IN the two years 1953-55 I saw Ashley Clarke almost every day, sometimes more than once, writes Sir Alan Campbell. He had arrived in Rome in the autumn of 1953 as newly appointed ambassador and inherited me as his head of chancery. He proved to be a splendid boss and became a close friend.
Ashley had taken great trouble over the plans for his arrival. He was right to do so since in 1953 the British had recently been unpopular owing to the Trieste dispute in which the Italians believed us to have been unsympathetic to their interests. On arrival at Ciampino airport the new ambassador, good- looking and with a friendly air, accompanied by his attractive first wife, Virginia, made an excellent impression, especially when in making a short statement to the press (in already quite good Italian) he referred to Italy as being 'the heart of Europe'. From then on he never looked back and became more and more admired as he settled down to know and understand Italy in a way that no other British ambassador since the war has succeeded in doing. He was as mad on music as his wife was on bulldogs - interests regarded by the Italians as amiable eccentricities in a British ambassador's household.
Ashley Clarke was a first-class professional diplomat of the traditional kind who worked hard at getting to know and influence key people in every field. By the end of his nine-year embassy he was known and respected by everybody in Italy who mattered.