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Tribute to publisher, author and journalist Paul Harris

Paul Harris reported from more than 50 countries  -  © private

30 May 2018

Paul Harris, who has died after a short illness, was a successful journalist as well authoring more than 40 books. Despite dedicating himself to letters – he was a member of the NUJ’s Edinbrugh Freelance branch for more than two decades – the range of his activities was so varied as to be dizzying.

Born in 1948, he was successfully publishing books while an undergraduate at Aberdeen University. He deejayed for a pirate radio station in his early 20s and later worked for Capitol Radio.

For many years publishing was his passion. He used a string of commercially-oriented books of old photographs, and work on annuals for DC Thomson, to finance the establishment of a ‘real’ publishing house. By the early ‘80s, as ‘Paul Harris Publishing’ he was bringing to print important works such as Peter Savage’s ‘Lorimer and the Edinburgh Craft Artists’ which did much to solidify the Edwardian architect’s reputation in the wider world.

His next great project was the renovation of Whittinghame House, the neo-classical mansion in East Lothian. It had been home to prime minister Arthur Balfour’s family but by the time of Harris’ involvement, decades as a school had left the vast house in a deteriorating position. Harris co-ordinated several owners through a complex renovation. He ended up with a beautiful apartment of his own, although by no means the largest in the house. Inevitably, he told the story in a book.

By the 90s, he fully devoted his attention to journalism. He reported from more than 50 countries, including some notable stints in various parts of the former Yugoslavia, as civil war raged. In 1999 he was sent to Sri Lanka as The Daily Telegraph’s correspondent, before being expelled from the county in 2001. Desirous of a quieter life, he sold his helmet, bullet-proof vest and satellite phone via one of The Freelance’s more memorable small ads.

Since then he has devoted himself to lecturing and dealing in eastern art from the gallery he ran in Coldingham, Berwickshire. The Dictionary of Scottish Painters which he wrote with Julian Halsby has gone to more than six editions.

With his silk cravat, Received Pronunciation and country-house lifestyle, he was a singular addition to the regulars at Edinburgh Freelance Branch meetings. At least during the ‘90s, it was only foreign assignments that kept him away. The breadth of his experience meant that his contributions could as illuminating as they were iconoclastic, even if, like many good journalists, he generally kept what he really thought to himself. He retained, nonetheless, the persistent charm that had made him a successful seller of books.

Edinburgh Freelance Branch secretary Mark Fisher paid tribute to him. “Beneath Paul’s dapper dress and impeccable manners was the wild spirit of journalistic adventure. He had an outward-looking engagement in global politics thanks to a formidable track record as a war correspondent. He was also blessed with a gung-ho sense of good humour.  I can just imagine him smiling when he chose the word ‘conflict’ as an email address."

Paul Anthony Harris, born 1948, died 24 May 2018, leaves his second wife Sulee and daughter Lucy. His funeral is at midday on 4 June at Coldingham Priory.

Tim Dawson

Tags: , Paul Harris, Edinbrugh Freelance branch, obituary, Daily Telegraph