Tributes to Harpenden publicist who worked with three Archbishops

John Miles.

John Miles. - Credit: Archant

A Harpenden man who worked for the Archbishop of Canterbury has died at the age of 89 after a short illness.

John Miles and Desmond Tutu at a Lambeth conference in the 80s.

John Miles and Desmond Tutu at a Lambeth conference in the 80s. - Credit: Archant

John Miles, who worked with South African social rights activist Bishop Desmond Tutu, lived in Harpenden with his wife Judy and played an active part in the community as a member of the Harpenden United Nations Association, Hammonds End Golf Club and various bridge groups.

John, who lived in Harpenden for 30 years, started his career in the 1950s and 60s as a press officer for the BBC. He covered the ‘Our World’ satellite link, which featured the Beatles and was the first live, international satellite TV production. He also publicised many radio and TV productions including Horizon and Blue Peter.

From 1970, John served three different Archbishops of Canterbury in his role as chief information officer for the Church of England. While Michael Ramsey was Archbishop John travelled extensively, visiting South Africa while it was still under the grip of apartheid.

Following John’s death, Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote: “John was of great help to us on trips to London when we were lobbying the British public to impose sanctions against apartheid, setting up press opportunities for me and advising my staff on how to get our message out.

“I believe he was also involved in the famous episode in which Archbishop Michael Ramsey carefully practised his frown in a mirror before meeting the apartheid-era Prime Minister, John Vorster, on a trip to South Africa.

“It was an unpleasant meeting for the Archbishop and he was careful not to give succour to the perpetrators of apartheid by smiling in Mr Vorster’s presence.”

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During John’s time as information officer he also covered the ordination of women priests and the incarceration of Archbishop Runcie’s envoy Terry Waite in the Middle East.

John is survived by his three sons, Robert, Timothy and Alastair. His son Robert said: “Dad had a knack of making people feel at ease. He was always keen to engage with the people around him and share experiences when he found someone with whom he had a common interest, however small.

“He was a kind and loving husband, father and grandfather, generous of time and spirit and very welcoming to the wider family and our friends. Latterly, he spent a good deal of time with one of my daughters, who remembers smiles and laughter, calling him her ‘partner in crime’ as they went on trips to local shops and restaurants and coped with the trials and tribulations of his advancing age.”

John’s funeral will be held at West Herts Crematorium at 2pm on Wednesday, May 10.