Obituary: Sir David Hunt

"ONE MAN in his time plays many parts", but few have played as many and so effectively as David Hunt. University don, diplomat, author, archaeologist, television celebrity and army officer: Hunt successfully filled all these roles. Witty and down to earth, his encyclopaedic memory and fast incisive thinking were notably demonstrated when he was confronted in public debate, in providing an impromptu speech, or in resolving an intractable problem.

He was born in 1913, the son of Canon Bernard Hunt. Precociously, at the age of three he learned to read and write. He was educated at St Lawrence College, Ramsgate, and Wadham College, Oxford. His Firsts in Mods and Greats pointed to a career in academia and in 1937, at the age of 24, he became a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford.

The outbreak of the Second World War, however, changed everything. He joined the First Battalion of the Welsh Regiment and became an officer attached to Field Marshal Alexander's staff; Hunt was responsible for drafting the final despatches of Lord Alexander as Supreme Allied Commander. He served in the Middle East, the Balkans, North Africa and Italy. He rose to the rank of Colonel, was mentioned three times in despatches and awarded the US Bronze Star.

Hunt enjoyed his war service and seriously considered a career in the regular army. Already though, under the influence of Lord Alexander, he had made an application to join the diplomatic service. But a skiing accident resulted in a complicated compound fracture of his left leg. The wound turned septic and there was talk of amputation. Hunt reflected: "It would be awkward to be a one-legged diplomat but a one-legged soldier would find his career possibilities even more restricted". So, wistfully, he turned down the army offer in favour of that from the diplomatic service. In the event the wound was healed by the new magic of penicillin and the leg made stronger than ever by the insertion of a couple of stainless steel screws. By that time, though, "my course was set and I haven't regretted it. The diplomatic service has been good to me."

In 1950 he became Private Secretary to Clement Attlee, whom he found very amusing and extremely good company. With a change of government he became Private Secretary to Winston Churchill, who proved not so easy to serve but he stood up to the Prime Minister, and as a sounding board, but not a passive one, he assisted in the preparation of the PM's speeches.

In 1954 Hunt was posted to Pakistan as Deputy High Commissioner. Then, in 1960, as Under-Secretary of State in the Commonwealth Relations Office, he accompanied Harold Macmillan on his tour of Africa, where he drafted the memorable "Wind of Change" speech.

In 1962 he went as head of mission to Kampala, Uganda, the first of his four High Commissioner appointments. They proved to be far removed from the public image of diplomatic life as a quiet and dignified pursuit. In fact, Hunt became involved in the suppression of an army mutiny in Uganda.

To add to his stress, his wife, Pamela, whom he had married in 1948 and by whom he had had two sons, left him. Their marriage was dissolved in 1967 and Hunt was granted custody of the children. Later, while in Uganda, he met and married his second wife, the dynamic and glamorous Iro Myrianthousis, whose family had large trading interests in West Africa. She was a journalist in her own right, the editor of the Lagos Weekly. Her Greek connections revived his interest in the Greek classics.

Meanwhile, Hunt was appointed High Commissioner in Cyprus, then in a state of virtual civil war. With his fluent Greek - he spoke seven languages ("after the first two it's easy") - and his excellent rapport with the charismatic Cypriot leader Archbishop Makarios, he helped to stabilise Anglo-Cypriot relations. From Cyprus he returned to Africa, as High Commissioner in Lagos, Nigeria and, from that standpoint, regarding the unity of that nation as paramount, directly and through the Wilson government, steadfastly supported the Nigerian government led by General Gowon throughout the Biafran civil war. In so doing he suffered considerable obloquy from large sections of parliament and the press.

His last diplomatic appointment was as Ambassador to Brazil. Here, he and his wife were an extremely popular couple and despite the necessity always to be accompanied by bodyguards, because of the constant fear of kidnapping, managed to bring out Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev and the entire Royal Ballet. Later, he described Brazil as the best time of his life; so much so he wrote a book On the Spot: an ambassador remembers (1975) about this.

His retirement from diplomatic life, in 1973, was but the beginning of a new phase of activity for Hunt. Diversely, he was director of the Observer newspaper, chairman of the Governors of the Commonwealth Institute, President of the Institute of Hellenic Studies. He became a regular and disputatious book reviewer for the TLS and other papers and wrote books. A Don at War (1966) was an outstanding success. His love of military history was reflected in his drafting of the history of the Italian Campaign. He edited the Times Yearbook of World Affairs from 1978 until 1981. Together, he and his wife produced several lavishly illustrated historical books, the last of this series being Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus (1989) - this title, also, was that of the opera which the Hunts sponsored at the Festival Hall this summer.

Hunt had great presence and always looked the part, never more so than when in 1977 he entered the BBC TV competition Mastermind. With his prodigious memory he won and became a celebrity overnight. In 1987 he became Mastermind of Masterminds in its 10th anniversary contests. He modestly explained his winning as a matter of reading and keeping one's nerve.

A bon viveur, a peerless host, David Hunt enjoyed life. He loved his music, his roses, his claret and his dogs, Rio and Apollo, but, above all, he loved his wife, who brought him so much happiness throughout his second marriage. She survives him, together with his two sons.

David Wathen Stather Hunt, diplomat: born 25 September 1913; OBE 1943; Private Secretary to Clement Attlee 1950-51, to Winston Churchill 1951- 52; Deputy High Commissioner for the UK, Lahore 1954-56; Head of the Central African Department, Commonwealth Relations Office 1956-59, Assistant Under- Secretary of State 1959-60; CMG 1959, KCMG 1963; Deputy High Commissioner for the UK in Lagos, Federation of Nigeria 1960-62; High Commissioner in Uganda 1962-65, in Cyprus 1965-67, in Nigeria 1967-69; Ambassador to Brazil 1969-73; married 1948 Pamela Medawar (two sons), 1968 Iro Myrianthousis; died London 30 July 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...