Saturday, 6 August 2011

Alex Steinweiss

Alex Steinweiss
Alex Steinweiss also designed film title sequences and the poster for the original Casino Royale movie. 
Alex Steinweiss, who has died aged 94, pioneered the concept of record album covers, when music was still released on 78rpm shellac, and was the inventor of the LP record sleeve. In 1939, while designing ads for Columbia Records, Steinweiss suggested adding art to the company's 78 releases, which were then generally sold in heavy paper and, for multiple-record sets, packaged in plain, book-like binding. His first cover featured the title of a collection of Rodgers and Hart show tunes up in lights on a theatre marquee. A Bruno Walter recording of Beethoven's Eroica showed a huge increase in sales with its new sleeve, and Steinweiss became Columbia's art director.
The advent of the long-playing 33⅓ record brought Steinweiss's vision to the fore. The heavy paper used for 78s damaged the narrower and more delicate grooves on the LP record, so Steinweiss designed the folded-over board format sleeve which quickly became the standard packaging for LPs. Although it was patented in his name, its rights were retained by Columbia.

Album cover designed by Alex Steinweiss  
Steinweiss's first cover was for a collection of Rodgers and Hart show tunes. 
  The cover's format was like a small canvas which lent itself to artistic experimentation, and Steinweiss's work was highly symbolic, incorporating elements of abstraction, and even cubism. His cover for George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue showed a piano standing under a streetlight on an otherwise blue background; for Paul Robeson's Songs of Free Men, he showed a slave's chained hand holding a knife. The distinctive "Steinweiss scrawl" of his signature typeface became instantly recognisable, and soon many artists, including the conductor Leopold Stokowski, were demanding that only Steinweiss should design their covers.
His passion for music came from his father, a shoe designer who had emigrated from Poland to the US and met his wife, a seamstress from Latvia, in New York, on the Lower East Side. They moved to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where Steinweiss was born. At Abraham Lincoln high school, a collection of marionettes he made for an art project attracted the attention of the teacher Leon Friend, author of the influential book Graphic Design (1936). Steinweiss was one of a group of four schoolmates whom Friend dubbed "the art squad".
After a profile of him appeared in Robert Leslie's design magazine PM, Steinweiss received a scholarship to Parsons School of Design (now Parsons the New School for Design), in New York. Looking to turn professional, he approached the illustrator Boris Artzybasheff, who convinced him to finish his degree instead. After graduating in 1937, he showed up at the studio of the renowned German poster designer Lucian Bernhard, who was so impressed with Steinweiss's portfolio that he found him a job in his friend Joseph Binder's studio.
Shortly after starting his own studio, Steinweiss was hired by Columbia, on Leslie's recommendation. During the second world war, he joined the US navy, where he designed posters while continuing to design for Columbia at night. After the war, he stayed with Columbia as a freelancer, opening the way for a legendary line of art directors including Neil Fujita and Bob Cato. This fertile period produced the cover for which he might be best known, the original 1949 Broadway cast album of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, which remains in use today.
In the 1950s, he branched out with the major labels Decca and London and smaller ones such as Remington and Everest. He designed film title sequences, the poster for the original Casino Royale (1967) and labelling for a number of distillers. He continued designing record covers until the early 1970s, by which time he began to feel out of touch with the trends in contemporary music.
He moved to Sarasota, Florida, in 1974, to concentrate on ceramics and painting, under the pseudonym Piedra Blanca. His series of paintings Homage to Music is based on works by the great composers. In the past decade he had designed CD sleeves for small classical labels including Koch and Bridge. In 2000 he received a lifetime achievement award from the Art Directors Hall of Fame. He has been the subject of two books, For the Record (2000) and Alex Steinweiss: The Inventor of the Modern Album Cover (2009).
Steinweiss's wife, Blanche, died last year. He is survived by a son, Leslie, and a daughter, Hazel.

