Sir Michael Jenkins: Diplomat who helped establish Britain's position in postwar Europe

 

Sir Michael Jenkins served Britain's pressing need to comprehend her near neighbours in the second half of the war-damaged 20th century, serving as a diplomat in all the major western embassies. The boy who would become his country's ambassador to the Netherlands, and help construct her role in the emerging European Union, saw even at the age of 14 how different were the wounds left by the two world wars on the European mainland, from those done to Britain. He made himself into a conciliator, having been pitched in as a schoolboy among passions not felt in his own background, while on an extended trip to France.

His part in events happened when an old Frenchman, Oncle Auguste, whom the young Jenkins was accompanying into town near the Belgian border, caused an incident on spotting a German couple visiting. The furious Auguste ran at the pair holding his walking-stick like a gun and shouting "Ra-ta-ta!", but fell over and hurt himself. The couple proved generous, and gave Auguste a lift home in their Mercedes, also returning his cracked glasses, which they had picked up.

"It was left to me to convey a mixture of apology and gratitude to our rescuers," Jenkins recalled in A House in Flanders (1992), his long-brooded-over memoir at last written down 40 years later. The embarrassment was thereafter never spoken of. Yet that half-crazed France still licking her wounds of anger and humiliation – he heard many other stories – appeared to Jenkins a warm and lovely place compared with the coldness and austerity of his existence at boarding-school in post-war England.

Michael Jenkins was born in Cambridge; his father was the Byzantine scholar Professor Romilly Jenkins, and his aunt the writer Elizabeth Jenkins. His parents had sent him to France that summer to escape an outbreak of illness at school, St Christopher, Letchworth. He lodged with some old family acquaintances, six "aunts", though not actually related, who had been long out of touch. The eldest sister's unfulfilled youthful love of Jenkins's long-dead grandfather, who had married someone else, connected the families, and the five of the six still living dwelled with other relatives in a big house on the twice-fought-over Flanders plain.

It was here that Jenkins fell in love not only with the unattainable young Frenchwoman he called in his memoir Madeleine, but also the power of knowing someone else's language to open doors to other worlds. Alain-Fournier's novel Le Grand Meaulnes proved seminal, and by his own admission he read it "far into the night, entranced by the magical place into which Meaulnes wandered, and by his passion for its princess, Yvonne de Galais".

To French he added Russian, learnt to simultaneous interpretation standard during his National Service with the Army a few years later, and in which he got a First in part one of his Cambridge Tripos while reading Modern Languages as an exhibitioner at King's College. He changed to History, obtaining an Upper Second in his finals, and was soon to combine this with the practical abilities he had already displayed in France at 14, to ensure him swift progression upwards in the Foreign Office from 1959.

He learnt more of the diplomatic craft as private secretary to Sir Pierson Dixon, who had been Britain's envoy at the United Nations during the 1956 Suez crisis, and was from 1960 Ambassador in Paris. By 1973, after stints in Bonn and Moscow, Jenkins was deputy chef de cabinet (chief of staff) in Britain's first year as a member of the then European Economic Community to one of the two new commissioners to Brussels, the Labour politician George Thomson (later Lord Thomson of Monifieth). Jenkins rose to be Thomson's chef de cabinet from 1975, and by 1977 was Principal Adviser to the President of the European Commission, at that time Roy Jenkins (later Lord Jenkins of Hillhead).

Jenkins stayed in Brussels for the next decade, masterminding areas such as regional policy and in 1985 the preparations for Spain's entry the following year, in particular arrangements on the status of Gibraltar. From 1985 he was Minister (deputy head) at the British Embassy in Washington, and from 1988 Ambassador at The Hague.

True to his nature, he learnt fluent Dutch, and stayed until 1993. But a man whose career so closely echoed his country's development from war-survivor to European player was perfectly suited to be taken up by her next trend, the end-of century burgeoning of the City, and he agreed to join the investment bank Kleinwort Benson, becoming an executive director and later vice-president.

That alertness to commercial matters is prefigured as far back as Jenkins' 18 months in Moscow in the late 1960s, when he researched a biography of the early 19th-century Tsar Alexander I's right-hand man, Alexei Arakcheev (Arakcheev: Grand Vizier of the Russian Empire, 1969). Jenkins notes the faithful imperial counsellor's desire in his will that 50,000 roubles should be awarded with compound interest to the best writer of a life of the tsar a century after the ruler's death in 1825. A Russian newspaper calculated in 1901 that this would by 1925 reach 2 million roubles, but, Jenkins records, the new Soviet government sequestrated the money in 1917.

Jenkins held a clutch of other City posts including director of the Dutch-based insurance concern Aegon NV, from 1995 and president of Boieing UK from 2003. He worked for the Prince's Trust, and in 1999 secured membership for women of the 226-year-old Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), of which he was treasurer in 1999, then chairman in 2000. An MCC women's side now plays many matches. He was Commissioner of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, from 2007 and deputy chairman from 2011, helping raise funds for a new infirmary, opened in 2009.

Michael Romilly Heald Jenkins, diplomat and financier: born Cambridge 9 January 1936; married 1968 Maxine Hodson (one son, one daughter); CMG 1984; KCMG 1990; died London 31 March 2013.

Suggested Topics
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
premier league
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Fury's Spring/Summer 2015 London Fashion Week roundup
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
News
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
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

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam