Obituary: Peter Thompson

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Peter Macmillan Thompson, poet, journalist: born 9 June 1940; married 1981 Carmen Pastor (one son); died Norwich 24 November 1993.

In its early years, the Independent employed two poets as foreign correspondents. In addition to James Fenton, in Manila, there was Peter Thompson, who served from July 1988 to the onset of lung cancer in April 1992 as the paper's correspondent in Athens.

Thompson was born in Sussex in 1940 and moved with his parents to South Africa when he was seven. After prep school, he attended St Andrew's, a public school in Grahamstown, and then read Classics at the University of Cape Town. He returned to Europe in the early 1960s, horrifed by apartheid. He drifted 1960s-style. He lived in Crete and Cyprus as well as Morocco where he taught English to air traffic controllers. But he was always writing seriously, and in 1969 his translation of George Seferis's last collection Three Private Poems appeared.

The neo-Fascist coup in Greece in 1967 was a defining moment for Thompson. It was a declaration of war on everything he regarded as decent and valuable about his Greece. When he returned to England he became secretary of the Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in Greece. The late Sir Hugh Carleton Greene was chairman and he subsequently paid generous tribute to the penniless young classicist who, as he put it, 'lived on nothing', serving the cause.

In 1974 the Greek dictatorship fell after organising a botched coup in Cyprus which led to the Turkish occupation of the north, a situation which continues to this day. The provisional government in Athens ordered an immediate cleansing of its London embassy. Thompson was invited in for a few days to handle liaison with the press. He served in the sensitive role of press attache for 14 years. It is to his credit that he never abandoned the hippy uniform he had made his own, appearing on formal diplomatic occasions with shoulder-length hair and flowing beard, wearing an old leather jacket and massive silver CND symbol over a black shirt.

Those of us who specialised in Cypriot and Greek affairs and therefore had regular contact with him, came to value his profound knowledge, his judgement and his decency. We also valued his friendship and his lust for life. I treasure the memory of long, boozy, smoke- filled evenings in tavernas in Nicosia and in north London. There - over countless bottles of retsina and Bellapais - Peter, Christopher Hitchens, George Lanetis, then press attache to the Cyprus High Commission, his successor, Sodos Georgallis, and I resolved the problems of Asia Minor and the Levant. Thompson continued to teach English to foreign students and, in 1978, met a Spanish student, Carmen, whom he married in 1981. She nursed him devotedly in their Norfolk cottage these last 18 months.

In 1983 the Loutro Press produced a volume of his verse simply entitled Poems 1963-1979. It was typical of Thompson that on the book cover, after the word 'Price:' was the note 'as deemed fit'. It was dedicated to Carmen. The final verse of the poem 'Bed-Time Stories' discusses a premature death:

And now for perhaps ten minutes he will

concentrate

with a fierce intensity on what has

plagued him for years,

A sense of some purpose unfulfilled,

a goal,

not yet in view, an identity only partially

realised,

and he will measure, as so often before,

the extent

of his achievements against the proximity

of his death.

Peter and Carmen and all his friends were aware that death was looming too early. There was so much more for him to do. But there is consolation in the measure of his achievements.

Comments