JOHN Sheard, a former Fleet Street journalist and long-running columnist on the Craven Herald has died at the age of 82.

He wrote more than 500 columns for the Herald. His Dalesfolk profiles of people ranged from the rich and famous such as the Duke of Devonshire to ordinary people who played a key role in the community, such as the woman behind the checkout till at Skipton Co-op who had a friendly word for every customer.

He was also the man behind the Curmudgeon, a satirical column about a fictitious resident of a non-existent Dales village who railed against the influx of second home-owners, inconsiderate campers and council bungling.

It was this column which was to produce his only ever libel writ - which was vigorously and successfully defended - when one resident claimed to be a target of his satire. John had never heard of the litigant.

Born in Derby and educated at Derby Grammar School, he spurned university, opting to join the Derbyshire Advertiser on the lowest rung, as a copyboy.

He started and finished his career on strikingly similar newspapers, but in between spent 20 years in and out of Fleet Street, covered the troubles in Northern Ireland, delved into the police investigation in the Yorkshire Ripper murders and campaigned to save ancient York from the hideous attentions of the 1960s town planners.

He always said his career came full circle, starting and finishing at a rural weekly newspaper with adverts on the front page.

As a reporter for the Nottingham Evening Post, he covered Grantham when Margaret Thatcher was first standing for Parliament - and had a row with Alderman Roberts, her father “the most boring man I have ever had to report”. He then freelanced, first in the Home Counties – which he hated - and in York, which he loved.

It was in York in 1964 that he formed an alliance with the up-and-coming architect Dr Patrick Nuttgens, later to become director of Leeds Metropolitan University, who was campaigning against 1960s “brutalist” planning development in York.

When Dr Nuttgens resigned as adviser to York City Council over plans to build a bowling alley opposite historic Micklegate Bar, the story John wrote made the front pages of all Britain’s quality papers.

He was proud that his stories led to a major review of planning procedures in historic towns like York and Bath and said it was the most important story he ever wrote.

In York, John met and married Valerie, his wife of 46 years, who was a graduate of York College of Art and then worked as a set designer at the city’s famous Theatre Royal. They have two grown-up children and three grandchildren.

From York, John joined the Sunday Mirror to go to Ireland to write features for a new, all-colour edition being pioneered in Belfast. Instead, he ended up covering the Troubles.

He returned, briefly, to Fleet Street with the Sunday Mirror but was happier up north and joined the paper’s Manchester office as northern chief reporter. He won a Cudlipp Award – the Mirror’s highest honour – for his investigation of the failings of the police attempts to snare the Yorkshire Ripper, but this was a rare highlight in years of growing frustration.

Unhappy at having to do increasing work about “celebrities” and pop stars he joined the Lancashire Life, and then became group editor of the Life series of 12 county magazines.

He decided to go freelance and moved to Skipton in the late 1980s and in 1993 was commissioned to start his regular columns for the paper. He always said it was his happiest time in journalism.

“I always knew I would end up in beautiful countryside writing for a country weekly. I didn’t think it would have ads on the front page, but that made it even more like coming home,” he said when he retired from the Herald in 2010..

John also loved fly fishing and his allotment at Aireville Park and for many years he had a caravan at Kirby Lonsdale where he and his family spent many happy weekends. He was also a vice-president of Skipton Rugby Club.

In recent years John had problems with his balance but that did not stop him from continuing a habit picked up from his Fleet Street years - a daily lunchtime pint where he loved to natter with old friends and acquaintances.