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.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup