Peter Hopkirk (15 December 1930 – 22 August 2014) was a British journalist, author and historian who wrote six books about the British Empire, Russia and Central Asia. His military and family background stood him in good stead for a future writing career about dangerous places, difficult situations, espionage and intrigue.
Peter Hopkirk was born in Nottingham, the son of Frank Stewart Hopkirk, a prison chaplain, and Mary Perkins. He grew up at Danbury, Essex, noticeable for the historic palace of the Bishop of Rochester. Hopkirk was educated at the Dragon School in Oxford. The family hailed originally from the borders of Scotland in Roxburghshire where there was a rich history of barbaric raids and reivers hanging justice. It must have resonated with his writings in the history of the lawless frontiers of the British Empire. From an early age he was interested in spy novels carrying around Buchan's Greenmantle and Kipling's Kim stories about India. At the Dragon he played rugby, and shot at Bisley.
Before turning full-time author, he was an ITN reporter and newscaster for two years, the New York City correspondent of Lord Beaverbrook's The Sunday Express, and then worked for nearly twenty years on The Times; five as its chief reporter, and latterly as a Middle East and Far East specialist. In the 1950s, he edited the West African news magazine Drum, sister paper to the South African Drum. Before entering Fleet Street, he served as a subaltern in the King's African Rifles in 1949 – in the same battalion as Lance-Corporal Idi Amin, later to emerge as a Ugandan tyrant.
He sought a life in dangerous situations as a journalist, being sent to Algeria to cover the revolutionary crisis in the French colonial administration. Inspired by Maclean's Eastern Approaches he began to think about the Far East. During the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961 he was based in New York covering the events for the Express. No stranger to misadventure, Hopkirk was twice arrested and held in secret police cells, omce in Cuba, where he was accused of spying for the US Government. His contacts in Mexico obtained his release. In the Middle East, he was hijacked by Arab terrorists in Beirut, which led to his expulsion. The PLO hijacked his plane, a KLM jet bound for Amsterdam at the height of the economic oil crises in 1974. Hopkirk confronted them and persuaded the armed gang to surrender their weapons.
His works have been officially translated into fourteen languages, and unofficial versions in local languages are apt to appear in the bazaars of Central Asia. In 1999, he was awarded the Sir Percy Sykes Memorial Medal for his writing and travels by the Royal Society for Asian Affairs. much of his research came from the India Office archives, British Library, St Pancras.
Hopkirk died on 22 August 2014 at the age of 83.
- Sir Percy Sykes Memorial Prize (1999)
- Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Cities and Treasures of Chinese Central Asia, 1980
- on early European explorations of the Taklamakan Desert
- Trespassers on the Roof of the World: The Race for Lhasa, 1982
- Setting the East Ablaze: Lenin's Dream of an Empire in Asia, 1984
- The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia, John Murray, 1990, ISBN 071954727X
- On Secret Service East of Constantinople: The Great Game and the Great War, 1994 ISBN 0719550173
- published in the US as: Like Hidden Fire: The Plot to Bring Down the British Empire, 1995
- on plots by the Germans to raise Central Asia against the British during World War I
- Quest for Kim: in Search of Kipling's Great Game, 1996;
Patrick Leigh Fermor of The Daily Telegraph nominated The Great Game for the Book of the Year. Edward Said from Punch Magazine called it a "superb account." And the FT declared it to be "immensely readable and magesterial". Hopkirk, wrote Lord Longford, displayed "astonishing erudition."
- Secondary sources