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
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.
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