Jonathan on Easter Sunday 2021
with his friend Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett and a
Campari Negroni in the hospice garden
David Worsfold, AEJ UK Treasurer, writes:
many lives and he excelled at all of them: politician, author, journalist,
Above all he 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
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
It is a shocking story but often also a heart-warming one as it shows how he
triumphed over everything that was thrown at him. 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.
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.
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 his Christmas
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.
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
at Leyton 1990
from Liberal Democrat colleagues
Sad news, that our dear friend Jonathan Fryer, passed away peacefully
today after a short illness. He leaves behind a huge legacy of work on
international affairs & a successful academic & broadcasting career.— Baroness Hussein-Ece
Such sad news about @JonathanFryer. A strong liberal voice in London, in
Europe and around the world. A deeply caring and kind man. Rest peacefully,
Jonathan. My thoughts are with his friends and family. — Ed Davey MP 🔶🇪🇺 (@EdwardJDavey)
So very very sad to hear that Jonathan Fryer has
passed away. He was a great liberal, internationalist, broadcaster and
activist. He will be greatly missed 😢 — Layla Moran 🔶 (@LaylaMoran)
For more Liberal Democrat remembrances of Jonathan please see here:
It is with great sadness we note the death of
Jonathan Fryer, long-time AEJ UK member, journalist, broadcaster, author and
active Liberal Democrat. Jonathan died peacefully at an east London hospice
on April 16 after being diagnosed with a terminal condition less than a month
AEJ UK Chairman William Horsley
As Jonathan lay
in bed in the hospice in London’s East End where he would end his days,
he announced simply on social media: “Brain tumour. Incurable.
Dying soon here at St. Joseph’s Hospice, Hackney, Goodbye, everyone,
and thank you. Jonathan.”
I first met Jonathan 50 years ago in Oxford, where we were both
undergraduates doing Oriental Studies. We became friends, though not
especially close. He struck me from the first encounter as an extraordinary
individual, because he was then almost painfully shy but also unusually
intelligent. He was also, as I discovered later, extremely driven. Driven by
ambition, yes, but also by a rare determination to embrace and even be
possessed by the beliefs and causes that he made his own.
He was fanatical about learning complex and difficult things -- including, as
a student, both Chinese and Japanese. He was an ardent, heart-and-soul
Liberal, and much later he came close to achieving his life’s ambition
of being elected as a member of the European Parliament for the Liberal
(later the Liberal Democratic) Party. His other passion – obsession
might be a more accurate word for it – was the “European
project”. He died knowing that, despite his endeavours, Britain had, as
he saw it, betrayed itself by voting in 2016 to leave the European Union; and
then, after several agonising years, actually “doing” Brexit. But
there was much more to his special zeal. It stemmed from the trauma of his
childhood, in the years before I met him in the Oriental Institute in Oxford.
Jonathan plunged into a professional journalistic career. He had given
himself a head start by going on his own initiative to Vietnam during his
pre-university “gap year” and getting his first bylines in various publications as a “special
correspondent” reporting on the Vietnam war. Our paths hardly crossed
for the next 30 years. I spent much of the 1970s
and ‘80s reporting for the BBC from Japan,
China and the rest of East Asia, while Jonathan was started out based in
Brussels -- at first with Reuters and then as a freelance journalist roving
far and wide, including to the Middle East and Africa. During the 1990s, while I worked for the BBC from Bonn, Brussels and
all over Europe, Jonathan was living in London, writing, broadcasting and
teaching, while keeping up his ceaseless explorations of the Arab world and
In the new millennium I met Jonathan regularly as BBC colleague in London,
and at AEJ professional lunch meetings here with many influential public
figures. Jonathan was in high demand from international media. His expertise
included large areas of the globe: East Asia, the Middle East and Latin
America as well as Europe. And Jonathan the chameleon showed his talent for
taking on new identities when for ten years he was Honorary Consul for
the Islamic Republic of Mauritania in the UK. He wrote in his blog: “As
a writer and broadcaster on the Middle East and North Africa I find
diplomatic gatherings invaluable for picking up information and making
It was not until 2020 that I read Jonathan’s poignant autobiographical
book about his early years. It was a revelation. He wrote with devastating
honestly about how he was routinely abused by his adoptive father in the
north of England. For such an intelligent and sensitive teenager, the
experience was traumatic and life-changing. He wrote that after those years
of abuse in a petty bourgeois home in the town of Eccles, near Manchester,
his “only dream was to get away as far as possible.” It may also
have been a powerful motivation for him to choose the exotic and self-reliant
life of a foreign correspondent.
Jonathan showed courage and integrity by writing and speaking publicly about
those years of his life. The book, Eccles Cakes: An Odd Tale of Survival,
was published in 2016. Reading it helped me to understand part of what drove
Jonathan to such intense commitments to causes, including the European ideal
and human rights in Turkey; and his insatiable desire to know, understand and
make connections with people in every part of the globe.
Although I do not count myself as a close friend, I tried to express my
admiration for him and his life’s achievements in a message that I sent
him in the hospice. It said: “I read your Eccles boy book a few months
ago… It helps me understand the strength of your convictions and sense
of destiny about liberal values, and your hatred of ignorance, selfishness
and cruelty in all its forms.”
