Obituaries: Lord Gladwyn

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Gladwyn Jebb was distinguished from other diplomats of his generation not only by his particular contribution to post-war international reconstruction, but by his transition after retirement to an active and eminent position in British politics.

After what he described as a shaky diplomatic start in Persia - not wholly unexpected from one disinclined to accept unquestioningly certain aspects of diplomatic protocol - he returned in 1927 to London. There followed, through his friendship with Harold Nicolson, a short, unpressured interlude on the fringes of "Bloomsbury". Then, in 1929, Hugh Dalton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the new Labour government (on being assured by Jebb that he was neither Catholic nor homosexual) appointed him as his Private Secretary. Jebb was impressed by Dalton's attitude to the League of Nations and eschewed the more cynical stance of many of his Foreign Office colleagues towards that ill- fated body. On leaving government, Dalton secured for Jebb a posting to Rome.

From Italy he observed and reported with guarded sympathy on Mussolini's corporative state. Though Jebb despised fascism, still in its early domestic stage and with the horrors of the Abyssinian War to come, he tended to support the line of Italian appeasement taken by Sir Robert Vansittart, then Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office.

Back in London, Jebb's career took off when, at the age of 38, he became Private Secretary to the Permanent Under-Secretary, briefly Vansittart, and then Sir Alexander Cadogan. Thereafter he was at the heart of foreign affairs.

He was seconded soon after the Second World War broke out to assist Hugh Dalton, who now headed the newly created Ministry of Economic Warfare. There Jebb's real function as a leading force in Special Operations Executive was disguised under the title of Foreign Policy Adviser. As post-war planning proceeded he was deputed to advise in turn at the various great wartime allied conferences, and most importantly for his subsequent career, at San Francisco, where negotiations for the replacement of the League of Nations by the United Nations were conducted.

This meant that in the summer of 1945 Jebb was the obvious and ideal choice for Executive Secretary at the Preparatory Commission of the United Nations, then based in London, and he guided that embryo body through its founding stages, as Acting Secretary-General, until the appointment of the first Secretary-General, Trygve Lie, in 1946.

It was his first experience of life as a public figure - a role for which he had both taste and talent. Meanwhile, he was deputy to Ernest Bevin at the meeting of Foreign Ministers in negotiations in 1946, and, now an Assistant Under-Secretary of State, was Foreign Office Adviser to the 1947 and 1948 British delegations to the United Nations, later making the natural progression from there to preparation for the first Nato meetings.

The arrival at the Foreign Office in 1945 of Ernest Bevin, with whom he struck a chord - clearly an attraction of opposites between the tall, patrician diplomat and the solidly pragmatic ex-union official - had boosted an already buoyant career. A stickleback among piranha, the Foreign Secretary, tired and ailing, was mesmerised by his new and (almost without exception) Etonian team. "You know, Gladwyn," Bevin once confided, "I don't mind the upper class . . . what I frankly can't abide is the middle class."

During the post-war years Jebb's high standing was indicated in his chairmanship at the end of 1948 of the Foreign Office's key Russia Committee, formed in 1946 to examine the policy of containment of Russia. However, it was increasingly Western Europe which drew his attention.

Yet, from a crowded career, the period he looked back to in his memoirs with the greatest pleasure was in 1950, when that September, as British representative on the United Nations Security Council, he duly took his turn as President of the Council. Dazzling media success attended his tenure of office, as he jousted with the outgoing Russian president Jacob Malik, constantly scoring points with a mixture of easy urbanity and common sense which delighted the Americans and which sent Jebb soaring up the popularity ratings, preceded only by Bob Hope. Dourer British colleagues recoiled in horror at the "bad luck" of exposure to the public eye, but Bevin was delighted at his protege's success.

Even so, as a Deputy Under-Secretary from 1949, Jebb was disappointed not to get the Permanent Under- Secretaryship, and the Paris Embassy in 1954 was a qualified compensation for a man whose natural social diffidence could easily be mistaken for coldness. His retirement came, therefore, with only muted regret and he threw himself into promoting the European cause which he had long supported. Raised to the Lords he first, from a sense of obligation, sat on the cross benches; then with the defeat of the government, joined the Liberal Party and continued the campaign from there.

A gifted speaker and writer, his contributions to parliamentary debates, and many journalistic and other publications (including in 1967 his memoirs), continued to keep him in the public eye even in old age.

He was, nevertheless, throughout an impressively high-powered career, essentially a family man who enjoyed and relied on the company and comfort of his close family circle.

Hubert Miles Gladwyn Jebb, diplomat: born 25 April 1900; Assistant Under- Secretary, Ministry of Economic Warfare 1940; CMG 1942, KCMG 1949, GCMG 1954; Acting Secretary-General, United Nations 1946; United Nations Adviser 1946-47; Assistant Under-Secretary of State, Foreign Office 1946-47, Deputy Under-Secretary of State 1949-50; Permanent UK Representative to the United Nations 1950-54; British Ambassador to France 1954-60; created 1960 Baron Gladwyn; Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, House of Lords 1965-88; married 1929 Cynthia Noble (died 1990; one son, two daughters); died Halesworth, Suffolk 24 October 1996.

Comments