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Lensman who captured Minster fire dies aged 90

An “eccentric” former daily newspaper photographer who was the only professional to capture the 1984 fire at York Minster on camera has died aged 90.

Tributes have been paid to James Marsden Mitchinson, known as Mitch, who was the first photographer on the scene of the devastating blaze.

Mitch spent around 35 years at the Yorkshire Evening Press – now known as The Press, York – having served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War and also working in Intelligence.

He died of pneumonia at his home in Leeds, where he lived alone.

York fire

One of Mitch’s photographs of the 1984 blaze

Former fellow photographer John Giles said: “He was always very smartly turned out, with a beautifully trimmed beard.

“He could be forthright, and the label eccentric could be applied to him.

“He always gave 110 per cent and helped in the training of a whole series of photographers at the paper who won it so many awards.

“His biggest pictures were of the fire at York Minster in 1984. It was a global event and while many turned up in the aftermath, he was the only professional photographer to be there taking pictures while it was burning.”

Former Press photographic editor Martin Oates paid his own tribute.

He said: “He was a true professional. There was a story of how he fractured his pelvis or hip but carried on working, using his tripod as a crutch, and was found in the darkroom, saying he would just put his pictures through before going to hospital.

“On the night of the Minster fire, he was on duty and must have heard about it and went down there to photograph it.

“He was a real character and quite eccentric, and was known by many people. He was always very dapper with a suit and tie, and was very helpful when I was a junior there.”


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  • January 20, 2015 at 11:21 am

    Worked with Mitch as a cub reporter (hi Johnny G and Martin O!). Not so sure about smartly turned out; but a real gentleman and certainly eccentric.
    I was always told he had long ago bought bits of an old vintage car and was slowly reassembling them over many years in his front room in York. Later on I was told that one day it dawned on him that he might have a problem driving it out. Maybe its apocryphal? I do remember him using a tripod as a crutch though.
    A dry line in put-downs but a great help to the young ‘uns at the time.
    Any funeral details

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  • January 21, 2015 at 11:11 am

    Mitch was great company and a fine photographer. He took me under his wing as a young reporter in the days when the Yorkshire Evening Press was a brilliant hot-metal paper based in the heart of a great city. It was a privilege to be there and to work with him. I seem to recall a tale of Mitch breaking his leg on an assignment but insisting on returning to the dark room and processing his prints before going to hospital.

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  • January 21, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    Off topic and with all due respect to the man, ‘The Press, York’ replacing ‘The Yorkshire Evening Press’ as a title is such abject nonsense that those responsible for the change should be thoroughly ashamed, even if they are – as seems likely – sales persons (aka Bean Counters) that circumstances have placed in the current driving seat.

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