Piers Plowright: 'An extraordinary force, devoted to Hampstead'

Piers Plowright and Poh Sim sit on a fallen tree on Hampstead Heath

Piers Plowright and Poh Sim on Hampstead Heath - Credit: Antoinette Eugster

Piers Plowright was the "most amazing listener", a lover of music, books and art, and most of all the sort of man who would march a gaggle of sleepy children up Parliament Hill in order to give them a precious memory or two.

The BBC radio producer died aged 83 in July, and he is remembered by his wife Poh Sim, family and friends as a figure like no other. 

Piers Plowright, one of Hampstead's most distinctive characters

Piers Plowright, one of Hampstead's most distinctive characters - Credit: Lucy Tizzard

One of his three children, Natasha, told the Ham&High her dad was an "extraordinary force"

"He was one of the most incredible people," she said. "When we grew up in Gayton Crescent he was like everyone's dad, really. He was always around and would rally us kids like the Pied Piper.

"Recently I was sitting with him remembering how he got us all up at 4am and marched us up Parliament Hill to celebrate Mayday. All of us sleepy kids being shepherded up by this marvellous human being." 

Piers Plowright playing guitar on holiday in Walberswick, Suffolk in 1977

Piers Plowright on holiday in Walberswick, Suffolk in 1977 - Credit: John Haynes

Natasha spoke of her dad's curiosity and how he instilled that in his family, and how he would play his guitar on the front porch. 

"He was always forcing us to look up," she said. "'Look up' he would say and point out a gargoyle or some other architectural detail."

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Other pillars of Piers' life were his faith, Hampstead and the Heath, and his love of culture. Marie-Elsa Bragg, daughter of Piers' great friend Melvyn Bragg, knew him all her life. 

A black and white image from around 1974 of Piers Plowright in Cumbria with family and friends

Piers Plowright in Cumbria with family and friends. Pictured, clockwise from left to right, are his father Dr Oliver Plowright, Piers, Peter Coppin, Cate Haste, Piers' wife Poh Sim, Melvyn Bragg, Natasha Plowright, Marie-Elsa Bragg and Francesca Plowright - Credit: Plowright family

She said: "He was a fabulously thoughtful and spiritual man, and a big influence on my becoming a priest. We had soul-searching conversations all of my life, until just a couple of weeks ago.

"He would read and draw and paint and he had a profound understanding of creativity. He loved everybody and talked to everybody. There's not a shopkeeper, street worker, or homeless person who he wouldn't have stopped to talk to and had a really interesting and genuine conversation with."

Piers Plowright pictured in a studio full of his artwork

Piers Plowright - who loved painting and even created a mural of Adam and Eve for the Bragg family home, in 2015 - Credit: Victor Hall

Lord Bragg met Piers during their time at Oxford.

"We met in a play – the Tempest," he said. "A group of us got together and we toured Germany with it for two months. Piers played Caliban, completely against character as he was the nicest, kindest person. 

"He had a beautiful speaking voice, very clear and welcoming, and he had such a presence on stage. 

"I knew him very well from then on. He had an interesting combination of being very kind and very understanding, but also a serious intellectual."

He paid tribute to Piers' community spirit and sense of humour.

Piers Plowright with his beloved wife Poh Sim

Piers Plowright with his beloved wife Poh Sim - Credit: Hallam Murray

Laughing, recalling Gayton Road Festivals during the 1970s, he said: "Piers was so good at setting off a whole box of fireworks 'by accident'. How many times can you do that by accident before it's perhaps not an accident? 

"He was one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. He was a great man and a great part of my life."

Cate Haste with Piers Plowright and Tristram Powell at a dinner party

Piers Plowright with Cate Haste and Tristram Powell - Credit: courtesy of Tom Bragg

Natasha, Marie-Elsa and Melvyn noted Piers' fondness for "cracking the ice" in the Heath's ponds each winter. Marie-Elsa remembered: "He would put us in a rowing boat on the Heath, break the ice and swim, and then we'd be off to church." 

Natasha said: "He would take us when we were little and the lifeguard, Terry, was there. He would look after us while my dad would go into the water. Terry would entertain us while dad was cracking the ice, swimming in whatever the weather."

Lord Bragg added: "He wanted to know everybody and everybody wanted to know him. He was a man remarkable in his devotion to Hampstead. 

"We used to meet at Dominique's, supposedly for a cup of tea but it would always end up being a glass of wine over lunch. This is a great loss for me and I will miss him horribly."

Piers Plowright in the Gayton Road garden of the old home of Cate Haste and Lord Bragg

Piers Plowright in Melvyn Bragg's old Gayton Road garden - Credit: courtesy of Tom Bragg

Speaking about how she and her daughter Isabella lived in the basement flat of her parent's Well Walk home for a time, Natasha said: "He was magic. He would take her off out of the door between the homes and they would spend hours together."

She said he was a great supporter of Keats Community Library and trustee Vicky Bobasch said she would "never have to ask him twice".

"He would volunteer for anything and he would always be enthusiastic," she said.

Marie Elsa said: "He never did or gave anything because he wanted acknowledgement. He did things because he really thought something would be good for you, or would be something you would find joyous or hopeful. He was never nasty or ambitious and was truly engaged with the world." 

Piers Plowright – BBC radio producer, Prix D'Italia winner, poet, painter and writer – died aged 83 on July 23, 2021. He had been battling cancer. He is survived by wife Poh Sim, children Natasha, Francesca and Matthew, and grandchildren Isabella, Louis and Dexter.