SOMERSET-born journalist Mike Ford has been recalling his working relationship and later friendship with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The South African spiritual leader, who died at the weekend aged 90, first came into Mike's life when he was a producer on BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme.

Mike secured an interview with Tutu about apartheid while the prelate was in Britain promoting a book.

"I'd always been influenced by his theology and ethics, especially his belief that to be neutral in any situation is to side with the powerful," said Mike, a former student at Wellington School.

"We later learned that we'd both had the same theology professor."

In subsequent years Mike secured a number of exclusive interviews with Tutu for the BBC.

Then, in more recent times, Tutu became a spiritual guide to Mike, helping him discern his future path.

"I am sure he had thousands of friends around the world, but he took the time to send thoughtful e-mails which I shall always treasure," added Mike, a one-time reporter on the Somerset County Gazette.

"He signed each of them 'Love Arch'.

"Desmond Tutu was an inspirational champion of human rights.

"He displayed courage and perseverance which formed part of an ingrained commitment to the liberation of the oppressed."

Mike added that, as a religious leader, Tutu was "authentically spiritual because he was so utterly human".

And, for a journalist, the international peacemaker was always so quotable.

One of his most powerful lines was: "My humanity is bound up in yours and we can only be human together."