Before the days of the internet, the Foreign Correspondent was a figure of awe. The FT’s David Barchard was one such towering presence. But when my wife and I first bumped into him by accident at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport, we were amazed that the man we knew from his formidable byline was a small, affable chap in a cap. That was 40 years ago, and David became a friend for life, as he did with countless people, many of whom he met by chance.
The story goes that David was led to Turkey by Rose Macaulay’s classic The Towers of Trebizond, and it was not so far from Trebizond – or Trabzon as it is now known – that he first came to understand the country. He went to teach in the coal-mining port of Zonguldak on the Black Sea as a young Oxford graduate in 1969, and the friendships he struck up there lasted a lifetime. Half a century later, the sister of one pupil recalled his delight when her mother baked him a cake.
When David returned to Turkey in the 70s he had switched from academia to journalism and settled in Ankara as a correspondent for the Financial Times
. He remained an Ankara man through and through, much to the bemusement of his friends in Istanbul. From being a country with few imports, constant power cuts and an impossible telephone service in the 1970s, Turkey emerged
as an economic free-for-all in decades to come. David was one of the few commentators who understood the political currents driving this transformation. His firsthand experience, contacts and wide reading placed him head
and shoulders above his fellows. And he could sit down at the telex and file a 3,000-word report, all without notes.
David was honest and fearless, whether speaking out against social injustice, reprimanding ‘spineless academics’ (almost as risky), or defending his adopted country. He was never afraid to call a spade a spade (often that spade was a Greek or, in recent months, Mr Macron meddling in the Med). On one thing everyone is agreed: he did not suffer fools.
He opened up a whole new world through his articles and lectures. As the FT’s Richard Cowper writes, ‘
he was truly a legend in his lifetime’. A respected historian, marshalling facts on an encyclopedic scale, he was also a born narrator, writing as he spoke, conveying historical drama with effortless lucidity. His lectures were proverbial, delivered at an urgent pace “without deviation or hesitation”, and again without any notes.
If there was one place to rival Nun Monkton in his heart, it was Uçhisar (pronounced Ooch-hiss-ar) in Cappadocia. An old friend lent him a cave house there and he spent his last years in Turkey gazing over the other-worldly landscape as he tapped away in the company of a beloved cat. He was one of nature’s great conversationalists, and on freezing winter evenings he would climb the icy lane up the hill to dine with friends in front of a roaring log fire at the Elai Restaurant.
David never forgot his friends or the places he loved. When he was out on his walks in Nun Monkton he often shared photos of the Ouse and the Yorkshire countryside with far-flung friends. It is fitting that he is being laid to rest at St Mary’s with its Burne-Jones windows of which he was so proud. I speak for many when I say that Nun Monkton will remain a place to visit for those who want to remember him.
He is already sorely missed.
John Scott, Editor, Cornucopia Magazine