• Alex Steinweiss, graphic designer, born 24 March 1917; died 17 July 2011

Friday, 5 August 2011

Iain Crawford

Iain Crawford
Iain Crawford was a Fleet Street columnist
Iain Crawford, who has died aged 89 after suffering from Alzheimer's disease, was the first publicity director of the Edinburgh festival. He was a festival fixture in his own right, from the first gathering in 1947, when he was a reporter on the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch as well as a stand-in Banquo in a fringe production of Macbeth, through to last year's opening concert in the Usher Hall, which he attended in a wheelchair.
Crawford was a vigorous and charismatic figure: tall, often kilted, handsome, usually bearded, with a permanent twinkle playing around his blue eyes. He wrote two dozen books, was a versatile Fleet Street columnist and indulged his sporting enthusiasm on the rugby field with Bordeaux – he was making radio programmes in France just after the second world war – and over many rounds of golf with his friend Sean Connery. He lost out in an audition to be the BBC's Scottish voice of rugby to Bill McLaren.
But Crawford was best known as the imposing publicity director of the Edinburgh international festival, appointed in 1973 when the festival society ended its practical relationship with the Scottish Tourist Board. For nine years, he worked alongside the festival's long-serving artistic director Peter Diamand and his ebullient successor, John Drummond.
Crawford persuaded Princess Grace of Monaco to meet the press when she came to Edinburgh in 1976 to give a rare public performance – an evening of prose and poetry readings. He fixed the festival's first major sponsorship deal (with BP) in 1977 for Carmen, conducted by Claudio Abbado and starring Teresa Berganza (singing her first Carmen) and Plácido Domingo. This "hot ticket" event demonstrated how Crawford operated best: as heavily involved behind the scenes – as support system, intermediary and translator, thanks to his full command of Italian and French – as he was up front with the media.
He had told the critic Andrew Porter, then writing for the New Yorker, that the production would be something special, but Porter had delayed his response. The minute Carmen opened, and word was out, Porter was on the line asking for a ticket. Crawford found a single spare return, from Abbado's wife, bought it for £20 (a huge price in those days) and Porter flew across. Crawford was rewarded with a four-page rave review for Carmen in the New Yorker, but he never got his money back.
This and other stories are recounted in Crawford's wonderful scrapbook history of the festival, Banquo On Thursdays, published in 1997. Drummond was a noisier director than Diamand, and Crawford did not get on with him terribly well, but his profile of him in the book, like those of every festival director from Rudolf Bing to Brian McMaster, is absolutely priceless.
The Scotsman's music critic Conrad Wilson was a cantankerous monitor of Drummond's music programme, and took to "dressing down" for concerts, often sporting a brightly coloured ballpoint pen on a chain. Crawford reported how the acerbic Drummond was asked at a concert interval: "What on earth is Conrad wearing around his neck?" "His deaf aid, I should imagine," came the reply.
Crawford was born in Inverness, raised in Glasgow and educated there at Jordanhill college school. Too young to join the Royal Navy at the outbreak of the second world war, he signed up with the merchant navy. His ship was torpedoed while on the way from Sierra Leone to the US in 1942, and he spent 10 days in a boat with a few survivors, rowing 560 miles to reach Trinidad.
He took part in the allied invasions of Sicily, Italy and Yugoslavia and entered Venice on the last day of the war in Europe, remaining to help clear mines in the lagoons and acting as a liaison officer for the French and the Italians. Crawford was twice mentioned in dispatches for his bravery during the war. His journalism took him to London, as travel editor of the Sunday Express and leader writer for the Evening Standard. He wrote widely on many subjects, and in 1964 stood unsuccessfully as a Liberal candidate for Stroud in Gloucestershire.
He was married to Maya Querini, the actor Norah Laidlaw and, finally, the publisher and choral singer Kathy Hay, who survives him, along with four children, three stepchildren and 13 grandchildren.

