NUJ Netherlands pays tribute to its former chair and founder member Guy Thornton who has died suddenly this week
He will be sadly missed by all having become something of a talisman for the branch over more than two and half decades. Guy was one of the most prominent members of the NUJ in Continental Europe and a member of a number of committees within the union.
Tony Sheldon branch chair and NEC job share for Continental Europe.
It was 1994. I’d not been in Holland long before this garrulous and jovial Yorkshireman phoned out of the blue. He’d been in touch with Acorn House then NUJ headquarters trying to reach out to any Dutch NUJers, perhaps start a branch. His enthusiasm and energy then were irresistible, dare I say, overbearing. Within months, he, I, and Belinda Stratton, veteran of the Pergamon dispute, had met in my living room in Utrecht and an embryo NUJ Netherlands was born.
With the help of Bob Norris, then assistant general secretary, whom Guy adored – they shared a love of real ale and cricket – the branch was launched with a good relationship the Dutch union, the NVJ. Soon Mindy Ran joined, working well with Guy, and within a year or two, the Continental European Council (CEC) was set up with Paris and Brussels. NUJ Netherlands, nor I believe, the CEC. would ever happen without Guy Thornton and his internationalist vision.
Born in Thornton-Le-Dale in North Yorkshire, Guy attended Leeds University writing for the student newspaper alongside a certain Paul Dacre later editor of the Daily Mail. Guy was very active in what were then a very radical Young Liberals. He then moved to Denmark before arriving in Amsterdam and settling down to a life of freelance correspondent writing about the Netherlands, politics, and beer for among others The New Statesman, the Guardian, and the BBC. He was a keen member of the British Guild of Beer Writers and the Dutch Foreign Press Association. A major press event in the Netherlands was not quite complete until Guy’s entrance.
Guy, who was the first branch chair, would call me almost every week for 27 years with a question he wanted to vent about the branch or the NUJ or his beloved Leeds United. He never once missed a branch meeting, even continuing to chair from his rehabilitation center after being knocked off his bike by a tram and seriously injured. Nor did he ever miss a delegate meeting from the branch launch onwards. He would attend in some capacity. We were, in many ways, his life.
When, after nearly 20 years as chair I thought it time to challenge him for the post, I was worried how he’d take it. He asked me if it would be better if he just disappeared into the sunset. I insisted he had a lot more to offer the branch and the NUJ. I’m glad he chose not to sulk. We had eight more years of Guy, his knowledge and experience have been invaluable
It seems strange he will no longer regale me for the nth time about attending the football 1966 World Cup Final, nor the 11.15 am call on the landline which lately would always be Guy. There were times, of course, when he drove me screaming round the bend, but I loved him dearly too and today miss him.
Cailin Mackenzie, Chair of the Continental European Council said of Guy “I met him through the CEC, and the range of his institutional memory of the Council and NUJ was remarkable and useful, especially in my early days as Chair. Outside meetings he enjoyed a beer and a chat and was never without a story, about the NUJ or another of his various interests. He was a memorable and committed activist.”
Séamus Dooley, Assistant General Secretary, described Guy as “a consistent and committed participant in the democratic structures of the union. He added: “Guy enjoyed the cut and thrust of debates at delegate meetings and was a long-standing branch delegate. His passion for social justice was reflected in his work at council and committee level including the Equality Council, DMC, and 60 plus committee. He was also an institution on the Continental European Council”.
NUJ Netherlands branch member Siobhan Wall: “I was sad to hear about Guy’s passing this week. It is hard to imagine the Netherland’s branch without him. He was such an engaged, knowledgeable, and politically astute person. Despite his main interests (beer and football) only occasionally overlapping with mine, he was always interesting and engaging to have around. I will miss his extensive, encyclopedic knowledge of both continental and British trade union matters and campaign histories. He was the Wikipedia of European journalism union matters before Wikipedia even existed. I remember Guy coming to many of my book launches and exhibition openings – indefatigable in his support for a fellow NUJ member. The world is a less interesting place without the political insights of our committed, indefatigable friend and comrade, Guy Thornton.
