Hugh Prysor-Jones was a brilliant journalist and consummate broadcaster across a range of BBC radio and television programmes for 20 years. But his natural home was as presenter of the BBC World Service Newshour programme during the tumultuous 1990s.
He was born in 1949 in Liverpool, first child of David and Ann Prysor-Jones, both doctors. Two Davids in one house was one more than the norm so he became Hugh.
From Bishops Court Prep School in Formby he won a scholarship to Downside School in Somerset then secured a scholarship to Merton College, Oxford, where he achieved a First in History. A BPhil in African Politics followed and then two years (1972-74) as a Harkness Fellow at Northwestern University and UCLA, developing his interest in Political Science and African Studies.
While job-hunting on his return to the UK, Prysor-Jones taught history in a London secondary school. He discovered to his dismay that some of his 13-year-old charges couldn't really read. He proceeded to teach them with Rolling Stone magazine as their primer.
He could have been an academic but that was not enough for him. He was drawn to journalism and in the mid-1970s joined West Africa magazine. He began to contribute to the African Service of the BBC World Service, where Mike Popham was a senior producer. "It soon became clear that we needed to snap him up on a contract," Popham recalled. "He was a natural at the mic, able to chat with African politicians including Idi Amin as well as with an unexpected guest like Muhammad Ali."
Prysor-Jones emerged from the African Service into a thrice-daily current affairs programme, 24 Hours. Among those who worked there it was known affectionately as "Twenty Four Horrors". He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of world affairs and appeared somehow to absorb from the atmosphere information about new players and emerging issues on the world scene. He understood strategy, and when interviewing the powerful could unsettle and occasionally disarm them by probing deep into their schemes and motives.
In 1985 Prysor-Jones moved to the BBC domestic service with Radio 4's File on 4 and the occasional Analysis and was a regular presenter of Newsstand. He reported for Panorama and Newsnight and presented a succession of radio series and single programmes, his deep scepticism and sharp intellect always testing and challenging the prevailing narrative on current issues.
In one notable exchange, his interview with Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila, took a theological turn with the Cardinal surprised to find a BBC interviewer able to trade quotations from Thomas Aquinas on the extent to which Catholic doctrine required the church hierarchy to stand up to a tyrannical regime. The brothers of Downside would have been quietly satisfied.
International affairs remained his passion and he returned to the World Service in 1990 as a presenter of Newshour, successor to 24 Hours. Lindsey Hilsum, now international editor of Channel 4 News, was a Newshour producer.
"I remember after broadcasting open-ended for many hours during the Gulf War of 1991, we had run out of interviews and packages with two minutes before the news, so I had to ask him to fill the airtime," Hilsum recalled. "He gave a fluent summary of the events of the day, with analysis, and then said, 'I'm sorry, that's all we have time for...' at a few seconds to the top of the hour. No other presenter could have done it with such elegance and mastery."
All of this professional activity might be enough for most people but Prysor-Jones was also carrying on the West Dorset equivalent of crofting. In 1980 he bought Manor Farm, a thatched farmhouse dating back to the 11th century, along with a dozen acres of ground in Stoke Abbott where he lived with his partner, Ingrid Hull. They reared sheep, hens and geese. A succession of terriers made their mark.
There were many visitors and animated discussions in the kitchen. His long-standing friend, Michael Stenton, said, "I remember going to Manor Farm for the first time, when it was wholly unimproved and, also, wonderful. We made cider from the orchard with a proper press in 1987. The village turned out to see it happen – for the first time since autumn 1943. It was a special moment."
A chronic health condition compelled Prysor-Jones to give up the gruelling 24-hour Newshour schedule in 1999. He did not become idle but joined with friends to set up an independent production company, Television Network International. He and his colleagues found themselves chasing nuclear warheads for sale; they also searched (unsuccessfully) for the body of Che Guevara. He secured an exclusive interview, at some risk, with Hafez al Assad, president of Syria, and made two trips to Serbia and Bosnia, the frontline of the violent disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, in the early 1990s. They were cathartic for him.
He loved to look after people, starting with his young sister, Angela, when their father became ill when she was 14. All his many friends have stories of his kindness and willingness to turn up to help them out of some tricky predicament. While his talents were great and his professional achievements many, the mark that he has left in the memory of his family and friends is his love, good humour and generosity of spirit.
David Hugh Marren Prysor-Jones, journalist and broadcaster: born Liverpool 18 January 1949; partner to Ingrid Hull; died Somerset 5 August 2015.Reuse content