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Moorhouse, Geoffrey (1931–2009), journalist and author, was born on 29 November 1931 at 371 St Helens Road, Bolton, the son of William Heald, insurance agent, and his wife, Gladys, née Hoyle. When his mother remarried in 1942 he took the surname of his stepfather, Richard Moorhouse, a draughtsman. Leaving Bury grammar school at eighteen, he was conscripted for national service as a coder in the Royal Navy. On returning to civilian life in 1952 he made a start in journalism as a reporter on the Bolton Evening News. After two years, indulging the enthusiasm for travel and adventure that would define his life, he crossed the globe to New Zealand, where he worked on three newspapers, including the prestigious Auckland Star. There he met Janet Marion Murray, whom he married in 1956. They moved to England the following year, and had two sons and two daughters.

Moorhouse worked briefly on the News Chronicle in London before in 1958 joining the Manchester Guardian (which became The Guardian in 1959). It was there that he began to find his voice as a perceptive and sensitive writer about places and communities, examining their resonance and atmosphere. In 1963 this talent was recognized when he was appointed his paper's chief features writer and at the same time was invited by Penguin Books to write The Other England, a volume in their series Britain in the Sixties. In this, his first book, his brief was to investigate those regions of England that did not share the glamour and sophistication of what he called the ‘golden circle’ around London. He roamed the north, west, and east of the country for eight months, concluding that the great divide was not economic or geographical but an attitude of mind, in that metropolitan southerners persisted in regarding other parts of the country as ‘unsmart or uncouth’ (G. Moorhouse, The Other England, 1964, 190).

Giving up full-time journalism in 1970 to concentrate on books, Moorhouse produced some twenty-four, including admired works about New York (1988), Sydney (1999), and many cities and areas of Asia (starting with Calcutta in 1971). His restless instincts were a factor in the break-up of his first marriage, and in 1974 he married Barbara Jane Woodward. That year also saw the publication of The Fearful Void, in which he described his attempt in 1972–3 to cross the Sahara Desert from the Atlantic to the Nile, a distance of 3600 miles, riding camels and accompanied by a single guide. He claimed that the principal reason for undertaking this risky, even foolhardy, expedition was to conquer fear, ‘the most corrosive element attacking the goodness of the human spirit’. In a telling instance of the rigorous self-analysis that ran through his work, he added: ‘What we have to learn and relearn and not forget is how not to be destroyed, crippled or merely reduced in spirit by fear’ (The Fearful Void, 18). In this case the fear was justified. A series of disasters befell his expedition, including the death of several camels when he took the wrong route and bypassed water holes. After five months he had covered 2000 miles—the last 300 on foot—and decided reluctantly to give up.

That near fatal experience did not dull Moorhouse's appetite for adventure. In 1976–7 he spent a year as a deep-sea fisherman in Gloucester, Massachusetts, described in his book The Boat and the Town (1979). A few years later he tested himself to the limit again, spending three months in the Khyber region of the Hindu Kush. The resulting book, To the Frontier (1984), won the Thomas Cook award for travel writing. By then his second marriage had broken down and on 7 July 1983 he embarked on a third, to Marilyn Isobel Edwards (b. 1946), daughter of Gordon Francis Edwards, physician. After their divorce in 1996 he lived with his final partner, Susan Bassnett (b. 1945), literary scholar, in Gayle, near Hawes, Wensleydale, North Yorkshire.

Travel was one of four main strands of Moorhouse's writing: the others were religion, sport (rugby league and cricket), and the history of the Tudor period. Acknowledging the disparate range of his interests, he described himself as ‘an unreconstructed generalist’ (G. Moorhouse, Great Harry's Navy, 2005, xiii). Yet the constant factor in his work was a commitment to the craft of writing. In the introduction to the first of his books on the Tudors he wrote of his ‘conviction that the very best historians for a general readership combine scholarship with what has been called the difficult art of literature’ (G. Moorhouse, Pilgrimage of Grace, 2002, xiv).

Religion was a recurring theme. Brought up as a Christian churchgoer, Moorhouse maintained his Anglican faith while persistently examining it. His first book on the subject was Against All Reason (1969), an account of monastic life. Its argument was that the sacrifices made by those who devote themselves wholly to their religion seem irrational to most people, but ‘a man finding his way to salvation must sometimes fly in the face of reason’ (G. Moorhouse, Against All Reason, 1969, 242). His final work was The Last Office (2008), describing the dissolution of Durham Cathedral Priory in 1539 and its rebirth as the chapter of Durham Cathedral. He died at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, north Yorkshire, on 26 November 2009, after a stroke. He was survived by his partner, Susan Bassnett, and three of his four children (a daughter having predeceased him).

Michael Leapman


G. Moorhouse, The fearful void (1974) · G. Moorhouse, The boat and the town (1979) · G. Moorhouse, To the frontier (1984) · G. Moorhouse, OM (1993) · The Times (27 Nov 2009) · The Guardian (28 Nov 2009); (1 Dec 2009) · The Independent (28 Nov 2009) · Daily Telegraph (30 Nov 2009) · WW (2009) · personal knowledge (2013) · private information (2013) · b. cert. · m. cert. [1983] · d. cert.


Bolton Archives and Local Studies Service, notebooks, diaries, MSS |  Guardian News and Media Archive, memoir of The Guardian




BL NSA, interview recordings · BL NSA, performance recordings


obituary photographs

Wealth at death  

£322,348: probate, 26 March 2010, CGPLA Eng. & Wales