Remembering Roland Challis

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Jul 18, 2020
by Salzburg Global Seminar
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Remembering Roland Challis

Salzburg Global Fellow, friend and former staff member dies aged 90 Roland Challis (Picture supplied by Jonathan Challis)

Members of staff at Salzburg Global Seminar wish to pay tribute to former employee, Fellow, and friend Roland Challis, who died last month.

Challis passed away on Monday, June 1, 2020, aged 90, after a stroke at his care home in Salisbury, UK. His death marked the end of an extraordinary life, much of which was spent travelling as a journalist.

His first steps into the realm of the fourth estate took place after he graduated with a degree in English language and literature from Wadham College, Oxford. He went to Fleet Street, in London, to work for the Sydney Morning Herald, which led to him moving to Australia to work at its office in Sydney.

He then swapped newsprint for the airwaves when he moved to Melbourne to work with Radio Australia as a producer. Having contracted the travel bug, he made the trip to Kuala Lumpur in his next adventure to serve as a principal leader-writer for the Straits Times.

Roland returned to the UK after six years to work as a special and leader writer for the Westminster Press group of newspapers, but this stay was short-lived. He soon accepted a position with the BBC to be its first full-time South East Asia correspondent based in Singapore. In this position, he reported on countries including Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia. He interviewed figures including Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore, and Norodom Sihanouk, former ruler of Cambodia. Challis would later publish a book about his time in the region titled Shadow of a Revolution: Indonesia and the Generals (2001).

In 1969, after four years in South East Asia, Roland was appointed the BBC’s Cairo correspondent to report on events in the Middle East. During this assignment, he covered the death of Gamal Abdel Nassar, the former president of Egypt. After nearly two years in the role, a snapped Achilles’ tendon ended his career as a foreign correspondent and led him back to the UK.

Roland first came to Schloss Leopolskron in 1973 for a stay, which lasted nearly three weeks. Challis took part in a program titled The New Shape of International Relations. At the time, he was working for the BBC as a current affairs producer in London.

After his return to England, Roland produced various programs for BBC Radio 3 and co-produced Analysis, a BBC Radio 4 series. He spent four years as head of central current affairs for the BBC’s External Services. He was responsible for a department that commissioned the majority of the news analysis and political commentary in more than 30 languages.

Before returning to Salzburg, Roland worked in two other roles at the BBC. He worked for BBC Monitoring as its editor of news and publications before being appointed as head of the service. He retired from the organization after a personal bereavement.

Having maintained a connection with the Salzburg Seminar as chairman of its European Advisory Council, Roland later returned to Salzburg to work full-time for the organization. He was appointed Deputy Director and worked at Schloss Leopoldskron between 1986 and 1990.

Roland lived inside an apartment in the Meierhof, where he was able to enjoy the organization’s academic nature as well as the social life it provided. At one point, Challis joined other members of staff for a cruise along the River Nile.

Roland was a Francophile and a lover of French literature. He spent two years in France after leaving Salzburg before moving to Salisbury, UK, to be closer to his family. He became active in the local arts scene and helped establish the Salisbury Art Centre and a number of poetry groups. He continued to maintain a keen interest in current affairs.

In the last two years of his life, Roland lived with Parkinson’s disease, which restricted his mobility, but he remained defiantly independent at home. In April this year, he suffered a fall and broke his shoulder which saw his condition deteriorate. He spent three weeks in hospital before moving into a care home where he passed away on June 1.

A private funeral took place on June 24 in Salisbury, attended by family and friends. Challis is survived by his children Robin, Rowen and Jonathan, his grandchildren, his former wife Joyce, and partner Diana Burnett.