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Obituary: Hugh Samson

03 November 2023

Michael Taylor writes:

BORN in Leicester 100 years ago, Hugh Samson was called up at 19, served in East Africa with the King’s African Rifles, made lifelong friendships, and rose to the rank of Captain, somewhat to his amusement.

He cut his teeth as a gifted jour­nalist and news editor, first in Nottingham and Birmingham, and then on Fleet Street’s morning and even­ing papers. I am told that he could write brilliantly at the drop of a hat, in long hand, on any subject that he was given.

Not long afterwards, he teamed up with a friend to form a public-relations firm, known as Noble & Samson. They were soon contracted to an infant Christian Aid, handling all its public relations, advertising, and appeals. In 1956, he was persuaded to become a member of its staff and head the newly created Communications Department. It was responsible for anything from Christian Aid News, its Annual Reports, press releases, publicity, and films. When he joined, income was at £70,000. It had risen to £17 million when he left after more than 30 years. Hugh also brought with him stars of stage and screen, including Judi Dench, filmed for a Christmas Day TV broadcast from Jerusalem, a city troubled then as it is now. He retired from the organisation in 1988, albeit continuing to work with at least two charities.

Others of his many achievements include helping to launch VSO, becoming the first chair of the Disablement Income Group, handling the publicity for Martin Luther King’s visit to Europe to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and, in 1970, being awarded a fellowship by the Institute of Public Relations.

Hugh narrowly missed becoming a man of the cloth. If genetics had had their way, since his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and, I believe, his great-great-grandfather, going right back to the 17th century, were all ordained.

I knew Hugh best when we worked together at Christian Aid. My memories are unashamedly selective. He and his team were largely responsible for two extremely clever campaigns. We were not allowed to campaign against apartheid, but we could campaign against poverty. So, the bill­­boards informed the world that “Apartheid makes people poor”, and then appealed to it to “End poverty in South Africa”. It earned us a dressing down from the Charity Commission.

On another occasion, a picture appeared on the billboards of a Bangladeshi health worker cycling to a village clinic, with a big green cross on her bag of medicines, appealing to one and all to “Keep the health service going”. That earned us a severe dressing down, too.

There is no capturing this hugely attractive personality in words. Hugh was a wonderful raconteur, able to cut gently through a difficult situation or light up a conversation over coffee or dinner with a story somewhere between the surreal and the believable. Those nearest to him have spoken of him as being incredibly kind and generous. I once described him as “raffish”: the word still rings a bell for me about this somewhat roguish, lovable, larger-than-life character.

If there is such a thing as a “good death”, Hugh’s might just be one, without underestimating the sorrow and loss that inevitably go with it. He was as they say: “full of years” like a patriarch, having marked his 100th birthday in February, and able to look back on so many good things done. He had had many years of happiness with Pam. Recently, he was diagnosed with cancer, but refused to go into hospital for treatment, much preferring to stay at home, safe in her unwavering, loving care, and in his own bed.

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