George Bull OBE 1929 - 2001

Ambassador Yoshio Okawa

A personal recollection    June 13th 2001

The phone call from Linda Knights was so sudden and so unexpected that I could hardly believe my ears. George Bull had died on April 6th in the midst of a party he was hosting at his home and just as he was handing out glasses of wine to his guests - as I later learned from his wife Dido.

As was seen from the many lengthy obituaries in the London papers, he was a great loss to many, not only in the world of journalism and publishing but also among scholars of Italian culture and particularly of the Renaissance period. And he was a great loss to me personally, as I had known him ever since 1961 when I first met him shortly after my arrival in London to assume my post as Second Secretary (Commercial) at the Japanese Embassy, then located in Grosvenor Street.

One of my immediate tasks at the Embassy was to help in setting up the Anglo-Japanese Economic Institute, the Director of which had just been chosen by Ambassador Ohno through the good offices of George and my predecessor at the Embassy, Moriyuki Motono. I had arrived in London with my family in mid-August, 1961, and George (who was still Mr George Bull to me) kindly invited me to lunch at the Institute of Directors in Belgrave Square where he was Deputy(?) Editor of The Director, if I remember correctly. This was the beginning of our association, which turned into a close and warm friendship which was to last forty years.

In the early days George used to introduce me to many people who became helpful friends and sources of information during my tenure in England. Unfortunately, I remember only a few of their names, but Messrs. Jock Bruce Gardyne, Freddie Fisher and Dick Wilson come to mind even today. The main topics of our conversation in those days were the arduous negotiations towards the Anglo-Japanese Commercial Treaty, and Britain's attempts to enter the EEC; the former was concluded in November 1962, and became a new and important landmark in post-war Anglo-Japanese relations, while Britain signed its treaty to join the EEC in 1972 under the Heath Government.

We also talked about World War II, the A-bombs, nuclear disarmament, the Cold War, the Middle East situation, Apartheid, the two Koreas, the USA's insistence on human rights and democracy for other countries, and a host of other subjects. We were both interested in literature and talked a lot about Graham Greene and Shusaku Endo; George very much hoped that one day he would be able to introduce them to each other; this never materialised but I do believe the two great writers did happen to find themselves in the same lift at the Ritz Hotel one day.

Sometime in mid-1964, my posting in London came to an end and I returned to Tokyo. However, we remained in touch with each other through letters, phone calls and occasional visits between Japan and the UK. I remember urging George to read Jiro Osaragi's The Homecoming and other Japanese writers and, much later on, I introduced him to the works of Robertson Davies and other Canadian writers whom I had come to appreciate during my subsequent posting in Ottawa - which was my final posting before I left the Japanese Foreign Service in 1988. We continued to compare notes; he sent me his translation of Machiavelli's Il Principe and other Renaissance classics and I would send him accounts of my trips to Pyongyang and other places, my views on why North Korea came to start aspiring for nuclear weapons, and how the Korean question was primarily a matter that had to be solved between the two Koreas themselves, without too much interference from the outside world. Some of these writings came to be carried in International Minds and perhaps they helped me to become acquainted with the Reverend Edwin Robertson, Kamran Mofid and other people who contacted me when they visited Tokyo.

I also remember introducing George to the Rt. Hon. Malcolm Fraser, former Prime Minister of Australia, who became an advisor to International Minds, and Ambassador Mohamed Shaker of Egypt, who was to give one of the so-called "Ambassadors' Lectures" at Coventry.

In sum, George passed on to me a great deal of basic knowledge and many ideas about Britain, Europe and Western civilisation and helped me to make friends and acquaintances in England, while I perhaps was able to provide him with some insights into and friends from this part of the world.

Turning to my wife, Chikako, she remembers how pleased George had been when she remarked to him that the cover of The Director had become so attractive and he admitted that it had been his idea to change the design. This was back in the 1960s when I was still at the Embassy in London. And he once came to have dinner with us at our flat when Dido was in hospital expecting a baby. We drove him back to their home in Surrey and George invited us in for a cup of cocoa - which Chikako had to make.

Many years later George invited Chikako to lunch when she visited London alone while I had to remain at my post in Ottawa. He urged her to try a soup made from Roquefort cheese, which she has never forgotten. Then he asked her whether she noticed that England had not changed over the years, to which she emphatically answered in the affirmative: she then realised that this was the response he had been hoping for because he looked so pleased.

George was always relaxed and never seemed to be in a hurry, which put me at ease and enabled me to bring up any subject without worrying that it might inconvenience or bother him. And he took an interest in our son and daughter and always seemed to keep track of where they were and what they were doing at any particular moment.

I cannot help feeling how lucky I was to have been able to see him once again - for the last time - when I happened to be in London in October 2000 and he invited me to the Garrick Club for lunch. I noticed that he had lost quite some weight since I had last seen him and I thought this a good sign since he had obviously been overweight - which was not good for his heart problem. He had told me some time earlier that he had had a pacemaker implanted in his chest.

When I came out of the Club it was pouring and I had great difficulty trying to catch a cab back to my hotel; then George emerged from the Club and suggested we take the underground back to Green Park, which was near my hotel. We shook hands on the platform at Green Park Station and went our respective ways. And that was how our long association ended - both holding our umbrellas while saying goodbye.

Unfortunately I don't have many photos of George but his image is firmly engraved in my mind's eye. He and Doreen were hoping to come again to Japan in 2001, and then we would make the long-planned trip to Hokkaido, which he had been interested in visiting for already several years. That joint trip has been cancelled indefinitely, but the memory of it will remain with me - together with his image - also indefinitely.