Obituary: Sir William Montagu-Pollock
Tuesday 05 October 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.
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