Guy Millard was the man who summoned the Chiefs of Staff when the news came through to Downing Street that President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt had nationalised the Suez Canal. Millard was private secretary to Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden, as the political crisis broke at the end of July 1956, and Britain prepared to send in troops to regain control of the vital international waterway. "It was a dramatic occasion," he recalled. "There was a dinner party going on upstairs for the Iraqis as I remember. I was on duty downstairs when the news came over from the Foreign Office... so to that extent it was a bolt from the blue."
Millard was also one of the handful of people present when the French General Maurice Challe and the French minister of labour Albert Gazier called on Eden at Chequers some weeks later to brief the British prime minister on Israel's intention to invade Egypt, and France's own imminent military plans. That secret meeting took place shortly before the November joint military campaign that ended in humiliation most deeply felt in Britain, when the United States insisted on an immediate withdrawal of forces.
The suave, elegant Millard, who had joined the Diplomatic Service in 1939 and knew Eden both before and after the Second World War and on through Eden's resignation and into his retirement, defended the prime minister's reputation: "He had tremendous courage, tremendous patriotism", he said, and had considered what he did as being "in the interests of his country."
Nevertheless he was afterwards notably reluctant to talk about the Suez affair, and if pressed would adopt a tone of regret. Only when the official papers containing his account of the affair were released, 30 years later, did he expand on the subject to the many questioners who pursued him.
Of Eden he said in a 1987 BBC interview, A Canal Too Far: "I think that he overestimated the importance of Nasser, the importance of Egypt, the importance of the Canal, and the importance of the Middle East, even, itself, and to a certain extent this was a hangover from the war... He had been one of our leaders second only to Churchill in eminence, and the Middle East had at that time been considered more or less the strategic centre of the world. It's an example of the fact that in strategic terms we're always thinking of the last war. But that was his mistake."
In another BBC interview, Living with Anthony, broadcast in September 1989, Millard said that, although Eden had been accused of deceiving the Americans about the ultimate intention to use force to regain control of the Canal, the Americans had deceived Eden: "[John Foster] Dulles [the US Secretary of State] gave Eden a quite specific assurance they would withhold dues [having set up the Suez Canal Users' Association to take the Canal dues and deny them to Nasser] and that Nasser knew [that unless he accepted the international regime for the Canal] they would force their way through, and in the end both these assurances proved to be false."
Eden's denial of having been involved in "some dishonourable conspiracy" in December 1956 failed to save him and he resigned on 9 January 1957. Millard was made CMG the same year.
Guy Elwin Millard was educated at Charterhouse and went up to Pembroke College, Cambridge, on a scholarship in 1935. He read French and German, switching to history for Part II of his Tripos, and taking a double First. He won the Ann Ellen Prince Prize for modern languages in 1937, and as a member of the college's athletics club represented Pembroke in the half-mile.
He came from a prosperous London family and his father, Colonel Baldwin Salter Millard, counted among his achievements the invention of improvements to ships' propellers.
Millard joined the Diplomatic Service in 1939, served in the Royal Navy during much of the Second World War, and on his return worked for a time as a junior secretary to Eden, at the time foreign secretary and a member of the war cabinet. Throughout his career he was to be regarded as "a Mediterranean man", and particularly enjoyed his postings to Iran, Hungary, and Italy.
He began with four years in Paris, then three years in Turkey, followed by a year at the Imperial Defence College. Eden asked, when he became prime minister in 1955, for Millard to be seconded from the foreign office to work for him at Downing Street.
Millard was in Tehran from 1959-62, a place he loved, and where he added Farsi to his other languages. He helped to make a success of the Queen's state visit in March 1961 to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and was that month appointed CVO.
As British minister to Nato from 1964 Millard was based at the headquarters near Paris in the three years before the French pulled out of the alliance command structure in 1967 and HQ moved that April to Mons in Belgium. Millard went on in November 1967 to be Ambassador to Hungary, where he witnessed dismayed reactions the following year, 1968, to the crushing of dissent by the Soviet Union with tanks in neighbouring Czechoslovakia.
He was minister at the British Embassy in Washington from 1970-71, after which he was made KCMG and went to Sweden as ambassador where, it was noted with amusement, this old-fashioned British diplomat got on very well with that country's outspoken and controversial Social Democrat prime minister of the time, Olof Palme.
Millard's last appointment was as Ambassador to Italy during a period of increasing concern about communist participation in government there. The Italian Communist Party was to gain just over 34 per cent of the vote in Italy's general election of June 1976, four months before Millard retired.
In retirement Sir Guy Millard followed his interest in Chinese art, especially sculpture, and particularly representations of horses, about which he acquired great knowledge. He served as chairman of the British-Italian Society from 1977-83 and remained in contact with the society until within a year of his death. Italy made him a Grand Officer of the Order of Merit in 1981.
Guy Elwin Millard, diplomat: born London 22 January 1917; married 1946 Anne Mackenzie (one son, one daughter), 1964 Mary Judy Dugdale (two sons); KCMG 1972, CMG 1957, CVO 1961; died Southrop, Gloucestershire 26 April 2013.