Michael Adams

Writer and Middle East correspondent
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The Independent Online

Michael Adams was a journalist by profession, but of a quality not commonly found in the hurly-burly of the newspaper business. He had little concern for scoops and sensations; he was sensitive, intelligent and highly literate; and he wrote an elegant and fluent prose.

Michael Evelyn Adams, journalist and campaigner: born Addis Ababa 31 May 1920; married 1957 Celia Pridham (two sons, one daughter); died Exeter 6 February 2005.

Michael Adams was a journalist by profession, but of a quality not commonly found in the hurly-burly of the newspaper business. He had little concern for scoops and sensations; he was sensitive, intelligent and highly literate; and he wrote an elegant and fluent prose.

Born in 1920 in Addis Ababa, where his father was a banker on detachment from Cairo, he was sent to the rather austere school at Sedbergh in Yorkshire (cold baths and fell-running). It was a curious choice for someone with so gentle a demeanour. But inside, he had a toughness which matched Sedbergh's standards and he was never at all interested in high living.

From school he went on to read History at Christ Church, Oxford; a college which, again, did not match his temperament. One can hardly imagine him as a candidate for the Bullingdon Club. He recalled an argument late one night about the coming war. Of those who took part he was the only one who survived the next six years.

When the war came he left his studies and joined the RAF as a bomber pilot but after only brief service he was shot down over the North Sea. Rescued from a dinghy by the Germans after six days in the sea, he spent the rest of the war in POW camps, where he read widely and thought deeply. Poetry - and especially Browning - was a particular love.

Returning to Oxford in 1945 for a couple of years, Adams then worked for the British Council and the BBC and spent a long time travelling, including a year in the United States. A happy chance brought him an offer from the Manchester Guardian, which sent him to Cairo as its Middle East correspondent. It was an area of which at the time he knew little but he was soon plunged into the thick of things by the Suez affair. Like all men of good sense he was horrified by Anthony Eden's folly and produced a book about it, Suez and After (1958). Obliged by the events of 1956 to move his base to Beirut, he there developed, under the influence of what he had seen and continued to see, a compassion for the injustice done to the Arabs which never left him.

Something else happened to him in the Lebanon which lasted his lifetime: he met and married the young Celia Pridham who was working as a nanny with a Foreign Office family. They were to live together lovingly for the next 48 years.

Then began his vocal support for the Palestinians and his criticism of Israel's policies towards them. His reporting angered many of Israel's friends both in Israel and Britain, among them the Guardian's editor, Alastair Hetherington. Adams was transferred to Rome but the job did not last - The Guardian could no longer afford it. He took a year off to live independently with his family in the Italian provinces and produced a delightful book called Umbria (1964).

He resumed writing for The Guardian but after the Six-Day War of 1967 the rift with Hetherington grew worse. The editor refused to publish an article which portrayed an Israeli operation as an atrocity - and Adams left.

From then on Adams' support for the Palestinians' plight absorbed all his energy. Together with some like-minded friends he helped to establish the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) and was its director for a time. In 1971 he became the first editor of a new magazine, Middle East International ( MEI), founded quite independently of CAABU by a group which included the MPs Christopher Mayhew, Ian Gilmour and Dennis Walters and the retired ambassador Harold Beeley, with the aim of promoting a wider understanding in the West of the Middle East turmoil.

In 1984 he retired to a research fellowship at Exeter University and a quiet family life in bourgeois, conservative south Devon. Like Sedbergh and Christ Church this struck his friends as another curious mismatch: he liked to tell how, when he first went to order his daily paper, the newsagent exclaimed in disbelief: " The Guardian, sir? In Budleigh Salterton?" He now had leisure to produce a graceful first volume of autobiography, The Untravelled World (1984). But he never managed to write the second.

He continued to write for MEI and, as a freelance, for other papers and to lecture and lobby on behalf of the Palestinians. This activity brought constant attack from Zionist sympathisers, including charges of anti-Semitism. These distressed him - and no wonder: the idea that this gentle, civilised and deeply liberal man should entertain anything so barbarous as anti-Semitism is absurd and cruel. But it did not surprise him: already in 1975 he had produced, in collaboration with Christopher Mayhew, a book called Publish It Not: the Middle East cover-up, which disclosed the lobby's attempts to silence the critics of Israeli policies.

Adams' qualities of kindness, decency and quiet charm where warmly matched by those of his wife. Together they had a daughter, and two sons both of whom have followed their father into journalism.

James Craig



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