• Iain Padruig Crawford, arts publicist and writer, born 21 January 1922, died 12 July 2011

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Herbert Whone

Herbert Whone
Herbert Whone was deputy leader of the Scottish National Orchestral from 1955
The violinist Herbert Whone, who has died aged 85, was an artist in the broadest of senses. His work encompassed painting in oils, photography, the writing of several books, and the playing and teaching of the violin. Probably for reasons of financial security, he never relied on art alone, although his paintings are covetable; indeed, he probably found it difficult to choose between art and music. He needed them both, and excelled in both.
Whone was born in Bingley, West Yorkshire, where his parents were both employed in the cloth mills. He was encouraged by his mother to "improve" himself culturally, and from an early age took photographs and practised the violin. After education at the Royal Manchester College of Music (now the Royal Northern College of Music) and Manchester University, he secured positions in the Royal Opera House orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, before moving to Glasgow in 1955, where he took up the position of deputy leader of the Scottish National Orchestra.
He was inspired by Glasgow's changing fortunes and painted a series of notable canvases featuring the beauty of a city in transition. His painting of trams and shipbuilding, to pick two of his fondest subjects, were presented with warmth and beauty, almost impressionistic in their depiction of glowing sunsets and use of rich colour.

Herbert Whone  
Whone's Yorkshire paintings included Haworth Graveyard 
  In 1964, Whone took up a teaching post at Huddersfield Polytechnic. Time and money were not constraints for him, and he gave his students much more than the hour of violin lesson that they were due. In many cases he remained friends with them for life. Here was philosophy, a fascination with different religions, professionalism in art, and a tremendous skill playing the violin and teaching it to generations. He was unworldly. Indeed, one of his pupils recalled that if he turned up for a lesson evidently not in the mood, they'd go out for a cup of tea. Whone would probably pay for the tea.
He gave regular BBC recitals with Keith Swallow, but never made commercial recordings, his thoughts distilled into The Simplicity of Playing the Violin (1972), with a foreword by his friend Colin Davis and illustrated with his own drawings. Two further volumes, The Hidden Face of Music (1974) and The Integrated Violinist (1976), followed.
Whone moved to Harrogate in 1972, remaining there for the rest of his life. His photographic output included the books The Essential West Riding (1975) and Fountains Abbey (1987). Whone was a National Trust guide at Fountains Abbey for many years, and developed a Pied Piper following, rather in line with his teaching, as he conveyed his enthusiasm for this place. He held two one-man shows at Fountains Hall, in 1989 and 1995.
His diverse legacy also includes Nursery Rhymes for Adult Children (1985). He created in his photographs, his cartoons and his paintings another life professionally executed, and far beyond any amateur dabblings that a musician might deliver as an adjunct to his day job. A selection of musical cartoons, drawn during his time with the Royal Opera House orchestra, have yet to see the light of day.
Herbert Whone married Margery Reed, whom he met at university. She predeceased him. He is survived by five children, the eldest of whom, Adam, played the violin and is now a notable maker and restorer.

