Former Guild chairman and leading agricultural journalist Peter Bullen has died. He was 77.
As Chairman of the Guild in 1993 and 1994, Peter was instrumental in establishing the Charitable Trust, which continues to provide invaluable help to Guild members and their families when faced with financial, health and other difficulties.
He ran in six London Marathons to raise over £12,000 for the trust’s capital fund and was chairman of trustees for several years.
As for his career as a journalist, Peter wrote the weekly agricultural news in The Surrey Advertiser during the late 1950s, and then joined the late Derek Watson on the weekly Farming Express in 1960.
Peter then worked with John Winter, farming editor on the Daily Mail, from 1963 to 1971, before joining Farmers Weekly as political correspondent and taking on the political editor’s role at Farmers Guardian.
Peter was one of three editors – together with his former colleague and fellow Guild member Derek Watson – of Farming Day by Day, of a book of John Winter’s Daily Mail articles that tell the story of agriculture and its challenges during the decade.
The Guild sends it condolences to Peter’s wife Teri and their family.
Guild members are invited to send tributes and personal recollections in memory of Peter Bullen to website editor Peter Hill.
Godfrey Brown: What sad news about my very good friend and colleague, Peter Bullen; I am absolutely devastated at his death, although also rather relieved for his sake that his suffering is at an end, because he really did suffer, not only from his multiple cancers but the pain resulting from some of the treatments.
He and I go back a very long way – at one point interchanging jobs when I left the Financial Times in 1973 to join the Daily Telegraph as its agriculture correspondent, and he left the Country Landowners’ Association (as it then was) to take my place on the FT’s Commodities staff. But we had been colleagues and friends long before that.
I’m pretty sure I first met Peter when I was working on the Meat Trades Journal, where I started in journalism in 1954 and left in 1968 to join the FT, and he was I think on Farming Express.
Apart from swopping jobs, another thing Peter and I had in common was that we were both “graduates” of D Company, Royal Army Service Corps, Willems Barracks, Aldershot, the garrison town always known as the home of the British Army. In those days, at the age of 18, every man had to do two years’ National Service in one of the armed Forces, which was usually the Army and RAF.
D Company RASC’s distinction was that it was the only company in the entire British Army that taught shorthand. Good shorthand, rather than a university degree, being one of the essential requirements of a job in journalism in those days, it was perhaps hardly surprising that this was the career that beckoned a number of ex D Coy students at the end of their National Service.
I shall always remember Peter as a very good friend, utterly honest, very dependable, kind – he became a vegetarian later in life because of his concerns about the ethics of slaughtering animals for food – and sympathetic, the sort of person one would turn to for help and advice when one was in trouble or doubt.
I shall miss him greatly.
Diane Montague: I am very sorry, although not surprised, to hear the sad news about Peter Bullen. I probably knew him longer than anyone else in the Guild, having first met him when I joined the Surrey Advertiser in Guildford as a trainee reporter. Peter was an experienced member of the editorial team and was deputed to take me on my first assignment – a Siamese cat show. He was very patient helping me with my early, stumbling efforts.
Although we subsequently moved in different directions, I met up with him a few years later when he was writing for the Daily Mail as assistant agricultural correspondent and I was working for the Agricultural Merchant. We continued to keep in touch during the ensuing years when he worked for The Financial Times, Country Landowners Association and the Food from Britain promotional body. He also ran an antiquer business for a few years in the late 70s.
In 1988 he came to work for me as deputy editor of ASI (Agricultural Supply Industry), the pink sheet, and stayed until I sold it in 1992. It was while he was working at ASI that he developed the idea of the Charitable Trust. He worked hard to convince the Guild that there was a need for it and then even harder running a total of six marathons – the last when he was 65 – to raise £12,000 in crucial early funding.
He was a highly professional journalist who cared deeply about the things he felt mattered and was passionate about cricket. He had a great sense of humour, was a groaningly funny punner.
Wendy Ryder: Peter and I are very sad to hear about Peter Bullen’s death. He was a decent, honest man with a conscience – borne out by the fact that he founded the Guild’s Charitable Trust after he became chairman of the Guild in 1993.
I remember him approaching me at a Guild AGM in 2004 and asking me to become a Trustee of his brainchild. I felt very honoured and in the ten years since then have been mindful of his dedication to the Trust, never missing a Trust AGM and making valuable observations to us all.
The many people the Trust has helped over the years are testament to his wanting to offer assistance his fellow members. His cruel illness didn’t stop him communicating with us regularly and offering advice. We will miss him but I know he won’t be forgotten as the Trust goes from strength to strength in his memory.
