Weekly Local Biography

  Bob Tiley

By: Elle Faraday

I often get a bit nervous when writing about other writers as I get conscious about my style and choice of words. I get especially nervous when writing about established writers with extensive careers.
Bob Tiley is no exception. With a distinguished career in journalism spanning 50 years, he is certainly one of the most established writers I have ever met. Many of you will know him from his well known pub ‘The Writers Club and Wine Bar’ which has proved a big hit with expats and tourists alike, but this is just one of Bob’s many achievements and I was soon to find out more.
We met at the Writers Club – where else – and without much prompting from me, Bob began to recount tales from his life. Like a true pro, he knew exactly what I wanted to hear and I sat and listened in awe, hoping that I will be able to accomplish even half as much as him in my career.
Bob grew up in Bristol, western England and much to the concern of his parents, took himself out of school to pursue a career in journalism. ‘I always wanted to be a newspaper reporter and in fact it was so bad that I used to borrow my father’s hat and used to stick a piece of paper inside that read ‘Press’ – I got this idea from the old Humphrey Bogart movies. I would then literally chase the local fire engines (which were stationed near our house) in search of a story.’ From the age of about 14, he would write to newspapers all over the country trying to get his break into journalism. This finally came when Bob was just 16. Bob entered into an apprenticeship where his parents had to guarantee he would stay for four years. ‘My parents were horrified that I had left school, but it’s what I wanted more than anything.’
He became a printer’s apprentice and learned the trade from the bottom up. ‘I used to make all kinds of errors, like dropping the galleys, but eventually my big break came.’ This chance came in 1959, at the same time he was called up for national service. ‘I had to choose between the national service and the chance to become a reporter in Africa. I wrote to the Minister of Defence explaining my dilemma.’ The very day he was due to arrive at Catterick Barracks in Yorkshire, he was boarding a plane to Africa. ‘I was sent a very nice letter from the Minister wishing me all the best, but also giving me strict instructions to report to the Ministry of Defence the minute I arrived back in the UK. By the time I returned, national service was all over.’
Africa certainly opened Bob’s eyes. He had arrived in northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, and just before he arrived, there had been an uprising and Bob had unknowingly entered a war zone. ‘I loved Africa, but it was limited. I was living in a small town and writing for a small town newspaper and I wanted bigger things.’
He soon decided to leave Zambia and move down to South Africa. Apartheid was rife in South Africa during this time but Bob soon got involved in the opposition art scene writing a column for a newspaper. He got to know some very interesting and famous opposition literary figures such as Alan Paton and Athol Fugard. He met his first wife while he was in South Africa and had two children. When they reached school age, Bob was forced to decide if he wanted to put them through the segregated schooling system as they had in South Africa. At the time, Bob was writing for newspapers in England and with his family in tow, Bob left South Africa for London.
He turned up at The Daily Mirror’s offices only to find that there were no jobs in London. ‘It was my dream to work for a national newspaper in London and when this didn’t materialise, I returned to Bristol and got a job with an evening newspaper.’. However, he quickly realised that in order for his career to develop, he had to be in London so once again returned to The Daily Mirror and this time landed himself a job. He became a sub-editor for them, but was soon editing a magazine which he didn’t enjoy.
It wasn’t long before he found himself in Munich presenting a radio show for Radio for Europe which broadcast to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. It was 1968 and tensions were high. While he was working there, Russian tanks encroached into Germany’s borders. Many surrounding countries were embroiled in political turmoil. ‘It was a very interesting time to be a journalist in Europe, especially Eastern Europe.’ He managed to get into Yugoslavia and became a reporter in Sarajevo. Bob continued with broadcasting at the radio station and reporting in Yugoslavia until the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In the meantime he had been approached by the Daily Telegraph and was writing for them. ‘I was in a great position to write about Eastern Europe.’ When the Berlin wall collapsed, he telephoned the Telegraph and became their leading correspondent in Berlin. The fall of the Wall and the collapse of communism saw new journalistic opportunities in Eastern Europe and Bob began writing features for the Sunday Telegraph.
‘It was a tremendously exciting and satisfying time,’ but it did not last long. Editorial changes at the Telegraph led to a personality conflict with the new editor and Bob decided to leave and set up his own news agency with a colleague. This brave move did not work out and Bob found himself back in Munich presenting an English television programme. It was while Bob was here that he got an impromptu phone call from an old friend who was in Hong Kong. ‘He was working for a magazine that was about to move to Bangkok and asked if I wanted a job.’
In 2000, Bob found himself on a plane to Bangkok, which is where his life took a new twist. While he was there, he met Tong whom he soon married. It was not long before they had both had enough of the frenetic way of life in the capital and made the decision to move to Tong’s family’s village, south of Lampang. They stayed here for a year before moving up to Chiang Mai. ‘The routine way of life in the village took its toll. I loved it there, but we both needed to be busier.’ Tong was established in the hospitality trade having worked in her cousin’s restaurant for many years so they decided to set up a bar together. Three years later, The Writers Club is established, popular and a great place for lovers and non-lovers of literature to meet. Bob can be found here most days, although he does occasionally disappear on location for a feature he is writing about. He still writes for the Sunday Telegraph as well as more local publications and is hoping that he will be able to continue on a freelance basis for many more years to come.
The Writer’s Club and Wine Bar is open Sunday to Friday from 12:00 to 24:00 and can be found at 141/3 Rachadamnoen Road.