Obituary: Sir William Montagu-Pollock

William Horace Montagu-Pollock, diplomat: born 12 July 1903; CMG 1946, KCMG 1957; British Ambassador, Damascus 1952-53, to Peru 1953- 58, to Switzerland 1958-60, to Denmark 1960-62; Chairman, British Institute of Recorded Sound 1970-73; married 1933 Prudence Williams (died 1985; one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1945), 1948 Barbara Jowett (one son); died London 26 September 1993.

THE DEATH of William Montagu-Pollock, at the age of 90, marks the passing of not only one of the last of his generation of 'heaven-born' British diplomats, but also of a man who, from his Cambridge days onwards, was a real character who endeared himself by his enthusiasms and his eccentricities.

As to Bill Pollock's career, his initial postings were all on the European 'inner circle', culminating in 1939 in Stockholm, an important neutral capital, where he remained throughout the Second World War. There, in a somewhat staid society, he became well known - and by no means unpopular - for his various idiosyncrasies. In addition to a choice of unusual cars, and of personal dress (even when calling on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), he adapted expertly to a local cuisine then unfamiliar elsewhere - it is recalled, among other things, how he used to prepare gravadlax spread out on his piano lid. And shortly after his return to London, on noticing a peculiar smell in the street 100 yards from his office, he found that an exotic type of raw herring which he had brought back had exploded in a cupboard.

Sweden, which marked the mid- point of his diplomatic life, was relished by Pollock as perhaps none other of his assignments: as much for the interest and adventure of the work, as for the scope it offered for social and cultural contact. He was charge in 1940 during the crisis caused when Rab Butler, as a junior Foreign Office minister, had implied to the Swedish envoy in London, after the fall of France, that Britain was ready to consider making peace with Germany. In the arts, Pollock had a wide range of friends from all over Scandinavia: and he was prominent in helping to organise during the war a major British effort that was to furnish a rare case of 'cultural diplomacy' having direct political impact, his own contribution to this being on the musical side.

Music was indeed Pollock's great love, which he pursued all his life, as a 'fun' practitioner, as a regular concert-goer, and in the support he gave to the Society for the Promotion of New Music, to the Park Lane Group and to similar organisations. His own musical tastes were quite individual. He was not particularly enamoured of the classics, but without being self- consciously avant-garde took a keen interest in modern music (Elliott Carter was, for example, a favourite composer). It is fitting that an old friend, the music critic Desmond Shawe-Taylor, should have been asked to give the address at his funeral service.

After a spell in London, Pollock - who much preferred travelling to being home-based - was given four successive ambassadorial posts, in Damascus, Lima, Berne and Copenhagen, in which he fully earned his KCMG before finally retiring in 1962. One wonders nevertheless whether he would have stayed the course in the different conditions of today's diplomatic service. As it was, outside interests always meant as much to him as his official duties. Notable among these was the formative part he played, for over a decade, in the earlier years of the European Cultural Foundation, as a Governor, and as Director of its UK Committee: when I eventually succeeded him in this latter role, it was to learn how much he had been appreciated at Amsterdam headquarters.

Altogether, Bill Pollock was a rather exceptional person, who lent gaiety to the scene, while carrying out wholeheartedly the variety of functions, professional and otherwise to which he devoted a long life. Tall, of distinguised appearance and aristocratic breeding (the son of a baronet), he was at the same time easy and unassuming, possessed of natural charm, and good with people, who warmed to him in return.

Suggested Topics
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album