Obituary: Michael Montgomery

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The Independent Culture
MICHAEL MONTGOMERY was remarkable for a versatility which embraced international broadcasting and the law.

As Deputy Head of the BBC Czech Service, he played a vital role in shaping BBC programmes to Czechoslovakia in the 1968 Prague Spring and his dazzling linguistic skills stood out even in the highly experienced, polyglot community which inhabited Bush House in those days. Under the guidance of Hugh Lunghi, who had interpreted for Churchill at Yalta, Montgomery brought fresh energy and journalistic enterprise to the Czechoslovak section of the BBC External Services in the run-up to, and the immediate aftermath of, the aborted Dubcek revolution.

Although by no means a dedicated ideologue, he well understood the realities of Eastern European Communism and Soviet foreign policy. But he also impressed colleagues by his swift response to events with a strong human interest element like the Torrey Canyon fiasco.

Born in Liverpool in 1941, the son of Robert Montgomery, a barrister on the North West Circuit, Michael Montgomery was educated locally at Holt School and went on to St Catharine's College, Cambridge, where he read modern languages, starting out in orthodox fashion on French and German, later switching to German and Polish.

Montgomery liked a challenge and legend has it that he dropped into a Cambridge bookshop one day, searching for a language to study in his spare time which would really intrigue him. He emerged determined to master Czech, which of course he soon did. Having already picked up Spanish at school, it was perhaps inevitable then that he should gravitate to foreign broadcasting. He joined the BBC in 1962.

After his big success with the Czechoslovaks, he turned his attention in the late Sixties to Latin America and Brazil. Learning Portuguese gave him no problems: he rapidly devoured the basic "Teach Yourself" book. But he ran into managerial difficulties, far from all of his own making, in his new post and quickly moved on to take charge of the Central Book Unit in Bush House which supplied scripts to all the various language sections. He accomplished this task with characteristic elegance, humour and efficiency, unawed by the reputation of either reviewer or reviewed.

However, sensing that his promotion prospects had been diminished, Montgomery studied for the Bar examinations in the evenings and at weekends. He took an early interest in the then relatively obscure subject of European Community law and found great fun and relaxation in weekly lunches with a small group of friends in the Gay Hussar before it became overwhelmingly fashionable. There was a strong sense, especially among younger members of the staff, that the BBC had lost a most valuable talent when in 1972 he decided to move on.

Leslie Stone

Called to the Bar in 1972, Michael Montgomery established a practice on the Northern Circuit based in chambers in Liverpool, writes Christopher Blake. In the late 1980s his work was moving towards a specialisation in the prosecution of fraud cases. Not surprisingly in such circumstances the establishment of the Serious Fraud Office attracted his interest and he joined that office on its creation in 1988.

Independent in thought and action, he returned to the Bar in 1990. Continuing to practise principally in the area of serious fraud prosecution, he was appointed standing counsel to the Department of Trade and Industry in 1991. He combined his practice with an editorial role with the periodical European Law.

In recent years his experience and judgement had been employed in serving as a Chairman of Social Security Tribunals and as a senior Immigration Adjudicator.

A man of considerable intellectual capacity, he was however always approachable and ready to help and encourage others who couldn't match his abilities. This, combined with a sharp waspish wit and his humour, made him exceptional company.

Robert Michael Montgomery, broadcaster and barrister: born Liverpool 2 March 1941; married 1963 Anne Hurrell (three sons, two daughters); died Arrowe Park, Merseyside 6 September 1998.