Please see here for Jonathan’s
obituary in The Telegraph
and here in The Guardian
Here for his Wikipedia entry
And here for his own blog
Brock, lifelong friend from Oxford University:
to have been a friend of Jonathan’s since 1972, when we overlapped for
a year as undergraduates. It was a marvellously lucky moment that inspired me
to approach him at a party, where he was leaning against a cupboard observing
the company in what looked like cynical disdain, for which I upbraided him,
in crass Fresher style.
We became great friends, and he introduced me to many interesting ideas such
as Taoism and Quakerism. His remarkable knowledge was inspiring and we had
lots of fun, often playing Scrabble while we drank cheap draft sherry, but
maddeningly I could never beat him. He had never-ending curiosity and
well-honed observational powers, and a deliciously wicked chuckle. He was an
elegant dresser, a great rarity at that time – as the photograph taken
in Christchurch meadows in 1972 shows.
We kept on touch over the years. I was worried when he said he wanted to die
when he’d managed to visit all the countries in the world, but luckily
the number increased in the 1990s, and I
don’t think he quite collected the entire set. His memoir was
fascinating to read, as well as sad, but not surprising. I shall miss a very
dear and special friend.
AEJ International colleagues and friends:
of the Irish section please accept my deepest condolences on the death of
Jonathan Fryer. He was always a welcome visitor to these parts and any
meeting ensured good conversation and lots of storytelling... thinking today
of his friends and family.
Eileen Dunne, former AEJ President; now Secretary of AEJ Ireland
AEJ Greece send condolences for our colleague's death... We knew about his
health problems because he published it on his facebook
page. AEJ lost a remarkable personality, much-respected journalist and
writer, passionate Liberal. We hope he will rest in peace.
Saia Tsaousidou, AEJ President
The news of the passing away of Jonathan at such short notice came in as a
shock when reading your mail earlier today. His spirit and wit still echoed in
Brussels many years after he left. But I think he might have agreed with an
epitaph taken from Abraham Lincoln: In the end it’s not the years
in your life that count, it’s the life in your years. Please accept our
condolences on behalf of AEJ Belgium,
Lieven Taillie For the AEJ Belgian section
As you probably remember, I had the honour to meet Jonathan several times (in
the past…). Have never forgotten his amiable, wise approach of
subjects, always with a good sense of humour readable on his face. A great
guy has passed away!
Peter Kramer, former AEJ Secretary-General
Dear colleagues and friends: I recall friendly talks with him during
our congresses and conferences. He was a profiled journalist and active
member of AEJ. I was deeply moved by his final Good-bye on Facebook. May
he rest in peace!
Otmar Lahodynsky, former AEJ President
La section italienne est
proche des collègues
anglais à la mémoire
de Jonathan, journaliste et politique que nous avons apprécié
dans de nombreux congrès
pour ses qualités professionnelles, humaines et relationnelles.
Cherés salutations, Carmelo Occhino, For the AEJ Italian Section
Please accept my condolences on the death of Jonathan Fryer. He shall rest in
For the AEJ in Turkey
sad news, thank you all for sharing and condolences to his nearest and
dearest of course. Echo Lieven in that he was well remembered in Brussels and
still is - Alia Papageorgiou
From Spain, deepest condolences … - Javier Fernandez Arribas
I also express my deep condolences to you all in Britain. - Luigi Cobisi, AEJ Italy
Sad message, R.I.P. Jonathan 😢 - Tibor
Macak, AEJ Slovakia
Our deep condolences
for our friend - Kyriakos Pierides,
Poor, determined, never -give-up Jonathan, felled by this stupid, awful
illness. But it cheers me that his last days were softened by Campari
Negroni, that most European and nostalgic of solaces, and when the time comes I will follow that example and the gentleness of his
farewell to his friends. - Edward Gamper Steen, AEJ
Please accept my condolences at this sad time. I met Jonathan a few times and
enjoyed his company very much. - Simone Rapple, AEJ Ireland
Please see here for more AEJ UK obituaries
Jonathan Fryer on AEJ
visit to Holyrood September 2019
Martyn Bond, former European civil servant,
academic, journalist and deputy chairman of the London Press Club writes:
surprisingly, Jonathan has been on my mind since I learned of his being in a
care home a little over a week or two ago. I was surprised and distressed by
that news, and am more shocked now by news of his death. He was a good
I have known Jonathan for nearly fifty years, since 1974 when we were both
newly posted to Brussels. I was there as a spokesman for the Council and he
as a journalist for Reuters. He was very good at his job, and it suited him
well. He wanted the truth, and by that I do not mean bare facts. He wanted
the rounded truth, that was not content with superficial facades and could
see through ploys to divert critical attention. He wanted to know the reasons
behind an action, a policy, a plan, a person. He wanted to know more,
and that was one of his driving characteristics. He wanted to gain a
perspective on the big picture and to understand the personal stories behind
events. It made his reporting more complete and reflected
a more than usually complete understanding of the human condition.
