On Monday, July 19th, the following message appeared on an online forum for ex-BBC staff that acts as an informal messageboard for alumni of the world’s most far-flung media organisation. It said:
“I learned last Friday (July 16th) of the death of my cousin Simon Dring, the ex-BBC war correspondent, in Romania. Simon died during routine surgery for a bowel obstruction. Maybe you might be able to get this information into the BBC system.”
It was written by one Anthony Barlas, and was picked up by some Bangladeshi members of the forum, and thus, three days after the fact, the news broke in the country where he had left his greatest mark, where his legacy is and will be most visible for years to come, that Simon Dring was no more. It was a strangely anonymous death, for one who had lived such a full and eventful life, in the mould of the great British foreign correspondents, with an instinct for where the story was, and the unbound curiosity to seek it out.
The Bangladeshi media of course swung into action immediately, albeit after three days had passed. His role in moulding the broadcast media landscape of the country as it stands today is unquestioned. He literally had the entire generation of professionals in position of leadership at various channels under his wing. He was the ‘teacher of teachers’.
On the messageboard, Barlas gave a summary of Dring’s career. That he had reported for the BBC from many zones of conflict throughout the world in the 1960/70/80s. His earliest job was after he had travelled to the Far East when he was only 18 and started as a feature writer on the Bangkok World Newspaper. He went on to report on the beginning of the Vietnam war, reporting for Reuters and other news organisations.
His subsequent career for The Telegraph and the BBC saw him reporting from Biafra, Bangladesh, Eritrea and many other conflict zones. It is said that he was on the plane carrying Khomeini back from Paris to Iran in 1979. This is not unlikely, as more than one source says it. In any case, alongside John Simpson, who went on to become a mainstay of the BBC, reporting for it still, he won the Monte Carlo Television Festival’s 'Golden Nymph Award’ for their coverage of the Iranian Revolution. He was in the thick of it.
And that is precisely how he liked it. That’s how he became the first to report the atrocity that was underway in then-East Pakistan in March, 1971. The remarkable story of how he managed to stay behind as a foreign journalist at the Intercontinental on 26th March, 1971, is matched only by the power of the words he then poured into relaying what he saw. But let’s go back to the beginning now.
Simon John Dring was born on 11 January 1945, and grew up in Fakenham, Norfolk, England. He was expelled from boarding school in Woodbridge for midnight swimming in the River Deben. He later studied at Kings Lynn Technical College. In 1962, at the age of 17, he left home and hitch-hiked overland across Europe and the Middle East, out to India and South-East Asia. That first gig at the Bangkok World followed.
In 1964, at the age of 19, Dring was a freelance reporter for the London Daily Mail and The New York Times in Laos, before moving to Vietnam at the end of 1964, where he covered the war for two years for Reuters as their youngest staff correspondent at the time.
His journalistic career continued through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s as a staff correspondent for Reuters, The Daily Telegraph, and BBC TV News, as well as a freelance reporter and producer for, among others, The Sunday Times, Newsweek, and BBC Radio News. During this time Dring covered major stories and events throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, including Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Nigeria, Angola, Uganda, Eritrea, Cyprus, Israel, Brazil, Croatia, Bosnia, and Georgia.
In 1986, at the age of 41, Dring produced and helped design and organise with Founder Chris Long and Sir Bob Geldof Sport Aid and The Race Against Time, still the biggest simultaneous mass-participation sporting event ever held and, at the time, the most complex live global television event ever produced. It raised over US$36 million for famine relief in Africa. More than 20 million people in 120 countries took part.
On The Road Again
In 1992, at the age of 47, Dring retraced his 1962 overland journey to India for BBC Radio 4 as a series entitled On The Road Again. The series was first broadcast in the summer of 1993 and repeated in 1994.
In 1994, at the age of 49, Dring repeated the journey again for an 8-part TV series of the same name for BBC Television and the Discovery Channel. Dring was accompanied on the six-month journey by Director/Cameraman Ron Orders, Recordist/Cameraman Sean Carswell, Production Manager Dan Laurie Simons nephew, and Production Co-ordinator Michelle Smith. They covered 29.000 kilometres 18.000 mi in a Jeep and a Land Rover. Dring wrote a book to accompany the TV series, On The Road Again: Thirty Years On The Travellers Trail To India 1995, which was published by BBC Books.
In 1997, Dring joined with partners in Bangladesh to develop, license, and build Ekushey Television, the first private, commercial terrestrial/satellite TV channel in Bangladesh. As Joint Managing Director of ETV, Dring helped create a vision for ETV that was as much about news and education as it was about entertainment. He established what was, in effect, the first television news operation in the country with a team of more than 50 reporters, producers, and editors.
Within two years, ETV, with a staff of nearly 400 people, grew to become the biggest and most successful network in the country, attracting a national audience of more than 40 million, and many more internationally through its satellite transmissions. It was also financially profitable, with an annual turnover of US$12 million, growing at the rate of 30% per annum and creating jobs for more than 5.000 contractors. However, its considerable success was also its downfall and, despite national and international protest, elections in 2002 saw a new government move quickly to shut down ETV by the end of that year.
Later, Dring continued with his work in television and journalism in a number of countries, including consultancies in Australia and, more recently, in Bangladesh again, for a number of different satellite networks, including chief broadcast advisor for the design, development, launch, and management of Jamuna Television.
Dring was much-decorated. As mentioned earlier, he and John Simpson shared the International Reporter of the Year award at the Monte Carlo Television Festival, aka "Golden Nymph Award", for their reporting of the Iranian Revolution for BBC Television News. For the same platform, he was recognised as an International Valiant For Truth - for his reporting from behind the lines with the EPLF guerrilla forces in Eritrea.