NUJ Netherlands branch member John Coppock: “I’ll always remember an act of kindness from Guy as my sole spectator when I ran the Amsterdam half-marathon in 2014. I had mentioned that I was doing it at an earlier meeting, and he was concerned that I would have no one there to watch. So he turned up to the event – despite being partially immobilized with walking sticks – to cheer me on. He was there when I crossed the line over two hours later, with a cheery “well done”. I was so chuffed that someone I hardly knew had made such an effort that I treated him to dinner at Gaucho’s, where we enjoyed a steak and a few beers before I limped home. He enquired about how well I was integrating into the Netherlands at many further meetings, with lots of helpful tips on how to get cut-price rail travel, to how the health care system worked – an issue which unfortunately he had some expertise. As I was diagnosed with arthritis and later broke my elbow, we had great fun comparing ailments (Guy always won), and debating whether ibuprofen was superior to aspirin. Despite his many health problems, he never missed an NUJ social gathering that I attended – including two at my home in Delft – feeling that he should show solidarity with his comrades even if he had to get there while still in plaster. I will miss him.
Helmut Hetzel, Honorary Member of the FPA/BPV, and President from 1990 till 1998 writes it’s with deep regrets, The Foreign Press Association of The Netherlands (FPA/BPV – Buitenlandse Persvereniging in Nederland) has to announce sadly, that our honored member Guy Thornton has passed away. Guy was an outstanding and valued member of the FPA/BPV for about 30 years. He reported freelance from Amsterdam for: The Guardian, BBC Radio, New Scientist, Brewers Guardian, and the European Cultural Digest.
Guy was a journalist with intellect and passion. His enthusiasm and energy were irresistible, his questions at every press meeting were inspiring and profound. Guy also liked to debate. He really was a debater! He was able to link his knowledge and his arguments with humor. The range of his reporting was broad: Politics, human interest, economics, and culture. One subject to report about, he liked most: Beer! He pleased the Brewers Guardian and its readers with lots of interesting and pleasant beer-features. A press conference at the headquarter of the Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam would have been unthinkable without Guy.
No surprise that Guy was also a keen member of the British Guild of Beer Writers. After the press conference, having drunk a glass of Heineken beer, what we usually did together, he used to say to me: “Helmut, to be honest, I prefer a British ale.’’ He was really British! Being so British of course, he was a very active member of the National Union of Journalists NUJ in the United Kingdom and Europe. Guy was not only an active member of the NUJ but also of the FPA/BPV in The Netherlands. He even served the FPA/BPV as a board member. As a European and union activist Guy set up the NUJ’s continental European council (CEC) with branches in The Netherlands, Belgium, and France.
Guy was a man of action. It was Guy who phoned me a few years ago. He was angry, very angry. He was upset, even outraged. Why? The reason for his anger was: The then acting FPA/BPV-board had decided to cancel the membership of the International Press Center, Nieuwspoort’’ in The Hague, the very “Nieuwspoort’’ the FPA/BPV is a founding member of. “We can not accept this, Helmut,’’ he said very firmly! We took action, the way Guy wanted it, but regrettably, it was in vain.
Guy, I, we the FPA/BPV will miss you enormously. Rest in peace! The Foreign Press Association of The Netherlands FPA/BPV extends their condolences to Guy’s family and friends.
Former NUJ Netherlands branch member Simon Gleave: In my early days in the Netherlands, Guy was a very important figure to me. We had met each other online when I still lived in London but when I moved to the Netherlands he helped me a great deal. I joined the NUJ (and NVJ) because of Guy, my knowledge of craft beer in this country and Germany is because of Guy, all of the great little pubs I know in Amsterdam are because of Guy. We shared a love of football which meant that I found myself at RKC Waalwijk for an Intertoto Cup match against Bradford City, three months after my arrival here back in 2000. Guy had arranged it all and my education in the Dutch craft beer scene began that night at a fascinating pub near Den Bosch station. I watched Leeds matches with him sometimes, England games too. And what an organiser he was. Often when I met him, there was a group of people he had brought together for the event.
In my first decade here, I regularly met up with Guy at “In de Wildeman” in Amsterdam, somewhere so special to me that I have subsequently met other friends there. However, as time went on I gathered other responsibilities in my life and didn’t see Guy so often. Whenever I did see him, he was so generous to me – taking me to a Foreign Press Association event at the Heineken museum and introducing me to everyone he knew for example. I’ll never forget the way he spoke Dutch (something he also encouraged me in) with his broad Yorkshire accent. That taught me not to worry about having an accent, just learn the language. Guy was a one-off. Generous to the last and a fantastic friend to have, particularly as a British ex-pat. Despite living abroad for so long, he was so so British and, in my early days, it was always nice to meet up with him and talk of home. I am sad to hear of his passing. His generosity, knowledge and organisation will be sorely missed by many many people.