We also worked together for a few years outside our professional relationship
in helping to establish the Quaker Council for European Affairs, an NGO that
was part watchdog and part think-tank, trying to bring a Quaker awareness to
bear on what was going on in Brussels. In that he was inspirational. All
those involved were indebted to his care and thoughtfulness, his consistent
and sympathetic understanding of the bigger picture, the search for what Quakers call 'that of God in every man'. He had that
quality and could recognise it in others, however hard they might try to
obscure it. It bought him a wide circle of acquaintances, many of whom became
friends, and many of those have lasted the course.
I came across him too as an author, in particular a travel writer and a
biographer. Several of his books are on my shelves and still give delight -
even if now tinged with a sadness nothing will remove. Also in Liberal
Democrat circles, where he played an important role in promoting liberal
values internationally, in particular in Europe. Ask not for whom the bell
tolls. We are all reduced by his passing.
visit to Holyrood September 2019
from AEJ UK friends and colleagues
Thompson, former AEJ UK chairman and BBC News Executive:
I got to know
Jonathan when I became the BBC World Service Head of Newsgathering in the
nineties. He was a freelance journalist, but such a regular contributor to
the World Service that he had his own desk in the
correspondent’s’ area and appeared frequently on news bulletins,
current affairs programmes and radio documentaries, showing encyclopaedic
knowledge of many countries and providing shrewd analysis of global affairs.
He also featured on Radio 4 ’s output, including fascinating and
entertaining despatches for ‘From Our own Correspondent’
whenever he was working abroad.
Jonathan was a true internationalist. He had travelled extremely widely
throughout his career, notably in the Far and Middle East, reporting, writing
features, lecturing and gathering material for a series of books. He was
fluent in French and spoke several other languages very well. When new media
arrived with the digital age, he embraced it with relish and was a constant
blogger in later years, promoting fairness, public service and openness in
public life. Not only was he a fine writer and broadcaster, he was also
charming, helpful to those less knowledgable, and
modest. Jonathan Fryer was a splendid man who will be sorely missed by
family, friends and colleagues.
Jonathan– by Firdevs Robinson, former BBC journalist and blogger on
his childhood memoir “Eccles Cakes: An Odd Tale of
For someone who, throughout his life, not only strived to survive but managed
to thrive, the way he dealt with his impending demise was remarkable.
Resigning to what became irremediable may not be that unusual, especially for
a person of faith. Jonathan was spiritual and devotional.
What made his last days exceptional for me was the grace and good humour he
had displayed. “What a way to go” he wrote to me in his
penultimate message before he became too ill to communicate.
I have known Jonathan since 1986 when I joined the BBC World Service as a
young producer in the Turkish Service. He understood Turkey well and deeply
cared for its never-ending tribulations. I translated many of
Jonathan’s talks and despatches; I interviewed him countless times for
Later on, when I moved to Central Asian and Caucasus affairs, I found him
just as knowledgeable and engaged in stories I was covering.
Over the years, we appeared together on various programmes, panels, and
Mostly we agreed but occasionally, we clashed and argued.
We also travelled together, mainly to attend the AEJ Congresses in Europe.
The polyglot Jonathan was, he was interested and amused about my love of
Sitting at an airport terminal, I would say: “One needs to travel
together to get to know a man”. He would reply: “Before you make
a friend, eat a bushel of salt with him”.
We shared many happy hours with good conversation, wine, and food, at
airports, congresses, in sunny gardens of mutual friends and sometimes in my
Jonathan was a prolific writer. I always envied the speed he wrote and the
clarity of his thought.
He was interested and well informed about a vast range of subjects. One
moment we would be discussing the Kurdish separatism, the next the rights of
the indigenous peoples of Mexico. We would talk about religion, films, books,
the best places to visit abroad, where to stay and buy gourmet ingredients.
Sometimes, I would express my frustration with his endless tolerance of what
I considered nasty people and places, but he would always smile and refuse to
Except when it came to Europe and Brexit.
Jonathan was, without exception, passionate about Europe in every
conversation I had with him. He was a tireless and a very committed
I knew Jonathan as a deeply caring, highly motivated and outspoken man. Yet, at times, he could be equally
detached and diffident.
The last time we met, about 9 months ago, in a socially distanced garden
party, I asked him about the second part of his autobiography, the period I
had known him. He was working on it he said, but more urgent issues kept
We learned how he survived against all odds. I regret we may never know how
he also thrived.
d'Arcy, former AEJ-UK Secretary:
I first crossed
paths with Jonathan in the eighties at Bush House, where we battled for
freelance desk space at the BBC World Service. Eventually we realised that a
pact was sensible, especially when we realised that our houses were close,
and he was always welcome at parties in my garden. His own house was barely
liveable. Christmas Day, when he could not travel, always saw him at our
table. I still have a bottle of his champagne on my shelves, which anyone
else is welcome to share, in tribute to his civil skills and his now very
Barker, AEJ UK website editor:
me under his wing at an AEJ International meeting in Linz, Austria, many
years ago for a fond and memorable dinner. We had far too few conversations
in the years since despite crossing paths at many AEJ meetings. Enjoyable exchanges with a gentle,
kind and interesting man, a principled politician and a fine journalist. I will