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Jonathan Fryer: farewell dear friend

April 19, 2021

Jonathan Fryer lived many lives and he excelled at all of them: politician, author, journalist, Quaker, friend. His death last Friday at the age of 70 after a short illness has prompted many fine tributes. Let me add mine.

Above everything, Jonathan was a great friend. He touched so many people’s lives with his kindness and simple humanity. He always sought the good in everyone, anger being an emotion that only rarely broke through before quickly evaporating.

This does not mean he was not tough. He had to be given his early life vividly recounted in the self-published autobiography Eccles Cakes: An Odd Tale of Survival.

Courage. That is the word that kept recurring in my mind as I read this powerful insight into Jonathan’s troubled childhood. Courage in writing it. Courage in dealing with the abuse he suffered. Courage in throwing himself into the chaos and danger of a war zone on his own resources at the age of 19.

It is a shocking story but often also a heart-warming one as it shows how he triumphed over everything. He never hid the grim reality of his life at home but skilfully managed to avoid excessive self-pity by restricting it to the occasional flashback insight into his feelings at the time.

What a shame we shall now never read the second volume of his autobiography. Jonathan started writing this but set it aside last year as he secured a commission for another book. He was a prolific author, bringing a wide variety of subjects to life, and always full of helpful advice for other authors. His fifteen or so books covered a diverse range, from Oscar Wilde, Soho in the Fifties and Sixties to international affairs, reflecting Jonathan’s many deep interests and passions.

It was as a politician that I knew him best.

He had been a Young Liberal since 1964 when he heard Jo Grimond at his inspirational best at school – and was chairman of the Liberal Club when he was at Oxford University – but it was when he returned to London from Brussels in the early 1980s that our paths rapidly converged.

He threw himself in London Liberal politics, standing for Parliament in Chelsea in 1983 and in the once Liberal-held seat of Orpington in 1987 where he also served as councillor on the London Borough of Bromley.

Jonathan with my wife, Mariette Mason, who was then chair of Leyton Liberal Democrats in 1990

For four years I was his campaign manager and agent in Leyton which he fought in 1992. He gave it everything, as he always did. His brilliance with languages meant he mastered Urdu within months of being adopted to fight Leyton with its large Asian population. When I expressed my amazement, he told me that after the first five languages learning a new one was easy, a very rare moment of boastfulness.

He fought two more General Elections in 2010 and 2017.

While I believe he would have made a very fine MP, his real passion was Europe and he dearly wanted to be an MEP. I did once tell him that Westminster would benefit from his insights into foreign affairs and the media more than the EU where he would be preaching to the converted: he was not convinced. He fought every European Parliament election from the first one in 1979, coming within 0.6% of winning a seat in 2004 and being fourth on the party’s London list in 2019 when the Liberal Democrats won three seats in the capital. Brexit was a cruel personal blow to this cherished ambition.

He was a consummate internationalist, as well as Liberal to his core. He held various positions in European and international organisations and was a trusted adviser on foreign affairs to several Liberal Democrat leaders, especially Paddy Ashdown.

He rarely, if ever, flaunted his many friendships with the great and the good of Liberal and Liberal Democrat politics, the media or literary circles. It was easy to be taken by surprise by the extent of friendships, as I was on more than one occasion, such as encountering Jeremy Thorpe at one of Jonathan’s Christmas parties.

He never allowed his own difficult childhood to reflect on his enjoyment of the family life of others. He was always happy to be invited to family occasions and see young children running around his house at those Christmas parties.

We should not overlook his religious faith as that also sat deep within his character. He was active within the Religious Society of Friends (The Quakers), he was one of the small group that in 1979 set up the Quaker House in Brussels. His contributions to Radio 4’s Thought for the Day were always accessible and enlightening.

A final farewell

The final, smiling picture of Jonathan taken on Easter Sunday, less than two weeks before he died, with his friend Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett drinking a Campari Negroni in the garden of the hospice in Hackney, shows a man at peace with himself.

May he Rest in Peace and, as he believed, Rise in Glory.

• There is a detailed biography on Wikipedia

• Jonathan worked at the BBC World Service for many years and was an active member of the Association of European Journalists. Many of his former colleagues have added their heartfelt tributes to the AEJ-UK website.

From → Politics, Publishing

One Comment
  1. NICK STARLING permalink

    Beautiful tribute, David. N

    NICK STARLING 32 Durham Road LONDON N2 9DT 07715 366391


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