad other T&G publications before editing the Landworker for rural, agricultural and allied industry members of the union.

He also played a key role producing the communist countryside magazine Country Standard and helping to keep alive this progressive journal for rural communities that has been published since 1935. 

This saw Mike playing an important part in organising and publicising left-wing rural festivals such as Levellers’ Day at Burford, Oxfordshire; Burston Strike School events and the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival in Dorset.

On a personal note when I helped organise the 90th commemoration of the 14-week Braunston Canalboat Strike of 1923, one of the first disputes to involve the recently created Transport and General Workers Union, Mike gave support and advice freely, helping to attract 150 people to a memorial picnic.

Mike lived in Fitzrovia — that part of London between Oxford Street and Euston Station. He loved it so much he wrote the book, Characters of Fitzrovia.
  
He started one of the very first community newspapers, the Fitzrovia News. Older supporters of the paper remember when Mike, needing to deliver 500 copies door to door would offer to buy a pub lunch to anyone who would spend Sunday morning helping him to deliver the paper. He was still writing for Fitzrovia News until his death.    

As well as his communist politics, Mike loved beer, pubs and walking. He managed to combine more than one of these interests in articles and books. One of his Morning Star features (still available on line) is a pub crawl to London pubs with socialist, communist or other lefty connections.

He expanded that idea into a book — A Pub Crawl Through History: The Ultimate Boozers’ Who’s Who. 

Another book was his Freedom Pass London. Published to celebrate Ken Livingstone’s Freedom Pass — not, as some will tell you, Boris Johnson’s idea. 

Mike’s book suggests 25 diverse London Transport destinations, from Marx’s tomb to the real Midsommer Murder villages. You won’t be surprised that many have a left-wing connection. 

Both of these books shared the credit with long-term drinking and hiking buddy Peter Arkell.

The book that Mike will be best remembered for is his scholarly Norfolk Red, the life of Wilf Page, countryside communist. 

Page was a champion of agricultural workers. He was a communist councillor in rural Norfolk for 28 years. 

Mike Pentelow and Wilf Page shared a hero — radical poet and journalist Ernest Jones. 

Jones was a Chartist and wrote the book Chartist Songs. After meeting Marx and Engels he became a socialist, writing for and often editing radical publications including the Northern Star and The Labourer, as well as writing books, poems and songs. 

Imprisoned in solitary confinement, denied writing materials, his health was ruined, yet when released he continued to write, first for the Red Republican and then his own papers — The Friend of the People and The People’s Paper which had Karl Marx, now living in London as one of its main contributors. 

Both Wilf and Mike would delight in quoting one of Ernest Jones’s best lines. It served Page as an epitaph and we will not find a better one for Mike Pentelow. 

“Sharpen the sickle! The fields are white; ’Tis the time of the harvest at last.”

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