Farewell Bob, we will never forget you

THERE are some things in life you can prepare for, others just leave you numb. The latter was the emotion when we discovered that a man who has been at the heart of this newspaper for almost 25 years had been taken from us. Recorder columnist Robert Ba

THERE are some things in life you can prepare for, others just leave you numb.

The latter was the emotion when we discovered that a man who has been at the heart of this newspaper for almost 25 years had been taken from us.

Recorder columnist Robert Barltrop passed away in Newham General Hospital and no longer will readers be able to cherish his words. Just a few days earlier, he had dropped off an illustration for what became his last column to our office, writes COLIN GRAINGER, The Editor.

Robert, 86, had been writing columns in his own brilliant style. It was an honour to sub his work and be the first to read it each week.

Bob would appear and enchant us each week, presenting his article, written on a typewriter, each one carefully crafted and numbered.

His last one was number 1,225 and dealt with a recent stay in hospital. Each article was accompanied with an excellent drawing.

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His encyclopedic knowledge of many areas made him such a great favourite with readers. It was a privilege to have known and worked with him. Modesty was Robert's style.

When we interviewed him to mark his 1,000th Reflections Of The Past column, he said he felt "enormously pleased" while "a little bit disbelieving" at the momentous achievement.

Since his very first article back in February 1985, he had written about his memories and own opinions on "anything and everything".

His musings have ranged from young parents and abandoned babies to Christmas time and a more recent writing on the subject of banks.


Of his popular column, the father-of-three told reporter Tracey Church that he just wanted people to enjoy reading them!

He said he hoped they see bits of the world they recognise and get out of them an idea of values. The author of seven books said he "always seeks to stamp on nonsense".

Bob, as he was known to close friends, produced his articles from a small study at his Stratford home using a manual typewriter. Each took about a day and a half to complete. A further four hours was spent drawing the pictures to accompany the text, Tracey discovered.

Despite his vast experience, he was not averse to suffering writer's block. "There are times when I think I can't think of anything," said the great-grandfather. "I feel as if I'll never think of a subject again. Then in conversation I think "I could write an article about that". Very often trivial things. One thought leads to another."

Bob - who had also given lectures and talks to all kinds of societies on subjects including 20th century history and the Cockney language - said latterly he did not have a lot of time to draw, besides the pictures in his column.

Born in Walthamstow, and having left grammar school at 15, he went on to work in a number of roles including as a clerk, then with his father, and for a spell as a boxer.

He also worked in a butchers, as a labourer, at a timber yard in Stratford, a factory, and joined the Air Force, becoming a sergeant pilot. This career came to an end when he became ill with TB.

It was during his lengthy stay in hospital that he drew, and his cartoon-type pictures were accepted by a magazine. The week the war ended, Robert met his future wife of 61 years, Mary, who was in the women's army.

He and devoted Mary, 84, went on to have three sons - circus ringmaster Chris, circus manager Nick and policeman Jon.

Describing the drawings in the magazine as "sporadic", Robert said that when the couple married he needed a more stable job. He became a teacher of art and English for twelve and a half years until 1961. It was from the age of about 50 that Robert's efforts went into writing. His first book was titled The Monument. Others include Jack London - the Man the writer, the Rebel.

Themes of the books have ranged from language and everybody's history to social and political and biography.

Robert's fondness for books was evident from the moment guests entered his home of more than 20 years with the many that line the hallway and dining area. He said he had read 7,000 in his collection including research, reference and dictionaries.

"Writing and words have always absorbed me above everything else," he said.

Four years ago Robert suffered serious ill health. He spent months in hospital after developing pneumonia which included being treated in intensive care.


Thankfully he recovered, but then later suffered a burst ulcer. At this stage there was a five month period when he was unable to produce his column.

This year, he had a another brief absence through illness, during which time a heart pacemaker was fitted.

But he was back and raring to go and the column resumed.

When we marked his 1,000 milestone in 2004, a buffet lunch was held at the Recorder's then East Ham offices where he had brought his column for 24 years to delight the East London public.

Bob and wife Mary were presented with pictures and a special mock front page to mark his achievement.

He thanked the Recorder staff for their accuracy and efforts over his 1,000 columns and praised Mary for "always being there" to support him.

He also praised the Recorder. "Those of you who produce the paper may not realise what a superb newspaper it is. I can tell you how highly it is rated not only in East London but in the rest of the country," he said.

Sadly a big part of that important paper is no more, a huge loss to us all.

Bob's funeral will take place on Friday at the City of London Cemetery in Manor Park, at 1pm.

In accordance with Bob's clear wishes, he will have a humanist funeral with no priest or anything relating to religion. Close family members and friends will speak, and it will be more like a meeting of people who knew Bob, rather than a service.

Flowers are being sent by close family.

Donations can be made to Newham General Hospital, in Plaistow, to whom his family have recorded their thanks for the special care they gave.

Bob's ashes are likely to be interned at the family plot at Chingford Mount Cemetery a week or two after the funeral.

Bob and I had hundreds of conversations over the years and shared a passion for collecting newspapers from all over the world.

I just hope this final page has done you proud, Bob.

Farewell, mate.