FORMER County Gazette editor Kenneth Burge has died, a few days before his 90th birthday.

Mr Burge, who joined the paper as a junior reporter during the Second World War, went on to edit the Gazette between 1974 and 1987, becoming editor-in-chief of the Somerset County Gazette series and a director of South West Counties Newspapers.

Among those paying tribute this week was Ken Bird, who joined the Gazette as a trainee reporter and went on to become one of Mr Burge’s successors as editor-in-chief.

He said: "Ken was an outstanding editor who cared passionately about his newspapers.

"He always set a fine example to his staff, both in the way he approached the job and the way he conducted himself.

"I was one of many journalists who benefited from working under his leadership and I am truly proud to have been part of his team."

Author and Radio 4 presenter Michael Ford remembered his old boss as "a man of immense sensitivity, integrity and loyalty" who cared for his staff to an unusual degree.

"Ken was incredibly conscientious, always keen to point out the subtleties of the English language," Michael said.

"He had fervent opinions about the correct use of grammar and, in particular, standards of BBC pronunciation.

"This made a lasting impact on me in writing and broadcasting. Even many years after leaving the paper, I was still conscious that Ken might be tuning into a programme of mine with his acute ear for the spoken word – and he often was.

"He was a tremendous support to me, as he was to many others. We remained very close friends, spending hours together at his home discussing journalism, politics, music and literature about which he was highly informed. He was one of the finest.’

Ken Burge was much respected for his long public service in local government. Throughout his 22 years on Taunton Rural District Council, he sat as an Independent and was council chairman from 1971 to 1974. For many years, he was chairman of Trull Parish Council and was secretary of the committee that raised funds to build Trull Memorial Hall.

A Life Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, he was general secretary of the Taunton and Somerset Music and Drama Festival, a founder member of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society and an ardent supporter of the Three Choirs Festival Society.

He was awarded the MBE in 1988.

He leaves a widow, Phyllis, who was a sub-editor on the Gazette, and two sisters, Melba and Audrey.

The funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.