Angus Hone: Charismatic economist who fought bipolar disorder to work for institutions such as the UN and World Bank

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The Independent Online

Larger than life, a complete original, an entire Oxford generation's candidate for "the most unforgettable character I ever met," Angus Hone was a jobbing development economist, a sort of flying consultant-economist to UN agencies, the World Bank, sovereign countries and entire industries. He had also worked recently as night porter in a Worcester hotel. With the generosity, Dionysian energy and bravura of a character in fiction, he reminded me of Thomas Mann's Indonesian Dutch planter, Mynheer Peeperkorn, combined with the connections of Proust's Charles Swann.

Angus was a very large man, about 6ft 5in tall, and brawny. Several people, including his friend and solicitor, Michael Seifert, remember his striking "first appearance in 1961 at AJP Taylor's lectures on mid-19th century history, dressed in a kilt", with correct sporran and hose from which protruded the sgian dubh. Though attending Oxford lectures in Highland dress might be unconventional, there was nothing outlandish, attention-seeking or even eccentric about Angus's choice of costume. Once you were introduced to him it seemed perfectly congruent with his charisma and enthusiasm.

Angus and his younger brother, Russell (there is also a sister, Kirsty), were dressed in the kilt for parties and family occasions by their indomitable Scottish mother, a teacher from Aberdeen, where they had a cottage, though the family house was at Malvern until 1973, when they moved to Evesham. Following Russell's schoolboy exchange to Germany she was universally known as "Mutti." Their father (1890-1985) was a second- or third-generation auctioneer and estate agent and local JP.

Despite the kilt, the family had the strongest ties to England, to the Malvern Hills, and the boys were educated at Malvern College. After an intermediary year teaching in a secondary modern school in the Black Country, Angus went up to Lincoln College, Oxford, on a scholarship to read modern history. He was a flamboyant part of a remarkable Oxford generation of historians, who included Gareth Stedman Jones in the room next to his at Lincoln, Roderick Floud at Wadham, Charles Drace-Francis at Magdalen (with all of whom he shared digs) and Jill Pellew at St Hilda's. It was an era of excitement in the universities, breaking free from the constraints of the 1950s. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was at its acme, and Angus, says Drace-Francis, "was a constant and very visible presence at its meetings."

Though Hone thought of himself as a radical, "he was not particularly politically active for a student in the 1960s," says another friend, "but was once arrested for kicking the South African Ambassador's car." Drace-Francis said: "No one else was quite like him. He could talk all night without boring you and he could listen all night, which made him attractive to female students not always treated as the intellectual equals of the men." To his annoyance, Hone got only an upper second, though several friends say he was not an intellectual, and certainly did not have an academic temperament. Although his knowledge was encyclopaedic, and he relished verbal argument, he did not really enjoy the structured exposition and attention to detail of academic writing.

Angus read as much economics as history, and it was no surprise that he went to the postgraduate Nuffield College to do an MPhil in economics in 1964. He began to spend a lot of time in London, and was involved with the New Left Review, for which he wrote two pieces. His social life then was mostly with Mary Kaldor, the daughter of the Labour economist, Lord Kaldor, and she helped direct his interests towards development economics. Hone started up some sort of consultancy to do with steel, and reforming the British steel industry, while at Nuffield; and got into trouble for using the college's name in an unauthorised way, when The Times printed a letter from him about it on college paper. A later colleague, Tim Lankester, says that even by the late 1960s Angus had "developed a serious expertise on commodity markets, on the economics of commodity production and on economic policy relating to commodities."

Working on short-term contracts Hone wrote reports for an assortment of employers, from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development to the World Bank, the Overseas Development Agency, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Tradeand the Commonwealth Secretariat. He worked in Geneva and Brussels, and spent time in India, where Heather Joshi (who in 1974 shared a flatin Oxford with him, Gary Weberand David Wootton) remembershim "roping me into a textile importing business."

He was, says Lankester, "a popular and valued figure in many developing countries. His clients did not always find his contrarian and sometimes abrasive style easy to handle." Jill Pellew and her husband Mark "saw a lot of him in the late 1960s when we were living in Singapore and then Saigon where Angus came on ODA business. I was teaching in Saigon – vast classes of young students who enrolled in a 'survey' course about European history. I asked Angus to give a guest lecture once and he had them all on the edge of their seats as he talked non-stop for an hour about the importance of the pig in late medieval European economies."

Angus was always on an aeroplane. I remember crossing paths with him at Heathrow. After greeting by name my father, whom he'd never met (but I resembled), he asked where we were bound. "Venice," I answered. "Oh," Angus said without breaking stride, "I'm off to Bombay, but could meet you in six days in either Rome or Paris." In the mid-1970s he moved to a flat in Bloomsbury he shared with his brother, and later with his wife, Cheryll Barron, whom he met on an aeroplane.

Though some thought the younger Angus showed no interest in "drink, music or sport," he had a fine palate (his brother is in the high end of the wine trade). At Oxford Christopher Gutch remembers Angus taking him out to celebrate Vijay Joshi's being awarded a research fellowship at St Johns, and being treated "to some magnificent mature burgundy", while Joshi remembers an occasion with "a '47 or '49 Mouton-Rothschild." As for sport, Angus confined himself to the horses. "His bets were small but the potential winnings through placing multiplier bets large enough to add to the interest of his hobby," Gutch said.

The trouble was that the energetic, voluble, enthusiastic, intense personality with its catholic intellectual interests, was what used to be called manic. His friends sometimes suspected him of folie de grandeur and might have discounted some of his reports of his activities as fantasy, except that he had a way of turning up in Singapore (where the Pellews were posted), Teheran (where the Drace-Franceses were), or, in my own case, at Harvard. Few of us saw the other side of Angus, which was serious depression. He was bipolar, and had his first hospitalised breakdown in 1983-84. He was such a big man that his violent behaviour was almost impossible to deal with, and he had to be sectioned more than once. His marriage also ended.

In the 1980s he was a consultant to Ahlstrom, the Finnish paper company, developed an expertise in the economics of trees and forests and did well with a scheme for the transport of paper pulp. But he spent more than he earned and was made bankrupt, though he was discharged later. "After several years of treatment in and out of hospital in the late 1980s," Tim Lankester says, "he was well enough to join the staff of ODA as a commodity specialist. By this time he had mellowed and he was a respected and congenial colleague. But he was no longer quite the same intellectually driven, forever enquiring professional. He took early retirement around 1994."

While warring with his own demons, the ever-generous Hone found the resources of spirit to look after others. "Angus was one of nature's nurses," Gay Weber says, "constantly looking out for those in need of his ministrations." In later years he had an older fiancée and might well have taken early retirement to nurse her when she got ill. After her death he moved back in with "Mutti" and looked after her till she died in 2004. Freed of his duties as a carer, he became engaged to a younger woman, but they broke up before her death two years ago.

Hone had moved to a room in Worcester, where he became known as a local character, working for a while as night porter in a hotel and making daily appearances at the betting shop. As always, he regarded his occasional winnings not as income but as a fund to spend regaling his friends. He had just got off the bus that took him home from the bookmakers at 6.30pm on 16 October, when he was mugged. He repulsed his attacker but was hit in the face and kicked in the chest. When he went to stay with Gay Weber in London a few days later, she insisted he see a doctor, who treated him for broken ribs. He died from a complication resulting from this injury.

Paul Levy

George Angus Hone, consultant economist: born Tewksbury, Gloucestershire 27 April 1943; married 1977 Cheryll Barron (marriage dissolved); died London 28 October 2010.