BERKELEY GAGE was every foreigner's idea of a conventional, pipe-smoking English gentleman diplomat of the old school: charming, gregarious, conservative in his views, not excessively intellectual.
His education - Eton and Cambridge - was mainstream. But he was half-American, and spent his early years in Washington, where his father, a cavalry officer, was military attache at the British embassy.
One of his greatest successes as a diplomat was as consul-general in Chicago, from 1950 to 1954, in the early Cold War years, where his combination of wit and fiercely anti-Communist views endeared him to even the most sceptical Americans.
Gage's most valuable diplomatic asset was his gift for friendship. His nickname, 'Through a Glass Berkeley', alludes both to his fondness for the malt and to his qualities as a 'good party man'. He believed his job was to bring together those who mattered, and to that end he founded a succession of dining clubs, notably the Pink Elephant (Lima) and the Cosy (Bangkok). He had no great regard for the stuffy mandarins of Whitehall when it came to diplomatic niceties.
During his later, ambassadorial phase, which began in 1954, many a junior member of Gage's staff had cause to appreciate his staying powers at the endless receptions and vins d'honneur of the diplomatic round. They also discovered, however, that, no matter how late he had left the party the night before, he was always at his desk first thing next morning, and took a dim view of subordinates who were not similarly punctual and bright-eyed.
His autobiography, It's Been A Marvellous Party, which he published privately in 1989, gives a flavour of the man and his world view. It is not a coherent account of his life and times, but rather a series of engaging anecdotes from his spells in China, Thailand, Peru, the United States and many other countries he visited in his professional or private capacity. The index is filled with the names of friends, both great and obscure, whom he collected along the way wherever he went. He believed in the 'human touch' and left the great issues of the day for others to mull over.
Gage went down particularly well in Lima as ambassador to Peru from 1958 to 1963. He found the social life and small-town atmosphere of Lima in those days most congenial and got on famously with the aristocratic President, Manuel Prado Ugarteche; he was instrumental in securing his release after Prado was overthrown in a military coup in 1962. Gage's spell in Lima was at the beginning of the great migration of Andean Indians to the capital and other coastal cities that transformed Peruvian society and brought the reality of a backward and poverty-stricken hinterland to the very doors of the small, sophisticated Lima upper class.
But, if Peru was in transition, so was the diplomatic service. Although Gage was an old-style 'seat of the pants' envoy in some ways, he also placed himself in the vanguard of commercially minded diplomats, who saw it as their job to promote British exports and trade relations, making up through charm and personal contacts what he lacked in technical knowledge. One British businessman in Lima recalls being taken for a hair-raising test drive with him in an early Triumph TR sports car, which he handled with typical panache and disregard for the rules.
After leaving Lima Gage became chairman of the Latin America committee of the British National Export Council and led a succession of trade delegations to countries of the region. Characteristically, his main recollection of a trip to Argentina was of 'drinking champagne in the skies'. He only mentioned as an aside that the object of the exercise was to sell Comet jets to the Argentine state airline. It was a complete success.Reuse content