General Secretary of the Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten (NVJ) Thomas Bruning: What a sad message. He was such a familiar face on Tuesday evenings with us. And with so much commitment to the British colleagues in the Netherlands.
Robin Pascoe, on behalf of the DutchNews.nl team: Guy was a permanent fixture in the world of English language journalism in the Netherlands, and will be missed by a great many people. Our condolences to you all.
NUJ membership officer Gary Leney: I am really so shocked and sad hearing today about Guy Thornton passing away, he always seemed to keep going whatever the circumstances, health-wise. I would just like to express my own sincere condolences and to his partner and family, which must be awful for them.
In my many years at the NUJ, I got to know Guy really well, on his regular visits to the London Office and the pub and of course at the Great British beer festival in earls court each year. He was in his element here where he volunteered behind the counter, serving the beer and enjoying countless conversations and deliberations about his passion for an ale with fellow punters.
The other passion being Leeds united for his sins!, but football and his knowledge of it in general and our moments touching on past glories of his team and my own Arsenal (Paul
He was such a lovely bloke and he will be sorely missed by so many people who will not only miss him but will reminiscing and commemorate Guy’s life and the pleasure of knowing him.
John Bailey, a former senior member of the NUJ on a national level, now a life member and still a regular attendee and driver of Sunderland, Shields & Hartlepool branch meetings long into his retirement: Guy was a No 1 nice guy, always ready to chat, to talk about anything that switched you on and was instantly identifiable in pub, restaurant, or on host town seafront as that delegate who shambled up to the rostrum to deliver his contribution to a motion, amendment or point of order with a chuckle or smile. For me, he typified the gentle, social side of the NUJ. I note among the tributes he really loved the late Bob Norris, which fits. I’ll pass your link on to Bob’s wife Pauline, now in Singapore with their family. I’ll remember Guy tonight, sad that his Netherlands-based colleagues will be poorer for picking up the phone never again to hear his Yorkshire tones.
Cathy Scott, branch Welfare Officer: I was shocked and saddened to hear of Guy’s sudden death recently. A founder member of the Branch, he always seemed to be around at every event and meeting, thereby contributing to a sense that he would somehow continue to be around forever.
His resilience in the face of umpteen medical problems and accidents was unparalleled. Almost as long as I knew Guy, he had been accompanied by an ever-changing succession of hand bandages, wrist supports, knee braces, crutches, mega-plasters and other medical paraphernalia in all the colours of the Dutch health system. If anyone asked him about his ailments, he would happily tell them – at length – usually leading to a certain green tinge appearing in the other person’s complexion. And if Mr Thornton’s blow-by-blow accounts of his bodily ailments ever put you off your lunch, never fear: Guy would happily hoover it up for you.
His clumsiness was legendary: if there was a paving stone to be tripped over or a bike to be fallen off, Guy could be trusted to come up with the goods. But he always reappeared at the next Branch meeting, good-natured as ever, wondering why it had again happened to him. He somehow always bounced back. In fact, his indestructibility was so pronounced that when he had an unfortunate encounter with a tram in Amsterdam a few years ago, the initial reaction of more than one of us was to solicitously enquire as to the health of the tram.
Guy did have other little eccentricities too, such as a surreptitious love affair with the NVJ photocopying machine that he would visit after everyone else had escaped to the pub, not to mention a somewhat hit-and-miss approach to fashion and hairdressing, but his friendliness and commitment to journalistic ideals made him a valued member of the NUJ family. And like so many others in that warm family, I shall miss Guy, his big, open character and all his little foibles.
See the tributes from Natasha Hirst, chair of the NUJ’s equality council and Chris Frost, chair of the ethics council.
See the obituary on The Guild of Beer Writers website.
Do feel free to send in any personal memories and tributes to add to this page. Please send to email@example.com
Condolences should be sent to:
Mark Thornton, his brother at firstname.lastname@example.org; his sister, Linda Knight, on email@example.com; Kaye, Guy’s partner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The family has not made any specific requests but agree that a donation to the National Union of Journalists charity NUJ Extra would be an appropriate one for Guy.