Obituary: Sir Roderick Barclay

Alan Campbell
Friday 01 November 1996 01:02

Most people who knew Roderick Barclay associated him with Ernest Bevin, whose Private Secretary he was at the end of Bevin's time as Foreign Secretary (1949-51) and about whom he wrote a sympathetic memoir.

Within the Foreign Service he was perhaps best known to my generation of post-war entrants as head of the personnel department (1946-49), since he was probably the first member of the Foreign Office that we new entrants called on. In my case, after sending me off for a spell abroad, Barclay brought me back into his own department where he proved to be a most agreeable boss, educating the juniors mainly by example.

Barclay was a surprising choice as Bevin's Private Secretary since, at first sight, he and his intended master had nothing in common. Barclay was the epitome of the pre-war diplomat - Harrow and Cambridge, fairly tall with a convential moustache, speaking with a slight drawl, addicted to shooting and fishing.

He himself was far from confident that he would win Bevin's approval. But in the event he was probably the most successful of the exceptionally able men who served Bevin as Private Secretary. He had the knack of calming his master down as well as the essential gift of interpreting to the rest of the Foreign Office and to Foreign Ministers and Ambassadors what Bevin wanted to say or do. It is to the credit of both men that they achieved such a close and effective relationship.

There was in fact more to Barclay than met the eye. I recalled that he sometimes gave the impression of being vague or even lackadaisical when I used to go and consult him on behalf of Sir William Strang in the early Fifties about some important incoming telegram. But in a very short time a well thought-out draft reply would be produced and I realised that Barclay was a clever man who chose not to seem clever. I believe that his ability as a senior official adviser came out especially in the early Sixties when he was one of Edward Heath's very strong team for the negotiations in Brussels to attempt to join the EEC.

Barclay's career in the service ended with his two embassies, first to Denmark and then to Belgium for five years, where he and his wife occupied the delightful house which was then the embassy, both comfortable to live in and well adapted for diplomatic entertainment. Lady Barclay was an admirable hostess, dignified, considerate and also very competent - even inducing George Brown to behave with reasonable decorum when staying at the embassy.

The Barclays undertook several demanding social entertainments during their time in Brussels, including a State visit by the Queen in 1966 and the ball which formed part of the ceremonies commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. This took place on the anniversary of the Duchess of Richmond's famous ball on the eve of the Batle of Quatre Bras, and was a very brilliant affair.

Nor did they neglect the export promotion side of the embassy's duties. It was during a "British week" in aid of exports that Lady Barclay demonstrated her equestrian skill by driving a Whitbread's two-horse brewer's dray around the Park Royal - an unusual feat for an ambassadress.

After retirement in 1969 Barclay resumed touch with the family bank for which he had originally been destined and became chairman of Barclays Bank in France as well as taking on various other business commitments. He then had greater leisure to enjoy family life at his home in Buckinghamshire and to shoot and fish there and in various other parts of England and Scotland. He was a fine shot and maintained his skill to a very late age. Indeed he retained all his faculties to a late age and kept up his interest in his old service through one of his daughters, who had married a diplomat.

Roddy Barclay was an exceptionally nice man, engagingly modest but with a certain Harrovian panache which carried him through some awkward situations.

Alan Campbell

Roderick Edward Barclay, diplomat: born 22 February 1909; CMG 1948, KCMG 1955; CVO 1953, KCVO 1957, GCVO 1966; married 1934 Jean Gladstone (died 1996; one son, three daughters); died 24 October 1996.

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