12 APRIL 1975, Page 15

Alien parts

Geoffrey McDermott

Foreign Body In :The Eye, Charles MottRadclyffe (Leo Cooper £5.50) This `Memoir of the Foreign Service' in fact covers a wider field than that; `the' might well have been omitted, as the author also goes into a good deal of detail about his military service abroad. For me, the book has two disparate aspects. On the one hand, Charles MottRadclyffe shows that he is a true blue, predictable Tory throughout. On the other, he has a sharp eye, and a witty pen, for describing quirks and odd happenings in his diplomatic, military and political career. He is admirably irreverent on occasions. Since many of the characters involved are or were personal friends of mine this aspect has a special appeal for me. The author began his career as one of those rare birds, long since extinct, an honorary attaché. He well describes the often farcical atmosphere in his first post in 1936, our tiny Legation at Athens, ruled by 'HM Monster', Sir Sydney Waterlow, also known as the Waterbeast. The photograph of him opposite page twenty has something of the walrus about it. In the magnificent spoof telegram which the author later invented and reproduces in the appendix, Sir Sydney figures as one of Sir Percy Loraine's reasons tor declining Ataturk's suggestion that he should become President of Turkey: it would create a most dangerous precedent. What if General Metaxas entertained similar aspirations in respect of Sir Sydney Waterlow in Greece? It is curious that the telegram should have been published as genuine since its preamble states that copies have been sent to, among other posts, Bogota, Bangkok and Tegncigalpa, which were hardly concerned.

Many other lighthearted episodes are well recorded here. Marshal Balbo, when Governor General of Libya, remarks of a new Italian aircraft which did not impress him:"If You feed it on nuts it will fly backwards." A former Greek General is reported as habitually mounting his horse from the wrong side under the illusion that his left leg was made of glass and could not take the strain. A French General, after some military catastrophe, explains, in his admirable franglais: "II y avait !in tout petit balls-up" (He might have said 'une snafu"). And the outstanding event in the author's lecture tour in the USA was a cricket Match: "The moving spirit was a South African Who emigrated to Hollywood many years ago and divided his time in equal proportion between the films, psychiatry and cricket. He skippered the side, Standing five feet high, with a pencilled moustache, knock-knees, long hair, he had a highly-developed sense of publicity and seven sons." This is crisp. On diplomatic and military matters the author's style is less crisp and more conventional. On Greek politics he justifiably expresses the view, though not in the words of the old saying, that wherever three Greeks are discussing such matters at least four political Parties will be represented. The most striking Point in his account of his time at the Rome Embassy, during the critical years 1936-38, was the abysmally bad security. Not only were gallant wives, daughters, typists, you name it, called in to help enand decypher secret telegrams; but an Italian Embassy servant, Procured the key to the box where the Ambassador kept his top secret documents and enabled his chums to photograph the contents at will. At an even more crucial time half way

through the war we in the Embassy at Ankara (or Angora as we called it, like the rabbit) were similarly lax about Cicero. The Italian servant kept his job after the war; Cicero asked to have his back, and was given a rude answer. Security was generally considered a bit of a farce, or fuss, in those days.

Mott-Radclyffe's military assignments, and travels as chairman of the,Conserative Party's Foreign Affairs Committee from 1951 to 1959, took him mainly to the Middle East. Four chapters are devoted to Greece — where, after all, the local inhabitants in those days would say that they were 'going to Europe' for a holiday — and others to Cyprus and Egypt in 1954, and the Persian Gulf in 1960. In all these, as in the chapter on Rhodesia and the Congo in 1961, he follows the traditional Conservative line and consequently has little new light to shed. On one Greek suggestion concerning Cyprus he has an apposite comment: "We in Britain did not like plebiscites and odd things were apt to happen when they were held." In writing of African problems he lapses into cliches: "The African is not a white man in a black skin. His whole mentality is different ... They have gone from the Stone Age to the Jet Age in eighty years. Many Africans want to achieve in one hop, so to speak, the European standard of living which they see all round them." This is rather superficial analysis. While defending in general the whites' case on Rhodesia he avoids all mention of Ian Smith, which may be significant.

The author produces numerous character vignettes of his diplomatic and military colleagues, and others. The trouble is that they are apt to be fulsome; every man and woman

mentioned is invariably able, amusing and hospitable. I do not myself remember this as always being the case. Indeed, I could name at least two of his favourite leading ladies as being widely considered and with some reason, as pretty good bitches. I could, but I shall not. Conversely his objective description of the complex and truly able character, General Spears, stands out. I can confirm from my own experience that this exceptional man both loved feuding with his peers — fellow-Generals and Ambassadors — and was always most kind, together with his wife the novelist Mary Borden, to his juniors.

The author's emollience extends to his account of the work of the Plowden Committee, of which he was a member, which from 1962-3 reviewed "the purpose, structure and operation of the services responsible for representing the interests of the United Kingdom overseas." Here all was courtesy — "1 cannot remember a cross word", "tireless energy, tact and humour" — and so on. The Committee did in fact produce a number of useful ideas designed to pull the Foreign Office a little further into the twentieth century. But

they still jibbed at a combined Foreign and Commonwealth Office, largely because they thought the burden on the head man would be two heavy. What about the burdens borne by his opposite numbers in the USA and the USSR? One trouble was that the Committee consisted entirely of Establishment figures. We could now do with a fresh review of the FC0 and Diplomatic Service by complete outsiders, with more abrasiveness. The author is at his best in relating the discussion on the knotty financial problem of what came to be known as the "Mott-Radclyffe representational fruit."

The blurb contains a piece of good advice: this book "should be kept by the bedside of all diplomats and politicians" — and I would add soldiers — "who feel they are in danger of taking themselves too seriously." This is all the more important since, in the late twentieth century, it is impossible to take too seriously the problems with which we all have to grapple.

Geoffrey McDermott, who retired from the Foreign Service in 1962, has written among other books, The New Diplomacy