Sir Gordon Linacre, Opera North’s first Chairman of the Board for 20 years, has died at the age of 94. In his obituary for the Daily Telegraph, Martin Vander Weyer, Member of the Board, has summarised Sir Gordon’s extraordinary life: ‘a decorated RAF bomber pilot who became the doyen of Britain’s provincial press as chairman of Yorkshire Post Newspapers and deputy chairman of United Newspapers.' Linacre forged a distinguished career as a journalist, editor, executive director and then the managing director of Yorkshire Conservative (later Yorkshire Post) Newspapers. After the group was taken over by United, the Newspaper group maintained its editorial independence and Sir Gordon rose to the helm of United, also remaining Chairman of Yorkshire Post Newspapers until his retirement.
Linacre supported the idea of Opera North from its earliest stages in the 1970s, contributing to the climate of enthusiasm and pride when Leeds and the Grand Theatre were chosen the new Company’s home. Linacrehad joined the steering group when the Company was English National Opera North and was approached by Lord Harewood to be the first Chairman of the Board when the Company became independent in 1981and changed its name to Opera North. All his contemporaries on the Board recall his passion and unwavering support:
Vander Weyer, Trustee for Opera North: 'Linacre was a man of indefatigable energy, precision and determination — a formidable leader when circumstances required, but also highly convivial. Despite what he called “a powerful inclination to interfere”, he gave his editors full control of the content of their papers once he felt he had made the right appointment. He went on to chair Opera North’s board of trustees for two decades, fighting battle after battle to secure sufficient public funding for survival.'
Nicholas Payne, General Director of Opera North between 1982 and 1993, recalled ‘the absolute magnificence of Gordon Linacre’ when the Company was under pressure to merge with Scottish Opera in 1984/85. ‘It really was his finest hour.’ Vander Weyer: ‘Linacre’s response was so forthright as to leave assembled arts leaders gasping in admiration.’
Richard Mantle, Opera North's General Director: 'I cannot recall anyone so passionate and enthusiastic for the work of the Company and his pride in our achievements was immense. I for one was always grateful to be on his side of the table when there were difficult funding discussions to be had!'
I came across Sir Gordon Linacre as a ‘Man of Letters’ when working my way through Company archives for the Opera North book, marvelling at the clarity, the style and the flair of his communications. Here was a man who was at the pinnacle of his combined professional roles: the journalist, the businessman and the chairman. He was devoted to Yorkshire, to journalism and to the arts – in many ways, his service to Opera North brought those passions together in this ‘wonderful advocacy for the Company from a really articulate Chairman’ (Christine Jane Chibnall, Planning Director for Opera North). For example, in a letter reacting to a delay in an Arts Council decision on the Company’s subsidy, Sir Gordon referenced the Yorkshire textile tradition to make his point:
‘In this part of the country we know an awful lot about cutting coats according to the cloth, but in the Arts world it is extremely difficult establishing the size of the cloth and since we want as splendid a coat as the Arts Council once believed the world outside London deserved, the prospect of funds from the Arts Council is a critical factor.’
It was the vision of men like Sir Gordon and Lord Harewoodwhich brought Opera North about and made it into the exceptional Company it continues to be. Their names and the ideals they stood for are still at the heart of the Company – not least through the two rehearsal rooms, built during the Transformation period in 2006 and named Linacre and the Harewood studios.
Ric Green, Opera North's Technical & Operations Director: 'Sir Gordon was a passionate supporter and advocate who stood shoulder to shoulder with the executive - however bad the financial situation he never lost faith in us and our collective artistic ambition.You just felt safe on his watch!'
Richard Mantle: 'Until he died, Sir Gordon remained our President and everyone of us at Opera North will be eternally grateful for him and all he stood for.'
Link to Telegraph Obituary by Martin Vander Weyer:
Link to Opera North book (including the Company’s history from its beginnings: