OBITUARIES Sir William Hayter

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The Independent Online
In 1953, aged only 46, William Hayter was chosen by Anthony Eden to go to Moscow as Ambassador, a post until then usually held by senior Ambassadors on their last tour. He was appointed in part because of a revision in Britain's attitude to the Moscow posting, the result of Russia's failure to participate in a post-war Allied policy. For a short period the Embassy was given to younger men who could be brought back to provide recent experience of Moscow at the top of the Foreign Office.

Hayter was the first to benefit from this change in policy, and was fortunate in the timing of his appointment. Since Stalin's recent death and the arrest of the secret police chief Beria there had been a welcome thaw in Moscow. Whereas Hayter's predecessor, Joe Gascoigne, had had only one brief interview with Stalin during the whole of his time as Ambassador, Hayter had frequent contacts with members of the ruling Praesidium, characters then little known outside Russia.

When, for example, in 1954, Hayter approached Vyshinsky, the Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, to invite Khrushchev, the Secretary of the Communist Party, to dine with a visiting Labour Party delegation at the Embassy, Khrushchev not only accepted, but brought with him Malenkov, Mikoyan, Molotov, Vyshinksy and Shvernik. Thisevent aroused so much interest in London that Hayter was invited down to Chartwell to give Churchill a full account.

In April 1956, Hayter accompanied Khrushchev and Bulganin on their visit to Britain, their first to a capitalist country. Khrushchev's meeting with the Labour Party leadership (at which Hayter was not present) went so badly that on his return to Moscow he made the remark to Hayter, ``Bulganin can vote Labour if he likes, but I'm going to vote Conservative.''

During three years in Moscow, Hayter estimated he had probably seen more of Russia's rulers than any British ambassador since Lord Malmesbury, the confidant of Catherine the Great. But, as he pointed out, there was never any genuine dialogue or candid discussion on serious issues. ``Conversations,'' he recalled, ``were like Pravda leading articles on one side and the Times leading articles on the other; well-grooved long-playing records went round and round.''

The events of Suez, in October 1956, made Hayter's last months in Moscow extremely difficult. He did not see the text of the Anglo-French ultimatum to Egypt until after Israel's invasion and was thus wholly unprepared for Khrushchev's violent reaction. When he left Moscow in January 1957 relations were still so frosty that he judged it inappropriate to pay the usual farewell calls.

On his return to London Hayter was appointed Deputy Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, the second most senior official, as opposed to ministerial, Foreign Office position. However, the following year he resigned from the Diplomatic Service to become Warden of New College, Oxford. To New College Lodgings the Hayters brought the air of a small embassy under a liberal ambassador. As they had taken a friendly interest in the welfare of the Moscow Embassy staff, so, at New College, they entertained generously. Although some Fellows criticised Hayter for a lack of interest in the minutiae of college business, he and his wife were a well-liked team - to the extent that Lady Hayter was accorded the rare privilege of sitting beside her husband at his last Gaudy as Warden.

Hayter grew up among an exceptionally able generation. Winchester contemporaries included John Sparrow, Richard Crossman, William Empson and Richard Wilberforce. At New College, where Hayter was senior classical scholar - and even then known as "Sir William" - Hugh Gaitskell, Douglas Jay and Herbert Hart were among his fellow undergraduates. But Hayter achieved only Second Class degrees in Mods and Greats, and felt he had been something of a failure.

Notwithstanding, he won a Laming Travelling Fellowship at Queen's College, Oxford, which entailed spending nine months abroad learning languages. AsFrench and German were then compulsory subjects for entrants to the Diplomatic Service, he divided his time between Paris and Vienna. In Paris he attended M Martin's establishment in the rue Madame, immortalised in Terence Rattigan's play French Without Tears.

After a short time in residence at Queen's, Hayter sat the 1930 Foreign Office entrance examination. Fearful of failing, he nevertheless came third, two places behind Frank Roberts (also later Ambassador in Moscow) and just ahead of Duncan Sandys. His first year in the Foreign Office was spent in the League of Nations and Western Department.

Hayter's first overseas posting, to Vienna in 1931, provided him with a glimpse of the leisurely, old-fashioned life en poste. The British Legation staff was so small, he recorded, that "when the Minister went on leave the only archivist went on leave too, taking with him his wife who was the Legation's only typist".

In 1934 Hayter was transferred to Moscow, shortly before the start of Stalin's first great purge. The contrast with Vienna, where he had enjoyed a lively social life in the orbit of the aristocratic erste Gesellschaft, was stark. Diplomats in Moscow led an isolated existence, mixing almost exclusively with one another, and rarely leaving the capital. Hayter nevertheless went on trips to Leningrad, the Crimea, Ukraine and elsewhere.

On an expedition to the Caucasus in the company of the German Ambassador, Count Schulenburg, later executed for his part in the plot against Hitler, Hayter remarked that while he enjoyed eating caviar, he never got enough oysters in Russia. As a result, at a farewell dinner for Hayter shortly before he left Moscow in 1937, Schulenburg produced a barrel of oysters from the Baltic - and Hayter ate three and a half dozen.

After a dispiriting spell back at the Foreign Office as a junior in the League of Nations section, and with the prospect of war looming, Hayter was transferred in late 1938 to the Embassy in China, accredited to the Kuomintang government of Chiang Kai-shek at Chungking. The Japanese had by then installed a puppet government at Nanking, but it was recognised by nobody but themselves.

In 1941, some months before the United States entered the war, Hayter was posted to Washington, as First Secretary in the Embassy chancery. When, after Pearl Harbor in December that year, Washington became, as Hayter described it, "the centre for all those who wanted to reconstruct the world after the war", much of Hayter's time was taken up with plans for the government of those countries the Allies hoped eventually to occupy, in particular Italy.

Three years later Hayter was succeeded at the Washington Embassy by Donald Maclean, and returned to London. He worked in the General and then the Southern Departments of the Foreign Office, and in July 1945 attended the Potsdam Conference as secretary to the British delegation.

Hayter went on to become head of the Southern Department, and then head of the Services Liaison Department. The latter was concerned chiefly with injecting Foreign Office views into the Service departments. As its head Hayter sat in with the Joint Planners under the Chiefs of Staff, dealing with all intelligence questions, and he visited various British intelligence organisations overseas.

In 1949, after five years in London, Hayter was appointed Minister at the Embassy in Paris. His main duty was to deal with Anglo-French relations, and to keep in touch with Jean Monnet's plans for Europe. He later noted that, at the time, no one thought it either possible or desirable that Britain should participate in any of the European communities then under discussion.

The busy social side of life in Paris was much to Hayter's taste. He found the world depicted in novels of Nancy Mitford, of whom he was a great admirer, to be a faithful reflection of the scene. Large dinner parties given by the Ambassador, Sir Oliver Harvey, were a particular source of pleasure to Hayter - he was always fond of food and the Harveys had one of the best chefs in Paris. He saw a good deal of France, and received the offer of the Moscow Embassy while on holiday in Provence.

George Ireland

William Goodenough Hayter, diplomat: born Oxford 1 August 1906; CMG 1948, KCMG 1953; HM Minister, Paris, 1949-53; Ambassador to the Soviet Union 1953- 57; Deputy Under-Secretary of State, Foreign Office 1957-58; Warden of New College, Oxford 1958-76 (Honorary Fellow 1976-95); author of The Diplomacy of the Great Powers 1961, The Kremlin and the Embassy 1966, Russia and the World 1970, William of Wykeham: patron of the arts 1970, A Double Life 1974, Spooner 1977; married Iris Gray (one daughter); died Stanton St John, Oxfordshire 28 March 1995.