• Herbert Whone, violinist and artist, born 14 June 1925; died 16 May 2011

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Lord Marsh

Lord Marsh
Marsh at a British Rail Board press conference, 1976.
It used to be said of Harold Wilson, during his difficult early years in office as prime minister, that he looked in his mirror every morning and saw Dick Marsh. A charismatic young Labour MP who had already made his name in parliament, Marsh, who has died aged 83, was widely regarded as a possible future leader of the Labour party.
He had impeccable qualifications for the post: a working-class background, further education at Ruskin College, Oxford, and a former career as a trade union official. He had been an office boy in the gloomy basement of Transport House, the Labour party headquarters, and had made influential political contacts through the Labour club at Oxford.
He was a brilliant speaker, an impressive broadcaster long before the days of media training and a charming, humorous, likeable character. He joined the first Wilson government when it was formed in 1964, and within four years was a member of the cabinet as minister of transport. But his political career was swiftly over, and his anticipated potential in politics never fulfilled, probably largely because of a profoundly pragmatic streak in his make-up which led him to speak his mind and to promote his personal interests above those of his original political party.
In 1971, he left the House of Commons to become chairman of British Rail at the invitation of the Conservative transport secretary, Peter Walker, abandoned his membership of Labour, pursued a successful career as an industrialist and in the financial services industry, and from 1981 sat in the House of Lords - to which he was appointed by Margaret Thatcher - as a crossbench peer.
As for many young men, Marsh's first political sympathies were to the left of the mainstream within the Labour party, and at a party summer school the journalist Paul Foot recalled that his exposition of his political views was a "terrific encouragement to all young Trots". Born in Belvedere in Kent, the son of a foundry worker, he grew up partly with his grandmother in Swindon, where he went to Jennings school until the age of 15. He had attended weekly engineering classes at Woolwich Polytechnic, but his developing political interests led him to apply to work at the Labour party, and from there he won a scholarship to Ruskin.
It was a natural career move for him to become a trade union official. In 1951 he joined what was then the National Union of Public Employees as its health services officer, and learned invaluable negotiating skills as a member of the Whitley council for the National Health Service. He fought the safe Conservative seat of Hereford in the 1951 election, and secured his selection as the Labour candidate at Greenwich wearing a prominent CND badge, although this was quietly discarded when he arrived at Westminster in 1959 and became a protege of Hugh Gaitskell.
His maiden speech came on his second day as an MP, in the debate on the address – intervening, he suggested improbably, with feelings of diffidence: "I am convinced that the key to all our hopes and aspirations in the field of economic activity lies in the maintenance and improvement of industrial relationships," he said. "The time has come to remove the aspidistras and the odour of mothballs from the negotiating chambers."
He also had the considerable good fortune of coming top in the ballot to promote a private member's bill from the backbenches and, through a judicious choice of subject and with the assistance of the Conservative government, introduced what became the 1960 Offices Act. The legislation introduced basic standards of health and safety in office premises, and he pointed out in his speech introducing the bill that the greatest aspiration for children from families such as his was to secure an office job. The legislation was later further improved by the government and became the famed Office, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963, copies of which were displayed on office walls throughout the land.
His early posts in government after the 1964 election were as a junior minister at the Ministry of Labour for one year and then at Technology for another. He then became minister of power for two years, closing 100 pits during that time, until in 1968 Wilson promoted him to succeed Barbara Castle as the minister of transport, with a seat in the cabinet. He celebrated his new job, he admitted privately, by driving at 90mph on the M4.
His appointment was not a success, not least with Castle, who regarded him as a dilettante, not really interested in pursuing his policies and proposed legislation. She pleaded with Wilson to sack him on one occasion, claiming that he was "cynical, superficial and lazy", and the prime minister did indeed subsequently sack him after just a year in the post. It caused considerable surprise at the time, and Wilson wrote later that he did not intend to exclude Marsh for long from office, but that Marsh enjoyed leaking stories to the newspapers about his own heroics in cabinet to the disadvantage of his colleagues round the table. His political impetus was probably best described by Castle: "He just can't help going where his reasoning leads him, even if his reasoning doesn't fit into any consistent ideological pattern."
Marsh's main mistake in dealing with a prime minister who was paranoid about leaks was to make some disobliging comments about his fellow ministers to Joe Haines, unaware of the fact that the previous day Haines had left his job as a journalist to become the No 10 press spokesman. Haines regarded Marsh as a poor decision-maker who expected the prime minister to solve his department's problems.
By 1971, Marsh was becoming more interested in the bottom line than the party line, and he enjoyed considerable publicity, if not popularity, during the five years he spent at British Rail, at the end of which he was knighted. Then came 14 years (1976-90) as the head of the Newspaper Publishers' Association, during which time there was considerable controversy about the growing issue of press intrusion. However, little was done about it. Bernard Donoughue records in his memoirs that Marsh was regarded as "hopeless and idle" in the post.
He was an active member until 2005 of the House of Lords, where he delighted in parking the Rolls-Royce with which he was provided by the NPA. He told the Lords in his maiden speech in 1981 that he had changed his view of politics. He joked that he lay awake at night worrying about the leftwing tendencies of Margaret Thatcher's famously rightwing economics adviser, Professor Milton Friedman, and underlined the difference from his first parliamentary speech by speaking of "the danger of underestimating the irreconcilable and fundamental conflict between politics and industrial management".
In his final career in management, he was deputy chairman (1980-83) and chairman (1983-84) of TV-am. To his involvement with a series of financial services companies, consultancy work with Nissan and business interests in China he brought a wealth of experience as a member of the National Economic Development Council and the council of the Confederation of British Industry. In later years he chaired Business for Sterling, an organisation opposed to the euro.
He took a close interest in defending the role of the crossbenches in the House of Lords, but did once campaign for the Conservative candidate in the Greenwich byelection in 1987, thus assisting the SDP's Rosie Barnes in winning the formerly Labour seat. His autobiography, Off the Rails, was published in 1978.
Marsh was married three times. He was married to Evelyn Mary Andrews, known as "Andy", from 1950 to 1973, and they had two sons. Following their divorce, in 1973 he married Caroline Dutton, who died two years later in a car crash with Julia Jacobs, wife of the broadcaster David Jacobs, as the two couples drove together on their way to a holiday in Spain. In 1979 he married Felicity, the daughter of the businessman and economist Lord McFadzean of Kelvinside.

