Goodbye Peter Hopkirk, legend of Fleet Street, writer on Central Asia and good man

It occurs to me, more and more frequently these days, that we don’t often cherish the wonderful people we know when they still live. I thought of this particularly last week during a memorial service at St Brides church in Fleet Street that the Hopkirk family organised for their father, Peter. As my old friend Denis Taylor recalled for us some of his memories of working with Peter, and as Peter’s children and grandchildren spoke of the much-loved father and grandfather they had lost, I thought of my own – much smaller – loss, of not making an effort to seek him out in his last decade, when he would have had time for former colleagues and admirers.

If you wish to find out more about Peter’s journalistic achievements, his narrow escapes from dangerous places, his books on Central Asia and his wisdom and interests, you cannot do better than seek out the many obituaries that the press published on him in the wake of his death last August. In particular, I recommend the long obituary in The Times – whose brilliant authors I know, but am not at liberty to tell you!  Here I would like to recall Peter’s kindness towards junior colleagues and his patience to give them more confidence and to guide them to write better. Denis told us that when Peter himself started on The Times in 1966, he went to a senior writer on the paper to ask for advice. He was told: Write exactly as you have done until now, but make sure your paragraphs are twice as long!

Only five years of my being on the paper coincided with his, from 1980 to 1985, but I remember that every time he passed through the newsroom, he stopped by my desk to chat and to re-assure.

The organist and choir of St Brides bestowed full honour on Peter’s life with their fabulous musicianship. We heard Kyrie from Haydn’s Mass in Time of War, Tomas Luis de Victoria’s O Quam Gloriosum and Faure’s Sanctum from his Requiem. But I found the rector’s heavy invoking of Christian dogma a little overdone, particularly as Peter – though the son of a vicar – was not into God at all. At the reception afterwards, I grumbled a little to his son James. He had been over-ruled on the matter, he said.

The gathering proved altogether a memorable day and an occasion also to meet again the many old friends and colleagues with whom I had lost contact. For it all I am grateful to Peter’s wife Kathleen and to the rest of the extended family also. They had gone out of their way to spend a fortune on the service and on the accompanying booklet on Peter’s life and writings. Furthermore, they strengthened my new resolve to seek out long-lost friends before one or the other of us similarly becomes lost to seeking out!

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About Hazhir Teimourian, FRAS.

'Late love, if kindled, leads to scandal', says an old Persian proverb : Why bother 'to blog’ at 71? I find myself these days – August 2011 – one of the few grizzled old men of Middle East commentary still walking. Even though I was last on regular public view in 1996 – in the pages of The Times – broadcasters still remember. On some particularly hot days – and the past six months of the “Arab Spring” have seen many hot days – the BBC arrange for me to give up to 24 interviews to their innumerable national and local radio stations before breakfast: Every 8 minutes from 6 to 9, one of them is connected to my ISDN line – a miracle of modern technology that turns your desk into a radio studio – and that station gets about five minutes of reflection on the subject that’s making headlines. This is partly explained by their own correspondents being stretched in the field, and partly by the convenience of the high-quality sound that the ISDN line provides. At short notice, it may prove hard to get a younger, more attractive commentator to a studio. But it must also have something to do with the bonds of friendship that develop across the years between broadcasters and print journalists - even in the political class generally - across ideological lines. Until recently, I had on my noticeboard a fading piece of paper bearing an address in the City, in the Barbican. It was written by the late and beloved Brian Redhead – the John Humphries of his day – and it was his home address. One morning in 1990 in the Today office in Broadcasting House, he dragged me to his desk and wrote down the address and asked that I visit him and his wife at home. Unfortunately, I never did. In those days – remember the gassing of the Kurds of Halabja in 1988 by the accursed Saddam or the invasion of Kuwait in 1990? – it sometimes felt as if I lived at the BBC, to the annoyance of the Foreign Desk at The Times. (I was told that Simon Jenkins, at one of his first morning conferences as Editor, had asked: “Who is this man Teimourian who is everywhere described as of The Times”? Later, he told me – or threatened me – that he read every word I wrote, but was also gracious enough to ask me to have breakfast with him at the fabulous Connaught Hotel, where he lived.) Thus I have accumulated many ‘friends’ I have never met, from Sydney to Calgary, through Dublin, Glasgow, Cardiff, Belfast and New York. Sorry for the digression. Why am I starting what the young call a ‘blog’ in my 8th decade? Well, first of all, let’s see whether it lasts and whether anyone will read it. It’s probably a whim and one last attempt at weaving my way into the company of the glamorous young. I was once their darling and old longings die hard. As the Persians say: Eshqe piri, gar bejonbad / Sar be rosva’i zanad (Late love, if kindled / Leads to scandal.) But assuming it lasts, it won’t do any harm to hear the occasional reflections of a man who has watched the world from the privileged position of the British media superpower for over 40 years. If it becomes embarrassing, hopefully my family and friends will gently let me know that it’s time I spent the remainder of my time in the greenhouse talking to my aubergine plants. A glimpse of my career and some of my past writings can be found at www.HTeimourian.net or www.KhayyamByTeimourian.net . You may also be interested in www.MigrationWatchUK.com and www.BalancedMigration.com . I am on the Council of the former, under Andrew Green, and a non-parliamentary member of the latter. The Group is chaired jointly by Frank Field (Lab.) and Nicholas Soames (Con.) and includes such non-partisan figures as former Archbishop Lord Carey and the former Speaker of the House of Commons Betty Boothroyd. Update (April 2017): for more up-to-date information, please see www.ConsolationsOfAutumn.com or my Author Profile on Amazon.
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