Sir Alan Campbell

Skilful diplomat in Paris, New York and London who became Britain's ambassador to Ethiopia and to Italy


Alan Hugh Campbell, diplomat: born 1 July 1919; Head of Western Department, Foreign Office 1965-67; Counsellor, Paris 1967-69; ambassador to Ethiopia 1969-72; Assistant Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office 1972-74, Deputy Under-Secretary of State 1974-76; ambassador to Italy 1976-79; Chairman, British-Italian Society 1983-90; Chairman, British School at Rome 1987-94; Governor, Sherborne School 1973-87; married 1947 Margaret Taylor (died 1999, three daughters); died London 7 October 2007.

Alan Campbell epitomised the best qualities of service in the Foreign Office. He was not a large man physically but was a person of great energy, most particularly intellectual. He was a supremely competent diplomat – shrewd, well-informed, thorough and of good judgement. He served as ambassador to Ethiopia from 1969 to 1972 and ambassador to Italy, 1976-79, as well as in senior posts in London.

Campbell was born in 1919. He was proud of his West Country connections – his father had rebuilt a large house near Kingsbridge on the south Devon coast, and Campbell returned to the area in retirement to paint. He was educated at Sherborne School and at Caius College, Cambridge, where he read modern languages and was fluent in French and German. He took a First in Part I before serving in the Devonshire Regiment during the Second World War. In 1946 he joined the Foreign Office and was posted to Singapore as third secretary.

All the jobs which Campbell held in the Foreign Office were important and interesting – a tribute, no doubt, to his abilities. To pick out just a few, in 1950 he became Private Secretary to the Permanent Under-Secretary Sir William Strong (later Lord Strong). Here he learnt much from someone whom he greatly admired: the importance of a good relationship between the Permanent Secretary and the Foreign Secretary; the need for sensitive management of the Diplomatic Service; and careful handling of the intelligence agencies. The Maclean and Burgess defections took place while he was with Strong.

Campbell was appointed in 1959 Assistant Head of the News Department. The journalists with whom he dealt appreciated the clarity of his mind, the shrewdness of his assessments, his manifest integrity and his amused sense of the absurd. A relationship of trust was established.

In 1961 Campbell was transferred to the Mission to the United Nations, a posting which he particularly enjoyed. He was Head of Chancery – in effect Chief of Staff – first to Sir Patrick Dean and then to Lord Caradon (formerly the Colonial Governor Sir Hugh Foot) who was appointed as Minister of State and ambassador to the United Nations by the Labour government. Campbell's incisive mind very quickly mastered the intricacies of UN procedures and he proved to be a consummate tactician. In those days attention to detail, knowledge of procedure, the lobbying of potential allies and skilful amendment of a resolution could still swing a vote. Not so today. Both ambassadors whom Campbell served relied heavily on his skill. In the Security Council, he was deeply involved in the drama of the Cuban missile crisis.

A move to Paris as Head of Chancery to Sir Patrick Reilly and then Christopher (later Lord) Soames produced as many challenges: first the student riots in 1968 when plans had to be made for evacuating the embassy (happily not implemented) and then the "Soames affair" – the publication by the British government of proposals made privately by General de Gaulle to the ambassador. Campbell, after his retirement, wrote a brief account of this incident that had soured relations with the French for some time.

Then came Campbell's first ambassadorial appointment. Serving in Ethiopia from 1969 to 1972 he formed a close relationship with Emperor Haile Selassie. He admired the emperor's dignity and his control over all aspects – religious and political – of his country, but realised that change would have to come. After the revolution and the murder of the emperor, members of Haile Selassie's family sought refuge in London. Campbell, when he was back at the Foreign Office, kept in touch with them and tried to ensure that they were adequately provided for. He and his wife Margaret – who supported him admirably in all his postings – had travelled extensively in Ethiopia and had made a notable collection of silver Coptic crosses.

From 1972 to 1976 Campbell was Assistant and then Deputy Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office. He supervised, among others, the departments dealing with southern Africa, and in two successive years he travelled to those countries with Alec Douglas-Home and Jim Callaghan. Both Foreign Secretaries trusted him and admired his clear mind, negotiating skills and his dry wit. Subsequently he was Political Director, returning to European affairs. Campbell's final appointment was ambassador to Italy (1976-79), which he greatly welcomed and enjoyed.

His interests and talents ranged widely. After retirement he worked as a foreign affairs advisor to Rolls-Royce and as a director of National Westminster Bank. He was also a writer and an amateur water colourist. He enjoyed lively company and was often to be found lunching at the Beefsteak or searching for new books in the library at Brooks's. His sharp enquiring mind never deserted him and his sense of humour was never far below the surface. Until his eyes failed him he was a competent and crafty tennis player.

Alan Campbell married in 1947 Margaret Taylor and they had three daughters. They were a happy family and Campbell was tireless in looking after his wife when she became ill. In 1988 he published an autobiography, Colleagues and Friends – an appropriate title, as he always kept in touch with both and retained a keen interest in the welfare and reputation of the Foreign Office. It was noticeable, as he became confined to his flat in Westminster, how many friends used to telephone, visit him, and continue to enjoy his company.

Antony Acland

Alan Campbell was my immediate predecessor in Rome, writes Sir Ronald Arculus. He and Margaret had served there before and were very happy, so naturally reluctant to leave when retirement beckoned. Alan then generously arranged to give us an exemplary handover. He even prepared for me a valuable account of recent Italian politics – always a complex puzzle.

His time in Rome had not been an easy one. The Red Brigades terrorist group was active and it was during this period, in 1978, that the former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro was murdered. Nato needed bases in Italy, including at Naples. European Community affairs were not easy either, and the row over the British budget contribution was brewing up.

There were numerous British organisations in Italy needing support, including the British Council, the British Institute of Florence, the Keats-Shelley House on the Spanish Steps, the British School at Rome and the Protestant Cemetery. Another issue was that there were those in London who wanted the fine, traditional ambassador's residence sold and another, smaller and more modern one, built at the bottom of the garden of the Basil Spence embassy (a building that Romans disliked).

Back in London after retirement we shared the duties of supporting British/Italian interests. Alan chaired the British Italian Society from 1983 to 1990 and the British School at Rome from 1987 to 1994.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering