obituaries: Sir Fred Warner
Tuesday 03 October 1995
He was chosen because of his outstanding energy and ability in spite of no previous knowledge of Japan or the Japanese language. His performance was considered excellent and after four years it was natural that he should have aspired to an even more prestigious post, Paris. When he was denied this he decided to take early retirement and embark on a new career in the City and as a member of the European Parliament.
Warner's education had been unusual, in that he attended both the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, and also Magdalen College, Oxford. It always seemed to me that Magdalen had made the greater imprint on his character.
Fred Warner and I were contemporaries in the Diplomatic Service, both of us having entered immediately after the Second World War. When I first met him he was private secretary to Hector McNeil, then Minister of State, while I was a junior member of one of the Foreign Office departments. He was tall, elegant and good-looking with a touch of arrogance in his bearing. I found him impressive then and remained impressed whenever I came across him subsequently.
As a young Foreign Office bachelor Warner lived rather grandly in chambers in Albany. He evidently had a certain amount of money of his own and moved easily in smart society. But at the same time he was a serious and hard- working official who made his mark early. At the embassy in Moscow he wrote brilliant reports of journeys undertaken - in those days uncomfortably, even hazardously - in remote parts of the Soviet Union. Later, as a counsellor in the Foreign Office, he was a formidably competent head of the South- East Asia Department at the time of the confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia in the early Sixties. He then had his first embassy as head of mission in Laos, from 1965 to 1967, where again he won high praise.
Before his final appointment to Tokyo, Warner occupied a post usually regarded as a step towards the top of the service, deputy head of the mission to the United Nations in New York with the rank of ambassador. It was there that, aged 52, he married Simone de Ferranti, thus taking on family commitments at a time when most men begin to shed them. They had two sons.
It was no doubt disappointing for Fred and his wife not to go to Paris after Tokyo. They would have made a brilliant couple. But I doubt whether he would have found the post rewarding then, since the British government were going through a bad patch and the French were somewhat sneering about Britain's economic performance. So perhaps it was better for him to take on fresh challenges in the City and also in the political world on becoming a member of the European Parliament in 1979. He represented Somerset as MEP for five years and did well in this demanding role.
Fred Warner was a life- enhancing sort of person, full of enterprise and ready to take on new things. He was at his best with people but no dunce on paper. I recall, for example, that he wrote in 1970 an outstandingly able analysis of the UN aspects of the Rhodesia problem, which had a decisive influence on the evolution of policy under Edward Heath's government. But he would not have regarded himself as an intellectual, still less an academic, and he never wrote anything for publication. He was a clever and attractive man with just that extra touch of political flair to take him out of the usual run of able public servants. He had style.
Life with Fred Warner was full of surprises, writes Robert Cooper. From the time I first met him in New York in 1970, I never heard him say anything that was ordinary. "And in came the Ghanaian Ambassador looking like an unmade double bed" - recounting a minor diplomatic incident there.
All the time I worked for him in Tokyo, and after, his language, like his life, was entirely original. Interpreting the unexpected phrases into Japanese was a challenge for his private secretary, the more so since he understood enough to know when I had got it wrong.
The Japanese found him surprising too. Some regarded him with a puzzled respect; but many loved him for it. At his dinner table you never knew who you would meet. A dinner for businessmen might include an experimental novelist or a jazz musician. The Queen, when she came to Japan, was introduced to Sumo wrestlers as well as tea masters and captains of industry. On tour, Fred took as much delight in talking to the cooks and the gardeners as he did to mayors and governors.
The gardeners especially. A deep love of nature was something he shared with the Japanese. I never found a plant or flower that he was unable to identify. At the ambassador's summer residence at Chuzenji, he cleared the paths for walking. Japanese visitors, invited for what they thought was a short stroll after lunch, would find themselves on a two-and-a-half- hour hike in the surrounding hills.
Within the Foreign Office, Fred Warner was admired as an outstanding figure. Close to, I learnt to appreciate qualities beyond the knowledge, intellect and political feel he brought to the job. He was endlessly curious and unfailingly courteous. For a man who himself always had something interesting to say, he was an astonishingly good listener.
As ambassador, what he did above all was to put Japan on the map in Britain. He opened many doors, but Britain in those days was not always able to exploit the opportunities. His personal friendship with the head of the giant trading company Mitsui, for example, played a part in the latter's decision to import British Leyland cars.
With the old-fashioned courtesy went an old-fashioned sense of honour. He turned down the job as Permanent Representative in Brussels in 1975 partly because of the difficulty of reconciling his personal commitment to Europe and the increasingly ambiguous attitude of the government of the day.
Frederick Archibald Warner, diplomat: born 2 May 1918; Second Secretary, Foreign Service 1946-50, First Secretary, Moscow 1950-51, Foreign Office 1951-56; Charge d'Affaires, Rangoon 1956-58, Athens 1958-60, Head of South- East Asia Department, Foreign Office 1960-64, Ambassador to Laos 1965- 67, Minister, Nato 1968, Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office 1969, Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative to UN 1969- 72, Ambassador to Japan 1972-75; CMG 1963, KCMG 1972; GCVO 1975; Member (Conservative) of European Parliament for Somerset 1979-84; Chairman, Overseas Committee, CBI 1985-88; married 1971 Simone de Ferranti (nee Nangle; two sons, and one stepdaughter); died 30 September 1995.
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