A combination of expertise on Machiavelli, Michelangelo, the Renaissance, Japanese
history and contemporary political life, and on Rome is not a commonplace feature
among journalists even of the old school of scholarly craftsmen in our trade: yet all
that was part of the near-unique range of polymathic qualities of George Bull, OBE,
who has died aged 71.
The word 'remarkable' has come to be used freely in obituaries, perhaps almost a cliché. In George Bull's case it is more than justified. He was an example of the exceptional journalist – never satisfied with the search for information and explanation in any one subject, constantly reaching out for fields as yet unconquered by his restless, inquiring mind; no doubt spreading his talents far too widely as he was forever irresistibly drawn in search of the Holy Grail.
No doubt because of his Catholic upbringing he was early on attracted to Italian culture and art and developed a love of Renaissance Italy. He translated for Penguin books Vasari, Cellini, Castiglione, Aretino and Machiavelli. His book The Prince is a classic of its kind and remains in print having sold over a million copies. His biography of Michelangelo, first published in 1995, is a notable contribution to the volumes written about that extraordinary genius of the 15th and 16th centuries. Yet throughout all this he remained the working journalist, brilliant interviewer, excellent reporter and a distinctive editor.
George Bull was born of working class parents in the East End of London and was very young when his father died. His mother, Bridget, came from an Irish immigrant family and was the principal support for the family. They were devout Catholics and George was educated by the Society of Jesus, and institution for which he retained a life-long regard since it was the Society that took him to Wimbledon College and from there to Brasenose College, Oxford. Even at Wimbledon he was already showing signs of the budding journalist when he started and edited a school magazine called The Distributist inspired by George's devotion to the ideas and writings of G K Chesterton. After Oxford he was recruited to the Financial Times by that paper's great talent-spotting editor Sir Gordon Newton – first as a reporter and then, in succession, Foreign News Editor between 1956 and 1959. He then switched to the London Bureau of McGraw-Hill World News as News Editor until 1960 when he joined The Director which under his and Eric Foster's control effectively became the British equivalent of Fortune Magazine albeit without the marketing thrust of its American counterpart.
George Bull was successively Editor and Editor-in-Chief of The Director from 1960 till 1984. Two years after leaving The Director George took on a job with a completely different perspective – Director of the Anglo Japanese Economic Institute, an organisation whose title conceals more than it reveals since it is one of the principal Anglo-Japanese bodies in the UK, linking Tokyo with the widest range of British political, industrial and cultural activities. And, as the organiser-in-chief of this rather special, if largely unpublicised, institution George Bull became a kind of de facto Anglo-Japanese Ambassador at large in London. For which, in 1999, he was awarded by the Emperor of Japan the highly prestigious Order of the Sacred Treasure (Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon) of Japan. Just to add a typical element of Bull ecumenicalism to all this he was also awarded, in the same year, the Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory.
There were no boundaries to George Bull's activities: he launched and ran a series of monthly and quarterly journals dealing with Japanese affairs: an independent journal on Central Banking and another journal to analyse the psychological aspects of international conflict, International Minds. He was a Director and Trustee of The Tablet and The Universe; Governor of Westminster Choir School and St Thomas More School and of St. Mary's College, Strawberry Hill 1976-87. Member of the UK Committee, European Cultural Foundation since 1987 and co-founder and Director of the Institute for Public Enterprise Studies started in 1996. He was appointed OBE in 1990.
And, even as he struggled with uneasy health his astonishing energies were never at rest: he was in the process of writing a new study of Dante when he was struck down with heart failure. Like all his work it would have contained that essential essence of George – dedication, intellectual candour, enormous spiritual resource and a wonderful gentle humanity.
George Bull leaves a widow, Doreen 'Dido' Bull, two sons and two daughers.
George Bull, OBE; journalist, writer, translator, consultant; born London, August 23, 1929 – died London, April 6 2001.