In the autumn of 1952, the Editor of the Penguin Classics received a letter out of the blue from George Bull who had just completed his finals at Oxford University, proposing a translation of Castiglione's Book of the Courtier and enclosing sample chapters.
E.V. Rieu's reply was that he liked the translations but that if he were ever to embark on the literature of the Rennaissance then Cellini's autobiographical Life would take pride of place. Undeterred, Bull (who was self-taught in Italian) set about the Cellini, which Penguin published in 1956. The direct, colloquial style of the translation was received with critical and popular acclaim and it has been in print ever since.
Over the next 35 years the Penguin Classics series was enhanced not only by the Castiglione (1967) but also by Bull's translations of Machiavelli's The Prince (1961), Vasari's Lives of the Artists (Part 1 1965 and Part 2 1987), Aretino's Selected Letters (1976), Five Rennaissance Comedies (1978) and Pietro Della Valle's Journeys (1989). Other writings on Venice and on the Rennaissance culminated in his masterly biography Michelangelo (1995).
Born in London in 1929, George Bull saw National Service in the Royal Fusiliers before reading History at Brasenose College, Oxford. On going down he was offered a job as a reporter on the Financial Times by that noted talent spotter Gordon Newton, whose catches also included William Rees-Mogg, Andrew Shonfield, Michael Shanks, Jock Bruce-Gardyn, Nigel Lawson, Shirley Williams and Christopher Tugendhat. In his latter years at the FT he was Foreign News Editor, leaving in 1959 for a spell as News Editor at McGraw-Hill's London Bureau.
In 1960 Bull moved to The Director, where he was successively Deputy Editor, Editor and Editor-in-Chief. Over the next 24 years he transformed The Director from the Institute of Directors' narrowly focused house magazine into a journal with extensive coverage of the arts, literature and international affairs as well as thoughtful analyses of developments in the business world. His refusal to accept that company directors were concerned solely with managing their own businesses was reflected in his books about management and about the contribution that the company could make to society. These included Bid for Power (with Tony Vice, 1960), The Director's Handbook (1969 and 1978) and Industrial Relations - the boardroom viewpoint (1972), as well as an abridgement of the Victorian classic Self-Help, by Samuel Smiles, with a revelatory new introduction by Sir Keith Joseph (1986).
In the mid-1980s Bull became convinced that mutual understanding between Japan and 'the West' was one of the keys to world economic development and world peace. He prepared plans for the establishment of an Anglo-Japanese Economic Institute and, in 1986, convinced the Japanese government that they should provide the money for it to start operations. He was the founding Director of the AJEI and complemented its work with two new periodicals which he founded and edited, insight Japan and the Euro Japanese Journal.
What has been the single, unifying force driving force behind these apparently unrelated strands in George Bull's life? What pattern can be discerned in a mosaic formed by the Italian Rennaissance, contemporary management and modern Japan? His writing and conversation were characterised by a quest for understanding - how different situations are perceived by those who are participants, how study of the past can illuminate the present, how one culture is regarded by another.
Among his many publications perhaps the one he cherished most dearly was International Minds, the periodical he started in 1989. International Minds aimed to bring together psychological and international affairs and was the outcome of an extended dialogue with his wife, Dido, as she developed her own independent career. It set out to provide a forum for speculative thinking about world problems. As such its quality has inevitably been variable but it has continued to provide uncomfortable insights - for example on Jewish fundamentalism, the psychology of Turkish-Greek relations, and racial attitudes in Spain - which would have difficulty finding their way into the pages of a refereed journal.
Bull was schooled by the Jesuits at Wimbledon College and his Catholicism remained with him throughout his life. It found practical expression in his work as trustee for The Tablet and The Universe and in his Chairmanship of the International Commission for Justice and Peace (1971-74). His writing about economic and social issues was influenced by Catholic social thought - and especially by Catholic thought - and especially by G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc's Distributism, emphasising the importance of wiely and well-distributed private property.
George Bull had a gift for friendship. He brought out the best in his friends. A conversation with George was not just enjoyable and entertaining - though it was certainly both of those - but it also left you intellectually excited, with new questions in your mind, titles of more books to be read, topics explored. He also had a great gift for celebrating the lives of both the quick and the dead. For example, he instituted dinners to honour the lives and works of both Gordon Newton and Robert Shackleton (Bodleys' Fellow and Professor of French Literature at Oxford), who, in their very different ways were both his mentors.
On 30th of April 1994 he organised a day of celebration of Michelangelo, focusing on the Last Judgement, with lectures, readings, music and food and drink. A 'Chesterton Day' followed in 1995. As recently as last November he was responsible for another glorious day commemorating the quintecentenary of Cellini's birth. Tribute to his own work was paid by Japan in 1999 with the award of the Order of the Sacred Treasure.
In an age of increasing specialisation George Bull was a polymath who refused to be contained within a single profession or discipline. His lifelong search for the elements of mutual understanding between cultures and between peoples enriched all who knew him or who read what he wrote. His influence will be felt long into the future. It was fitting, on the day that he died, that his latest periodical, insight Europe, which he launched in the eighth decade of his life, included a thoughtful article by him on the implications for the future of the Government's decision to hold a referendum on the Euro.
George Anthony Bull, writer; translator and consultant; born London 23 August 1929; reporter, Financial Times 1952-56, Foreign News Editor 1956-59; News Editor, McGraw-Hill World News 1959-60; Deputy Editor then Editor then Editor-in-Chief, The Director 1960-84; Director, The Tablet 1976-2001; Trustee, 1976-2001; Trustee, The Universe 1970-86; FRSL 1982; Director, The Anglo-Japanese Economic Institute 1986-2001; Editor, International Minds 1989-2001; OBE, 1990; President, Central Banking Publications 1990-2001; Publisher, insight Japan 1992-2001; Publisher, Euro Japanese Journal 1994-2001; Publisher, insight Europe 2000-2001, innovation 2000-2001; married 1957 Dido Griffin (two sons, two daughters); died London April 6th 2001.