He won UK Television News Reporter of the Year – for his reports for BBC Television News from Eritrea, Zaire, and Iran. Even in America he was feted with the The New York Festival Grand Prize - for his BBC Radio 4 documentary on the US Invasion of Haiti.
And most memorably for Bangladeshis, he won UK Reporter of the Year in 1972– for his eyewitness accounts in The Daily Telegraph of the massacres in Dhaka at the start of the Bangladesh Liberation War.
Dring was looking forward to participating in "one final project" centring Bangladesh's Golden Jubilee of independence, before he passed away unexpectedly in Romania.
This was shared by his partner for the last 26 years of his life, Fiona McPherson, in a Facebook post paying tribute to her beloved. The nature or details of the project were not specified. Dring was 77 at the time of his death.
Also in the post, Fiona shares how she was informed by the hospital that "Simon died in his ETV polo shirt, which our girls now hold as a precious keepsake of their father."
The couple have twin daughters, India and Ava, from their union on earth.
Dring's outsized attachment to Bangladesh becomes plainly apparent from the post, strewn with names and organisations and places and explicitly stating the depth of the bond he shared with the country.
Below we reproduce the text of the status in full:
SIMON JOHN DRING.
11.01.1945 - 16. 07.2021
It is with crushing sorrow that I confirm the sudden and unexpected passing of my beloved partner of 26 years, and the father of our blessed twins, Simon Dring.
Simon died in recovery after an emergency but routine operation in a hospital in Romania on Friday 16th July 2021 at 2.30 am; where we have been living since early 2020.
We were excited to shortly move to France for permanent retirement, intensive family time, and for Simon to write his autobiography.
Simon's success and achievements in his life as a renowned international journalist are very well known. His ingenuity and drive to capture the true story no matter what the cost; to go where it was required, and to do what was needed for that end, is the stuff of legend.
Indeed, our twins have spent many a bed and bath time sharing his extraordinary adventures! It gave our girls, and myself, boundless inspiration and far-reaching courage to live the road less travelled with him. To find answers and meaning in wide horizons.
Simon had started to write a series of short pieces regarding his years as a foreign correspondent and had planned to publish them in South Asia in the near future.
Simon had hoped to participate in one final project later this year, for his beloved Bangladesh, as that country celebrates its important milestone of 50 years of independence. A period in history to which Simon is forever linked, both in fact, and in soul. For Simon to miss this milestone, would simply have broken his heart.
I wish to mention here that I have been informed by the hospital that Simon died in his ETV polo shirt, which our girls now hold as a precious keepsake of their father.
There is too much to remember and too much to say for my saddened mind today.
A life lived as Simon's, has never fulfilled any expectation of normal: routine, responsibilities, consistent, safe, mainstream. It was simply impossible for him to do so. His life was iconically unique.
For those close friends and family with whom I have not yet managed to let you know this sad news, please accept my apologies. Events have surpassed me.
To his friends and colleagues around the world; many of whom were part of his unique history, I say that you were and are still so much part of the shaping of his long story. You were often part of our thoughts and conversations over so many years. Tim Page. Farhad Mahmud. Bernard. Abu Alam. Emma, Jarhna, Deben. And so many more.
For friends and family and colleagues who continue to send their wishes, please know it gives me sincere comfort. Myself and our 2 little girls are deeply grateful. We will try to respond to as many as possible in the time ahead.
To his family in England, France and Spain who spent so many years loving and caring for him; missing him; waiting for him to return home from yet another warzone- and wondering if he really would, I know he was truly grateful, and I know of his regrets.
To his beloved daughter Tanya from his first marriage; to his first wife Helen who first supported his rise to great heights; to his sister Sue who has endlessly been there when Simon appeared off a plane from some far-flung country seeking a meal and the warmth of family, I say a profound thank you. Simon loved you all with his whole heart.
Tom, Dan, Michelle, Sophie, Chris, Jeremy and to all the nieces, nephews, cousins and next-generation versions of those too; he was deeply connected to and so proud of you all; even if his manner and frequency of expression of it was so very Simon Dring-esque. To his only grandsons Nicholas and James, I have watched him glow with pride at how you have grown into confident, handsome young men of the future.
A life is full of many parts and many chapters. Simon's life reflected that much more than most. All of it: his family, his friends, his parents, Fakenham, England, Vietnam, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Romania, Haiti, the Silk Road, Eritrea, On The Road Again, BBC, Reuters, The Daily Telegraph, SportAid, India, Laos, Iran, ETV, Jumna TV, all the TVS, Romanian orphanage and street children who have loved him as their father, and his breathtaking 10 year old twin girls: all moved forward with him and comprised a unique life, well lived, with its music very much revealed.
His contributions, his legacies will continue forward too- in their own unique right and because we will not let them fade.
Your 3 Roses are broken, Dringo.
As India and Ava hugged your cool body today; whispered their promises in your ear and kissed your exquisitely calm face- I wondered how it would be possible to move forward.
My own promise to you on the morning you died, as I held you in shocking disbelief, is that I will raise our beautiful girls India and Ava to be strong, capable, competent, brave, articulate young women; creative, kind, world travelled- with boundless inspiration and very wide horizons. I know how much you adored them.
You were my best friend. My kindred traveller soul. I am so grateful for your love and for the time we were given together.
Oh Dringo, we always thought you would live forever.
We will never forget you.
Rest now in eternal peace.
It is time.