Roger Beetham: British diplomat noted for his Europhilia

Roger Beetham was a British diplomat who suspected that linguistic and managerial abilities, his own strengths, were somewhat undervalued in the modern Foreign Office. Born in Burnley, Beetham attributed his reputation for straight talking to his Lancastrian heritage, but he was educated at Ryde School, Isle of Wight, and Peter Symonds' School in Winchester, where he excelled in languages and performances in school plays.

His fluency in French and German inspired him to hope for a diplomatic career, and after reading modern languages at Oxford he entered the diplomatic service in 1960. He was quickly involved as a member of the British delegation to the Disarmament Conference in Geneva, where he found it "relatively easy" to get along with ministers "as long as you treat them as ordinary people, which many diplomats don't". In his three years there, 1962-65, the Conference achieved the Partial Test Ban Treaty and the Non-Proliferation Treaty – more progress than in the next four decades.

Having gone to Washington four times in those years, as the British diplomats joked "to go and get instructions", Beetham was posted to the US capital as commercial secretary in 1965, principally concerned with organising British Weeks and trade fairs. His stay reinforced his view that Britain really was a European country, and he left America the day after Nixon was elected, gloomily predicting that no good would come of it.

To his surprise he found he had been chosen to work in the Foreign and Commonwealth News Department as press spokesman on Europe. He took easily to press relations, and from that time on many of his best friends were journalists. Some FCO superiors felt that on occasion his frank and open dealing went a little far. Beetham recalled: "I remember Lord Brimelow remarking: 'I see the whole of our briefing was on the front page of the Daily Express today'. I said: 'Yes, but was it accurate?', and he said: 'Well, I suppose for the Daily Express it was'."

Beetham was press spokesman in the UK's entry negotiations with the Common Market first for Antony Barber, whom he found dry, nervous and troubled, and then Geoffrey Rippon, whose relaxed "cigars and brandy" approach he felt was better appreciated by the Europeans. After four years as Head of Chancery in Helsinki, he returned to press work as spokesman for Roy Jenkins during his term as President of the European Commission. Even he, though, struggled to interest the British press or government in Jenkins' proposal for European monetary union. On the day Jenkins launched the plan with a speech in Florence, the Daily Telegraph diverted its Rome correspondent because somewhere else in Italy a British tourist had gone missing.

Beetham went on as commercial councillor in New Delhi to run Britain's biggest bilateral aid programme with exemplary efficiency, and to prove the worth, as ambassador to Senegal, Cape Verde, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Mali, of cultivating the politicians of even such small and far-flung countries. The Cape Verde opposition leader he cultivated proved valuable after winning elections and acceding to Cape Verde's seat on the UN Security Council. Beetham finished his career as Permanent Secretary to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, a city he loved and to which he retired.

Having been in at the birth of the idea of monetary union, Beetham retained an interest in it and in 2002 edited a balanced collection of essays, The Euro Debate: Persuading the People. A lifelong Europhile, he was sure accepting the euro would prove the right choice for Britain, but accepted a referendum would be needed. He died in Strasbourg following an accident.

Robin Young

Roger Campbell Beetham, diplomat: born Burnley 22 November 1937; married 1965 Judith Rees (divorced 1986), 1986 Christine Malerme; CMG 1993, LVO 1976; died Strasbourg 19 September 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all