• Richard William Marsh, Baron Marsh, politician and businessman, born 14 March 14 1928; died 29 July 2011

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Bernardine Freud

Bernadine and Lucian Freud
Bernardine and Lucian Freud
Bernardine Freud, who has died aged 68, had many talents. She was an exceptional gardener, a job she did professionally; taught writing – both creative and literacy; published poems, articles and books under her maiden name, Coverley; and was an expert at tango.
She loved to travel, spent several years in Morocco, went to Cuba and Russia as soon as it opened its borders, and in order to venture through South America, taught herself Spanish. On her 60th birthday, she announced she wanted to spend more time in Mexico, and not long after set off there to work in an orchid nursery in the mountains. On returning, she wrote a book about her experiences, Garden of the Jaguar: Travel, Plants and People in Chiapas, Mexico, which she published herself in 2010.
Bernardine was born in London to Irish Catholic parents who ran a pub in Brixton. Evacuated during the second world war, and sent away to a convent boarding school from the age of four, she developed a fiercely independent spirit, and when the family moved to Ireland when she was 15, she did everything possible to get back to London. It was the late 1950s and she had already discovered Soho and the nightclubs of Notting Hill, and caught a glimpse of Lucian Freud, who was to become the father of her daughters.
She was an extraordinarily practical and resourceful person, feeding her family from her own garden, teaching herself the Irish drum, taking an Open University degree in English literature and never letting anything stand in the way of her dreams. She took huge pleasure in nature, and the last 16 years of her life were spent in the Suffolk countryside, where she made many friends and led an extremely full and varied life, teaching, writing, gardening, dancing and always making time for her children and grandchildren.
Although she parted from Lucian when her daughters were young, they remained on friendly terms, last visiting him just a few weeks ago, bounding up the stairs to where he lay in bed, never imagining that she would only outlive him by four days. She died two weeks after walking into Ipswich hospital, where she was diagnosed with cancer.
The day before, although not feeling her usual vibrant self, she had been at Rumburgh drum camp, in Suffolk, attending an Egyptian dance workshop and playing the bodhran.
She is survived by Esther, Bella, by her son, Noah, and by four grandchildren.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Gen Abdel Fatah Younis

