Brian Abrahams, a founder of the Comet newspaper and a long-time servant of Hitchin, has died at the age of 86.

He was a publishing pioneer, launching one of the first free newspapers in Britain - the Marlow Times - with John Wade.

Working in advertising, his great idea was that newspapers would be able to extend their reach and advertising income if they were freely available, rather than being paid for.

It was this idea that he brought to fruition with the Marlow Times and the Comet.

Born on October 23, 1937 in the East End of London, Brian Irving Abrahams first came to Hitchin while working with the Home Counties Newspaper Group.

He initially commuted to their Luton offices from Henley-on-Thames, before moving to Hitchin in 1971 with his wife Sandra, who he had married in 1961.

In the same year that his family moved to Hertfordshire, the Comet was launched.

The Comet: Brian and Sandra at their wedding in 1961.Brian and Sandra at their wedding in 1961. (Image: Geraldine Rand)

Previously, North Hertfordshire had been covered by a paid-for newspaper, the Hertfordshire Pictorial, but the move to a new business model brought a change in name too.

The paper launched as the Sun in May 1971, before the threat of legal action from the national Sun newspaper led to the name changing again to the Comet.

Brian was advertising manager for the Luton news group - which included the Comet - until 1976, when he moved to the Herts Advertiser.

After six years there, Brian left to produce a business-to-business directory and to launch the new Hertfordshire Businessman magazine with Martin Quince and Ken Humphry. They were later joined by Jon Hill, and expanded to include MKH, an advertising agency.

Even after 'retiring', Brian was full of fresh ideas. He launched The Lead Generation Club in 2003, bringing together businesses in different sectors to exchange ideas and promote their companies.

Away from work, Brian was active in Hitchin civic life over many decades.

He devoted a great deal of time to Hitchin Priory Rotary Club, serving as its president in 2000-01 and being involved with both publicity and youth activities.

His fellow Rotarians held him in high esteem, and Brian was named a Paul Harris Fellowship by the club in 2006 - the highest award available to Rotarians, granted in recognition of significant service to the local area and the Rotary movement.

Through the Rotary Club, he was involved in raising money for Garden House Hospice, and in the annual pancake race which raised money for many local charities.

During the early 1980s, Brian also served as a governor of Wilshere-Dacre school while the education system was transitioning from the bipartite grammar and secondary modern model to a comprehensive model.

Shortly before, in 1979, he had stood for election to Hitchin Bearton ward as a Labour candidate, missing out by fewer than 200 votes.

Over the years, he also became well-known for his public speaking - giving after dinner speeches and visiting schools to talk about Jewish life.

The Comet: Brian was a devoted servant of Hitchin over many years.Brian was a devoted servant of Hitchin over many years. (Image: Geraldine Rand)

Brian managed to find time for personal passions, too. He enjoyed music and could play the piano by ear. A lover of animals - especially cats - and devoted to his family, he enjoyed watching his granddaughter showjump during his later years.

Travelling was another hobby, with Brian camping all over Europe with his family in a range of ever-expanding tents, before 'upgrading' to a caravan which he used until he could no longer travel.

The caravan was kept at Fakenham Race Course, and Brian was delighted to win the best-dressed couple award there in 2022 with his granddaughter, Adele.

Messages sent to Brian's family since his passing are a testament to the way in which he lived his life - they have described him as "a fine, upstanding person", "a real gentleman in Hitchin", "a legend in the publishing industry", and "a great man". His daughter, Geraldine, said that he is now "finally retired".

Brian died on April 25, following a long battle with Parkinson's disease. He is survived by his wife Sandra, his daughters Geraldine Rand and Iona Medlock, and five grandchildren.

For those wishing to attend, Brian's funeral will be held at 11.30am on Thursday, May 25, at the Arbory Trust's Barton Woodland Burial Ground in Barton (CB23 7BA). 

Donations in his memory can be made to Parkinson's UK.