Robert Nowell (OK 1947) died July 29, 2019

Born in Putney, south-west London, to Ralph Nowell, a senior civil servant in the Board of Trade, and his wife, Mary (nee McGregor), he grew up in Wimbledon, in what he described as a “luxurious” household in the 1930s because it had central heating.

During the second world war he was evacuated to Cornwall, and remembered the rationing of food and sweets. In a letter to his grandson, Orlando, he recalled that, “a day or two before D-day

He attended King’s College school, Wimbledon, and the King’s school, Canterbury, during its wartime evacuation to Cornwall. He was 17 when he went to Brasenose College, Oxford, to study classics, graduating in 1952. While at university he became a Catholic and met his future wife, Anne-Marie (nee Giles), another Catholic convert, who was then a secretary in Oxford. Two years’ national service in Germany followed before they married in 1955.

His first jobs as a journalist were with trade journals. He moved to the Catholic Herald as a subeditor in 1957. In 1961 he went to the TVTimes, also as a subeditor, and then in 1962 he became an assistant editor of the Catholic weekly the Tablet, which included a period of time spent in Rome reporting on the second Vatican council.

This was followed, in 1967, by the editorship of Herder Correspondence, a Catholic monthly. After its closure in 1970 he went freelance. Over the years his articles, features, letters and reviews appeared in a wide range of newspapers and magazines including the Guardian, the Observer, the Independent, the Tablet, the Universe and the Church Times.

He also wrote or edited several books about Catholicism, the weightiest of which was his 1981 biography of the Swiss theologian Hans Küng, A Passion For Truth.

In his later years, he was keen on riding and tending his allotment in New Barnet, north London, taking great delight in growing globe artichokes and unusual types of potato, including blue varieties.

He is survived by Anne-Marie, their four children, Richard, John, David and me, and four grandchildren.


Obituary by Mr Nowell’s daughter, Tess Nowell, published in The Guardian 18th August 2019.