Abdel Fattah Younes
Younis addressing a rally in Benghazi in July as rebel commander-in-chief
General Abdel Fatah Younis, who has died aged 67, was a key figure in Muammar Gaddafi's 1969 coup d'état against King Idris of Libya. Younis remained within Gaddafi's inner circle and, until recently, served as his interior minister and commander of special forces. However, on 22 February this year, Younis unexpectedly defected to the Libyan rebels based in Benghazi, in the province of Cyrenaica, who made him commander-in-chief, with Omar al-Hariri as head of military affairs and Khalifa Haftar, with whom Younis came into conflict, as commander of ground forces.
A good-looking man with a shock of white hair, Younis was a charismatic figure and his defection raised the morale of many rebels, who had idealism but lacked military training. When asked what kind of democracy he wanted, he said he envisioned "a genuine democracy in which we Libyans can lead a five-star life. Libya earns $150m with its oil in a single day." Some rebels, not least the Islamists, nursed fierce grievances over Younis's harsh record as Gaddafi's effective number two. Younis defended his legitimacy as a rebel, arguing that he had only accepted the post of interior minister for the past three and a half years on the condition that he would never have to fire on his own people. He told a journalist that he had written to Gaddafi in January warning him of unrest and of anger over rising food prices. Gaddafi had sent the letter back with the text crossed out in red pen, as a warning.
Many commentators expressed scepticism at Younis's defection. The BBC's John Simpson has suggested that Gaddafi may have sent Younis to Benghazi to arrange a Tiananmen Square-style massacre of demonstrators but that the rebels captured him; Younis then promptly announced that he had planned to join them and the rebels found it convenient to go along with this possible fiction. The New Yorker's Jon Lee Anderson has written that it was possible that Younis had genuinely decided to do the right thing by defecting, but concluded: "At worst, he was a rank opportunist with the moral scruples of an octopus. That, to me, seemed more likely."
Given his valuable military expertise, Younis was soon criticised for failing to deliver victory for the rebels against Gaddafi's regime in Tripoli. Some complained that although he made sporadic visits to the frontline at Brega in the Gulf of Sirte, he left untrained youngsters hopelessly manning the front while he remained safely at his Benghazi base. Rebels in Misrata, east of Tripoli, were said to have refused to take orders from Benghazi. Gaddafi's approach on Benghazi in March was only aborted by the intervention of the French airforce.
Younis was born in the Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain) area, east of Benghazi. He went to the Libyan military academy in Benghazi with Gaddafi. When Gaddafi carried out the coup against King Idris on 1 September 1969, Younis took control of the Benghazi radio station. He rose quickly to the rank of general and for 41 years headed Libya's special forces. In 1992, he attended a key meeting with the British ambassador to Egypt where he apologised for Libya's involvement in the killing of the British police officer Yvonne Fletcher and offered to extradite her killers. He also admitted Libyan support for the IRA and offered compensation for their victims.
Confusion has surrounded Younis's death. On 24 July, he was reported to have been killed under "mysterious circumstances" in the Fourth Battle of Brega. Younis himself revealed this to be untrue in a radio interview the next day. He was then shot, along with two colonels, on 28 July, the day he had been recalled by the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) to answer questions about the war to a panel of judges. The NTC's oil minister told the press that the gunmen who shot him were members of the Obaida Ibn Jarrah Brigade, an Islamist militia group loosely attached to the rebels. The Gaddafi government's spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, suggested the killing had been carried out by al-Qaida. The motive for his killing may have been the suspicion that his family, who are from the Obeidi tribe in eastern Libya, had maintained links with Gaddafi. In April, Gaddafi's daughter Aisha refused to reject the suggestion that Younis remained in contact with her father after his defection. Younis's death came shortly after 32 nations, including the US and the UK, formally recognised the NTC as Libya's legitimate government.
At Younis's funeral, his son Ashraf called for Gaddafi's return to bring stability back to Libya. "We want the green flag back," he shouted to the crowd, referring to Gaddafi's national banner. It was a risky display of emotion in a region so supportive of the rebels.
Younis is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.

