Sir Andrew Stark
Popular ambassador to Denmark
Monday 24 April 2006
Andrew Alexander Steel Stark, diplomat: born Fauldhouse, West Lothian 30 December 1916; Assistant Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary 1953-55; Head of Chancery, Belgrade 1956-58; Head of Chancery, Rome 1958-60; Counsellor, Foreign Office 1960-64; CMG 1964, KCMG 1975; Counsellor, Bonn 1964-68; CVO 1965; attached to Mission to UN with the rank of ambassador 1968; Under-Secretary-General, United Nations 1968-71; ambassador to Denmark 1971-76; Deputy Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office 1976-78; chairman, Maersk Co 1978-87; Chairman, Anglo-Danish Society 1983-95, Honorary President 1995-2006; Pro-Chancellor, Essex University 1983-95, Chairman of Council 1990-93; married 1944 Helen Oxley Parker (two sons, and one son deceased); died White Notley, Essex 3 April 2006.
Andrew Stark was successively scholar, schoolmaster, soldier, diplomat, businessman and Pro-Chancellor of Essex University. His chief claims to fame were his long tenure of the British ambassadorship in Copenhagen and his seeing off of the ill-advised Central Policy Review Staff Report of 1978 on the future of the Foreign Service.
Stark was born of humble parents in the village of Fauldhouse, West Lothian. He won a scholarship to Bathgate Academy, entailing a six-mile walk to and fro each day, rain, hail or snow. He lost his parents when he was still quite young. His brother died 50 years ago and his two sisters not long after. Never did he expect to reach within eight months of 90.
At the age of 17 he gained a scholarship to Edinburgh University to study English and Scottish literature. He got a degree with honours and ever after was steeped in English and Scottish poetry - Donne, Marvell, Dryden, Burns, Eliot, Spender. He knew the whole of Hamlet by heart - very appropriate for the future ambassador to Elsinore.
He was always proud, rightly, of his Scottish ancestry and retained his Scottish accent despite the snobbery of the Foreign Office. He became a schoolmaster in 1937 and taught English. But when the Second World War came he immediately volunteered for service in the infantry and after Octu was commissioned in the Green Howards - a far cry from West Lothian. Then, because of his excellent German, learnt from boyhood, he was transferred to the Intelligence Corps and ended the war as GSO II on Eisenhower's staff planning D-Day.
Two months later, Stark married a glamorous Essex girl, Rosemary Parker, a Parker of the Strutt & Parker estate agent partnership, and began a very happy marriage of nearly 62 years. Three boys resulted - Michael, who followed him into the Foreign Service, Antony, a banker, and Donald, who died tragically young.
At the end of the war Stark was getting ready to go back to schoolmastering when a fellow officer said, "Stark, I've just got into the Foreign Service. It's easy - why don't you join me?" Stark thought this was a better proposition than a lifetime of pedagogy. He passed those tough tests at the Foreign Office Selection Board at Stoke D'Abernon and the intimidating final interview at Burlington House, joining the service in 1948.
He became an Assistant Private Secretary to the Secretary of State, Anthony Eden, at a time when, before Suez, Eden's star shone like a lighthouse. Stark then served in four of the plum European embassies - Vienna, Belgrade, Rome and Bonn. In the last-named his ambassador was the formidable Sir Frank Roberts, a workaholic. Enticing his boss one evening on to the tennis court, Stark could not control his competitive spirit and Sir Frank and his partner were beaten 6-0, 6-0. No more early evenings.
The more serious aspect of those years was the Cold War. As First Secretary in Vienna he attempted to take his family on holiday by car over the Semmering Pass, which required a Soviet travel permit as the route crossed the Soviet sector. "Documents incomplete," said Soviet border officials. Stark made up the offending blanks and was passed through.
More importantly, from Bonn in 1964, he had the delicate task of retaining a Russian fighter, which had crash-landed in the British zone of Berlin, until full details of the Soviet plane had been recorded. It was a masterly example of procrastination. In Belgrade the Starks made many friends, including Serbs. He was devastated when, after Tito's death, Yugoslavia collapsed into civil war and ethnic cleansing.
In 1968, at the age of 52, Stark was appointed, with ambassadorial rank, to the British Delegation to the United Nations and in the Seven Nation Committee working for the reform and reorganisation of the UN. He then served on the staff of the UN for three years from 1968 to 1971. But one of his few failures in life was to reform the UN - a task perhaps too big for any man.
In 1971 Stark was offered the embassy in Copenhagen. He was delighted to get away from New York. He and Rosemary were immediately adopted by Danish society and he remained as ambassador for the exceptionally long spell of five years. He became even more popular for his prowess in shooting. When his successor, Dame Anne Warburton, arrived in Copenhagen, she was asked, "Do you shoot, too?" Anne replied, "No, but I beat." The Danes were left in some fear of this formidable woman.
Eight months before his retirement - and very reluctantly - Stark returned to London at the behest of his Permanent Under-Secretary, Sir Michael Palliser, to head up the FCO team versus the Central Policy Review Staff team headed by Sir Kenneth Berrill and Tessa (later Baroness) Blackstone. The CPRS had an absurd remit, including the merging of the Foreign Service with the Home Civil Service. After several exchanges Stark emerged triumphant, with The Economist declaring, "Game, Set and Match to Sir Michael."
In what he laughingly called his retirement Stark was not short of jobs. He was appointed a non-executive director of the Scandinavian Bank and also of the brewers Carlsberg. But, more important, Maersk McKinney Møller, the world's greatest shipowner since Agamemnon, invited him to be chairman of his UK subsidiary, the Maersk Company Ltd, at a time when Møller had decided to expand his UK interests (the Maersk now has the largest fleet under the British flag and AP Møller, the parent company, has the largest and best fleet of merchant ships throughout the world). As Chairman of the Anglo- Danish Society and of the Anglo-Danish Trade Advisory Board, Stark worked ceaselessly for the better understanding of Anglo-Danish relations.
He became prominent too in his county of Essex. The Starks bought a medieval farmhouse, Fambridge Hall, where Andrew, in his old Panama hat, loved to feed the ducks in the pond and Rosemary created a garden fit to be open to the public several times a year for charity. He became a member of the Council of Essex University, then Chairman and ultimately, Pro-Chancellor. Under his guidance the rebellious earlier years of that university were soon history.
Stark continued to advise the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. He bought a Jaguar. Indeed, he bought five Jaguars. Five-Jag Stark also had a talent for dancing - he cut a dashing figure in his swirling kilt long into his eighties.
In his "retirement" the philanthropy of the man came out. He was President of the Essex Disabled Peoples' Association for 20 years and a churchwarden of his church at White Notley (dating from AD 998 - he was president of the millennium fund-raising campaign to save it).
His final charity was inspired by his son Michael, who had followed him into the Foreign Service and who is now with VSO working with bushmen in Namibia. Stark decided that donations in his memory should go to the San people of Namibia.
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