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Paul Harris 1948-2018

Paul Harris

It is with great sadness that we announce that Paul Harris, founder and editor of this website, recently passed away. Obituaries have appeared in the Telegraph and the Herald. Below is also a reading from Paul’s funeral which paints a picture the remarkable life that he lived.

Website for sale

This website is now up for sale – interested parties please contact our agent here. Continuously updated since 2013, it is the number one Chinese art blog on the internet, featuring over 500 fascinating and entertaining posts about the world of Chinese art and antiques. Hopefully someone equally passionate and knowledgeable about this field will be able to continue Paul’s legacy.

A reading from Paul’s funeral

Behind the elegant and sophisticated front that Paul Harris presented to the people of Coldingham is a story that could have provided scripts for a dozen films. One was even made, pirating the story of his involvement in the swashbuckling life of early pirate radio.

Later years saw him in the wildly dangerous world of the war correspondent and on the run from an assassination threat from the Taliban and separately from the Tamil Tigers.

Paul was born in July 1948 in Bexley Heath in Kent, the only son of senior (and highly decorated) RAF officer Desmond Harris and his wife Rita. His first school was Bradford Grammar in Yorkshire, before, on demob, the family moved to Scotland, to Elgin, where he enrolled at Elgin Academy. Success, with a good university entrance leaving certificate, brought him to Aberdeen University. There he enjoyed to the full the non-academic, but did succeed in acquiring a degree, an MA which included, prophetically, politics and international relations.

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Meanwhile the music industry, dominated by dictatorial record companies were being challenged in their stranglehold on music and songs and singers by the first of the pirate radio stations. Paul had been Project Manager for Capital Radio. He wrote and published, with his friend Malcolm Forbes a book on the ship based stations, When Pirates Ruled the Waves. No publisher would touch it, but with the sort of advert that anticipated social media by some forty years, three mailbags arrived the following day packed with orders – and payments for the book. An early version of vanity publishing, of which Paul was justly proud. With the massive profits he and Malcolm bought themselves fabulous cars. It was ironic that the book itself was subject to piracy, without even a penny to Paul. It was the inspiration for the film, The Boat That Rocked, starring among others Bill Nighy. Box office receipts are believed to have been over 36 million US dollars.

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Paul went on to publish many books and wrote 44 himself ranging from art history to acute observations of the war zones he was to cover. He published Dictionary of Scottish Painters, 1600 to the Present (2001), highly regarded as a reference to this day.

Photography was an essential part of Paul’s life from an early age. His first published picture when he was fourteen, was of a man being saved from drowning in Aberdeen harbour. Wherever he worked or reported, his camera was there. Many of his books caught on film scenes and events that could never adequately be described in words.

In the late 1980s Paul got involved in the conversion of the magnificent Whittinghame House near Haddington, once the home of Arthur Balfour, Prime Minister from 1902-1905.

Wanderlust took over and for more than ten years Paul worked as a freelance journalist and photographer in many of the more difficult, war-torn parts of the world. He reported for newspapers, magazines, radio and TV on a multitude of conflicts from Sarajevo under siege, the anarchy of Albania and the bloodletting in Algeria, to wars in the jungles of Sri Lanka, the bush of southern Sudan and benighted Somalia.

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He had an instinct for survival. His plane was destroyed by a fighter aircraft on the runway in Ljubljana as the wars in Yugoslavia broke out in 1991. He was close enough to witness the explosion which completely destroyed the centre of the Sri Lankan capital in 1996, from where he was expelled in 2002 after pressure from the rebel Tamil Tigers.

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He almost died in Kosovo from some unsought close contact with dead bodies when they opened a mass grave of massacred Muslims. He worked in China for The Shanghai Daily newspaper and in Colombo for The Daily Telegraph, but it was his work for almost a decade, for Jane’s Intelligence Review, and the murky world of intelligence gathering, which would ultimately force his early retirement after international terrorists issued a directive for his assassination.

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Paul wrote and broadcast for many branches of the media including the BBC, Sky News, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman, as well as the above mentioned. He was winner in the British Press Awards in 1993 for his reporting from Bosnia. His books up to this time included Somebody Else’s War, Cry Bosnia, About Face: Photographs from the Streets of Shanghai and Fractured Paradise: Images of Sri Lanka.

Based in Sri Lanka in 2001, he met and fell in love with a young Chinese lady Sulee, who was to become his wife two years later. His beloved daughter Lucy was born to the nomadic couple in Shanghai where Paul had been head-hunted to join the English-language Shanghai Daily, a position he held for two and a half years. A brief stay in Scotland, then off to Malta, and a switch in career: lecturing in Art and History on small, selective cruise ships (an interest he kept up for the rest of his life, going to the Arctic, the Mediterranean, and many other destinations where his lectures were highly prized.)

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The call of Scotland lured him back with Sulee and Lucy in 2009 to live in North Berwick for two years, before deciding that Coldingham was the place where he would choose to settle permanently.

His interest in, and deep knowledge of Asian Art, especially Vietnamese modern painting, and ceramics, paintings and wooden furniture and carvings from China brought him to a new career with Sulee, whose tastes in the Arts were similar to his, and whose knowledge of Chinese language proved invaluable.

Paul Harris and Sun Yumei at the Songjiang studio of renowned sculptor Chen Dapeng

The little gallery they established at their home in the High Street became a great success, with the two of them haunting the auctions and antique fairs of Scotland and England to find and identify some rare treasures from the Orient. Paul’s marketing skills quickly established him as a respected source for the finest of objects from China and elsewhere, often sharing with friends the delight he experienced on finding a rare Ming vase, an exquisite carving or an equally beautiful Chinese creation.

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Just over a year ago, Paul and Sulee acquired a large commercial building adjoining their house, and the idea of launching an antique and fine art auction was conceived. This became a team effort for the family, with Lucy contributing the essential skills of modern information technology, ably handling the internet bids as they came live on the screen in front of her, and Paul revelling in his role of auctioneer.

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The auctions took off, and the family is determined to build on the strong foundations they have made along with Paul. Sulee is taking over as auctioneer, and will mount the rostrum for the first time at the next Coldingham Borders Auction in the High Street on Saturday June 23rd – in Paul’s honour. (NB. The next auction has now been postponed, so it will not take place on this date.)

Many of these facts have been gleaned from the autobiography Paul was persuaded to write in 2009; he dedicated it to his beloved baby daughter Lucy, then aged five. More Thrills Than Skills summed up Paul’s view of himself, modestly down-playing his extensive achievements, but acknowledging that he had been lucky to have such an interesting, diverse and satisfying life.

Oh, and we forgot to mention that he loved beer and pubs, and Coldingham got top marks for its hostelries, and the friends he made over many a pint in one or other of his locals.

May he rest in peace, and we hope the beer is good in Heaven (with the occasional therapeutic Gin and Tonic).

JM and RH

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