Abdel Fatah Younis, military leader, born 1944; died 28 July 201

Saturday, 30 July 2011

George Kimball

George Kimball
George Kimball was as well known for his disdain of authority as he was for his ability to meet deadlines
George Kimball, who has died aged 67, deserves a place with the great sportswriters. As a columnist for the Boston Phoenix and Boston Herald, he covered all sports, displaying an uncanny ability to cut through the persiflage and get to the core of a story or a personality.
He was a rare raconteur who could write with the same fluency with which he spun stories, conveying through the grace of his prose the intimacy of an audience gathered in a smoky bar. A robust figure, with ginger beard and pot belly, chain-smoking Lucky Strikes, Kimball was as well known for his disdain of authority as he was for his ability to meet deadlines, no matter how hard the previous night's session had been.
When he was diagnosed with inoperable cancer of the oesophagus in 2005, he was given six months to live. He ignored the doctors, continued smoking, and began working to leave behind something less ephemeral than his thousands of columns. One result was Four Kings (2008), a tale of the great middleweights Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, who dominated boxing in the 1980s, its last era of greatness. Any fight that drew George to Britain, or even better Ireland, became a holiday in itself. The British boxing press recognised one of their own, and to be caught at a bar between George and Hugh McIlvanney, Colin Hart or Ian Wooldridge was,  infinitely preferable to negotiations with promoters or indeed my bosses in New York.
Although George fits in seamlessly with the Runyonesque traditions of great boxing writers, his route to the daily papers was unusual. He came to this hardboiled field as a literary hippie. Born in Grass Valley, California, he was the son of an army colonel, grew up on bases around the world and entered the University of Kansas, in the city of Lawrence, on a US navy officer training scholarship.
He was soon drawn to campus protest against the Vietnam war. In 1965 he was expelled for picketing the local draft board, having been arrested for lewd conduct over an offensive placard. It was the first of half a dozen arrests. According to Kimball, his father claimed he would have retired as a general had his son's anti-war profile not been so high.
Having worked on a poetry magazine, Grist, he headed for New York's East Village poetry scene, and got a job at the Scott Meredith literary agency, assessing the work of would-be writers and ghostwriting. His poetry was published in the Paris Review, and in 1967 the Olympia Press brought out his sole novel, Only Skin Deep.
He sold pieces to the Village Voice, Rolling Stone and Playboy, but in 1970 returned to Kansas to run for sheriff against the Republican incumbent who had arrested him in 1965. He ran unopposed in the Democratic primary as the self-proclaimed leader of the "Lawrence Liberation Front" (a hippy group), and used the unwinnable election to indulge in political theatre which included an appearance by the radical activist Abbie Hoffman.
After the election, he moved to Boston and its excellent weekly "alternative" paper, the Phoenix. His column, the Sporting Eye, was an immediate hit, drawing the counterculture community into the world of sport. Its title referred to his own glass eye, which he claimed replaced one lost in a youthful bar-room brawl.
Kimball finally quit the Phoenix in 1979 after one too many confrontations with his editors. He moved to the Boston Herald in 1980, where his columns ran until his retirement in 2005. In 1997 he began a column, America at Large, for the Irish Times. His contributions were collected in a book of the same name, published in 2008. He also co-wrote Chairman of the Boards: Master of the Mile (2008), the runner Eamonn Coghlan's autobiography. After Four Kings, Kimball edited two collections of boxing writing with John Schulian and published a collection of his own boxing writing, Manly Art, earlier this year.
Kimball is survived by his fourth wife, Marge, whom he married in 2004 in a ceremony conducted by George Foreman, and by a son and daughter.

• George Edward Kimball, sportswriter, born 20 December 1943; died 6 July 2011