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Monday, 31 December, 2001, 00:00 GMT
Mark Tully: The voice of India
Mark Tully
The naming of Mark Tully in the New Year Honours is recognition of the former BBC India correspondent's deep understanding of his subject and respect in the region, writes Andrew Walker of the BBC's News Profiles Unit.

During his 22-year tenure as the BBC's India Correspondent, Mark Tully became familiar to viewers and listeners throughout the world for his incisive and thought-provoking reports.

Whether dodging the bullets during the skirmishes which bubbled up, from time to time, on the India-Pakistan border, describing the effect of absolute poverty on Calcutta's street beggars or detailing the horrific aftermath of the Bhopal chemical disaster, he gave a unique insight into the life of the subcontinent.

His understanding of all things Indian did not happen by accident. Mark Tully was born in Calcutta in 1936. The son of a wealthy accountant, he was brought up by a strict European nanny and did not come to Britain until he was ten.

"England struck me as a very miserable place", he later recalled, "dark and drab, without the bright skies of India."

Educated at Marlborough public school and Cambridge. his time as an undergraduate was, by his own admission, dissolute. He womanised and drank to excess: on his 21st birthday he put 21 shillings on a pub par to buy 21 pints, all of which he duly downed.

Mark Tully on location in Bangladesh
On location in Bangladesh
After Cambridge, Mark Tully considered becoming a priest in the Church of England but, after just two terms at Lincoln Theological College, he abandoned his vocation.

"I just knew I could not trust my sexuality to behave as a Christian priest should," he later admitted. "And I didn't want to be a cause of scandal."

Joining the BBC, it became obvious that he was the right man to become India Correspondent and, in 1964, he did just that, moving to Delhi.

Finding India a haven for his spiritual needs, Mark Tully's pieces, whether for radio or television, invariably dodged the superficial, painting pictures of the reality behind the headlines and the effect of war, poverty and disease on ordinary people.

A staunch believer in the BBC and its public service ethos, in 1996 he wrote a damning open letter criticising plans for the future of BBC World Service Radio.

Mark Tully filing a report from his office
Mark Tully filing a report from his office
Later, in a lecture to the Radio Academy, he spoke of the regime of the Corporation's Director General, John Birt as being "run on fear and sycophancy."

In return, Birt dismissed Mark Tully's allegations, together with those of scriptwriter Barry Took and Sir David Attenborough as "old soldiers sniping at us with their muskets." Mark Tully left the BBC the following year.

More recently, he has presented a BBC television series, The Lives of Jesus, using India, as well as the Holy Land, to explain the mysteries of Christ's divinity.

Added to this, he still presents a Sunday Radio Four programme, Something Understood, featuring music and prose meditations on spiritual themes.

Lord Birt
He criticised John Birt's management of the BBC
Mark Tully's private life is complicated. In Delhi, he stays with his girlfriend, Gillian Wright, while in London he stays with his wife, and mother of his four children, Margaret.



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25 Mar 01 | Entertainment
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