What had occurred was a protocol blunder of unusual proportions. The pair were the ambassador, Sir Robin Renwick, and his not unimportant charge, the Defence Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind. The event was a reception for dignitaries due to attend Thursday's opening of Washington's Holocaust Museum.
Even though their car had been allowed into the grounds, the hapless couple were intercepted at the front door. While scores of ambassadors and ministers from other countries filed by, they were told by uniformed guards that their names were not on the list.
In the melee, Sir Robin was apparently unable to persuade the guards of their error. Eventually, the pair, their British pride sorely bruised, simply gave up and returned to the embassy - to the bemusement of the embassy staff who hardly expected them back so soon.
'It was a White House f. . . up,' one senior British official could only say yesterday. 'It seems that their protocol people simply forgot us.' Sir Robin - a man deeply conscious of Britain's proper place in the world, not to mention his responsibilities as minder for the minister - was, according to officials near to him, not a little unamused.
The official line from the embassy last night, of course, was one of supreme equability. 'The minister was able to greet the President at the museum's opening,' a spokesman quickly pointed out.
The White House, meanwhile, was offering no explanations last night. The telephone lines from Pennsylvania Avenue to the embassy, however, have apparently been clogged with messages of profuse apology from an embarrassed White House protocol department.
The Belarus ambassador was also refused entry, but was recognised by a member of the US National Security Council and was then admitted.