Jane Craigie: What sad news. He was a lovely man.
Adrian Bell: I had the pleasure of meeting Peter only a handful of times, when I attended Charitable Trust meetings during my stint as Guild chairman. I was always struck by his generosity of spirit and his dedication to a good cause. He leaves a great legacy in the form of the Charitable Trust.
Trevor Hayes: A person whose knowledge and skills of interpretation could not be bettered but at the same time he was very unassuming and modest in his motions.
James (Jim) Evans: I was sorry to hear about the passing of Peter. I worked with him when he was political correspondent of Farmers Weekly and he was a charming and affable man. Although he had a wide experience of his subject, he was always willing to approach me in my role as chief sub and discuss any matters where he had any doubts.
He was a highly experienced and skilled journalist but always had the humility to seek the opinion of others.
I lost touch with him after he moved on and I retired from the ‘Weekly’. Had I known of his illness I would have contacted him and now regret not saying “goodbye” when he reached a terminal stage.
Peter will be greatly missed.
Philip Clarke: I was fortunate to have worked alongside Peter at Farmers Weekly in the early-to-mid 1990s. He was always a delight to work with. Two very random anecdotes spring to mind.
The first was at a glorified “away day”, with the whole Farmers Weekly team assembled at a Surrey hotel. Peter objected strongly to the use of the term “Sir” at the start of letters to the editor, arguing that it sounded old fashioned and pompous. It was immediately decided to drop the term – about the only concrete action to come out of the whole meeting!
The second was when he went to a briefing at 10 Downing Street. He’d had the foresight to gen up on John Major in advance and discovered his passion for village cricket. After the briefing he dropped this into the discussion with the Prime Minister, and was treated to a walk around the garden, which led to a great exclusive for the magazine.
Marcus Oliver: I first came across Peter in the late 1960s when he was part of the double act on the Daily Mail, apprentice to John Winterbottom (shortened to ‘Winter’ to make a snappier by-line). They operated in those halcyon days when Alex Kenworthy was with the ‘what does it mean for the cost of the daily pinta’ Daily Express, Tommy Thomas with the Daily Telegraph, Leo Amey with The Times and so on. They all worked their socks off trying to make farming meaningful to the urban masses.
At this time I was a very junior apprentice on something called Beef & Sheep Farming, published by Alan Exley, formerly of the Mail, Evening Standard, BBC Farming Today and that great endeavour of Lord Beaverbrook, Farming Express, launched, with Alan as editor, to frustrate the UK’s first and failed bid to join the ‘Common Market’.
Looking back through a bound copy of Farming Express I came across, at random, a front page lead by Peter Bullen, ‘Farms Unsold As Land Boom Sags’ (August 3, 1961). And the explanation for farms not selling was naturally the growing threat of the Common Market! In the next column there’s a stunning photo of ‘Agriculture’, on Holborn Viaduct, along with statues representing Commerce, Fine Art and Science.
The copy observed that these statues had stood proudly for nearly 100 years and continued: ‘During that century, agriculture has been challenged many times. But today it faces the greatest threat of all –Britain’s proposed entry into the Common Market. This is the 11th hour. Ring or telegraph your M.P. today.’
Stirring times and not so different to the EU membership arguments of today.
Like many Guild members I have dozens of great memories of Peter. As others have rightly said he was one of those incorruptible individuals. He was solid, friendly and a damn fine journalist.
I particularly recall him giving the Massey Ferguson management team at Banner Lane, Coventry, a real grilling on why it was they employed so few immigrants. Again, a topic which still resonates. But Peter was an inspiring colleague and one I learnt a great deal from. He made reporting agriculture significant and even exciting.
Others have commented on Peter’s concern for colleagues who had fallen on hard times and how he helped create a charitable fund to at least show humanity. He ran his marathons to raise funds and really who can claim to have done so much for fellow journalists?
Peter, rest in peace.
Andrew Blake: I was sad to read of Peter’s suffering and death. I got to know him quite well when we both worked on Farmers Weekly. I remember a gentle, friendly man who shared many of my views on the ways of the world. I admired his quiet professionalism and was flattered when he occasionally sought my help on arable matters.
Michael Finch: Very sorry to hear about Peter. A lovely person and fine journalist. A friend, too. His tenure at Farmers Guardian wasn’t long – a little over 18 months before retirement – but his contribution was huge. He was generous in every way.
I remember when we discussed his move to FG – he had his cuttings file with him including his story headlined “Snatcher Thatcher” when the then future PM removed funding for school milk. Daily Mail I think…….anyone remember?
A great loss to journalism and the Guild, but fondly remembered.