b. 1937 – d. 2021
Piers Plowright was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1998.
Piers Plowright remembered – by Michael White
People are commonly described as saints when all it means is that they have a sympathetic smile. But Piers was more: his smile came from the soul. And every-thing about him said it was a truly good soul. Radiant, kind, generous, impressive.
I first knew him as a neighbour. He was living at the end of my street (or more accurately I was at the end of his, since he was there long before me), and we recognised each other through involvements with the BBC. He was retired from making endless radio programmes through the years, with award-laden distinction; I presented them, as best I could.
He took an interest in me and what I did – but then he took an interest in everyone and what they did, from newspaper proprietors to people selling The Big Issue. He knew everybody’s name and seemed to be their best friend. Which may well have been the case.
He was undoubtedly a friend to me when I had problems in my life. We met in cafés. We had outings to museums. He was an unfailing source of good, wise, practical advice. And, best of all, he brokered some encounters that brought light into a lot of darkness – one of them with James Roose-Evans that resulted in an invitation to join James’s Sunday meditation group.
More broadly, Piers was a familiar presence on the streets of Hampstead, almost permanently based at one or other of its pavement cafés; at the Heath ponds, where he swam regardless of the temperature; in the small Roman Catholic church at Holly Place, where he devoutly went to Mass; in places like Burgh House, where he presented public talks with public figures, most of them his friends; and, not least, in the pages of the local newspaper, the Camden New Journal, where he reviewed books. Kindly.
But then Piers was born in Hampstead, growing up in Church Row as the son of a well-loved GP. And though he subsequently lived and worked abroad, the pull of NW3 proved strong. It’s no surprise that one of his creations at the BBC had been a daily soap opera based loosely but identifiably on Flask Walk in the centre of the village.
In retirement he remained a legendary name in public service broadcasting, asked back to reminisce about what happened in the days when it was better funded, better thought of, and perhaps more principled. And when he wasn’t doing that, he painted pictures (with exuberant panache), wrote poetry, and did good works. It would be tempting to add ‘settled into sainthood’ if that didn’t sound comedic or extravagant, and something Piers himself would have dismissed as nonsense. But in many ways it wasn’t nonsense. To have known him was to think that it might just be true.