Joseph Hone: Accomplished travel writer and novelist

John Ford film gave Hone a valuable masterclass in storytelling

Joe Hone: February 25th, 1937-August 15th, 2016.  Photograph: Jack McManus

Joe Hone: February 25th, 1937-August 15th, 2016. Photograph: Jack McManus

 

Joseph Hone, who has died in his 80th year, was an accomplished travel writer and novelist. His family tree included the painters Nathaniel Hone the Elder (1718-1784) and Nathaniel Hone the Younger (1831-1917); his sister Geraldine is an artist and his cousins include stained glass artist Evie Hone and writer Leland Bardwell.

From early on Hone wanted to work in films. After teaching jobs in Ireland and Egypt, Lord Killanin, a family friend, asked director John Ford to hire him as a general factotum on a film set in Ireland. The veteran director was hoping to recreate the success of The Quiet Man, but Three Leaves of a Shamrock, released in 1957, was not in the same league.

Storytelling

Nonetheless, Hone got a valuable masterclass in storytelling. He saw how Ford “looked at a set or a landscape, pondering how he was going to move his actors in or against it”. Hone produced plays and musicals at the Theatre Royal, Stratford, in east London. In Dublin he partnered John Ryan in Envoy Productions, responsible for the comedy Fursey in the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1962.

After a stint as a talks producer for BBC radio, he became a broadcasting officer at UN headquarters in New York in 1967. He travelled to Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, India, Pakistan and the Far East, making programmes for UN radio.

Around 1969, he settled in Oxfordshire, near Banbury, with his wife Jacky, whom he had married in 1964, and made popular travel programmes for BBC radio. Now he was in front of the microphone and his mellifluous Irish-tinged accent appealed.

There was an overlap between this work and his travel books. They included The Dancing Waiters about travelling in Asia, Africa, Europe and America (1975) and Children of the Country (1988), which was described as a coast-to-coast trip across the US.

Hone also wrote espionage stories. The Private Sector and The Sixth Directorate featuring the adventures of British spy Peter Marlow were published in the 1970s. They were compared to the books of John le Carré and Len Deighton and won approval from influential New York Times literary critic Anatole Broyard.

Hone’s childhood was difficult. “Rackety” is how fellow writer William Trevor described it. His father Nat Hone was a drunkard who could not support his seven children; his mother Bridget (nee Anthony) was little better. His grandfather Joseph Hone (Old Joe), first biographer of WB Yeats, sent Little Joe aged two to board with essayist Hubert Butler.

Foster parents

In effect, the Butlers were foster parents. Little Joe, more than a paying guest but less than a full member of the family, remained grateful to them. In contrast, Camillus, a younger brother, had a harder time, being separated from his twin. He was adopted by Mary Poppins writer PL Travers, who was better dealing with children on the printed page than in real life.

At first Butler and his wife Susan (known as Peggy) took the boy to live with them at Annaghmakerrig in Co Monaghan, home of Peggy’s brother, actor-manager Tyrone Guthrie.

Later they moved to Butler’s comfortable family home at Maidenhall, Co Kilkenny where Hubert worked in his market garden, wrote and implored Old Joe Hone to contribute to the upkeep of his grandson.

In the 1940s, the boy was sent to board at Sandford Park in Dublin, where a sadistic teacher Hal Deacon beat him.

Half a century later Hone wrote: “He wore rubber-soled shoes and I can hear the sudden squeaks even now as he made his final run in for me, diving out of the sun or from the darkness of the laurel drive.” William Trevor, an earlier pupil, described Deacon as “the most appalling man I’ve ever met”.

Hone went to St Columba’s college in Rathfarnham in 1952, where beatings were handed out by older boys rather than the staff. Hone’s childhood memoir Wicked Little Joe (Lilliput Press) asked how decent people like the Butlers and his grandfather Old Joe could allow this to happen to a child in their care.

He is survived by his wife Jacky (nee Yeend), son William and daughter Lucy.