Trusty Servant May 2019 No.127 - Page 10

No.127 The Trusty Servant P I arrived in Tehran with my wife and seven-year-old son just three weeks before the attack on the British Embassy. November 5th was exciting, and a bit alarming. I had anonymous phone calls saying, ‘If you aren’t out of the country by Tuesday you’ll be going in a box.’ But I am glad to have seen at close quarters what a Muslim population is like when whipped up by the mullahs. I can understand why Iranians feel that Britain and the US have interfered and exploited them over many years. I just wish I could have done something to build on our common interests. November 5th was when the British Embassy was attacked. What memories do you have of that day? P As reports reached the office of serious disturbances in the city, I phoned my boss and asked what we were supposed to do. Then all 11 of the British staff members (we also had local staff, Iranians, working with us) were summoned to the Director’s office and we were given a dressing down for showing un-British signs of alarm. Meanwhile through the office window we could see thick columns of black smoke rising wherever banks, cinemas and British or American airlines had been set on fire. But The Council was not attacked. Looking back on your careers in foreign service do you feel your work was worthwhile, and enjoyable? P I served in Uruguay, Nigeria (seven years), Kenya, India, Bangladesh, the Yemen, and Sierra Leone. I learnt a great deal about those countries, and made friends in all of them. There has never been strong popular support in the UK for aid work in developing countries, but I believe what we Peter Hilken and David Miers, April 2019 did was done well, and I know it was appreciated by the recipients - the local citizens and institutions we collaborated with. All our work was in response to requests; nothing was forced on people. Of course the needs in a country like Nigeria are overwhelming. Was it enjoyable? Sometimes frustrating, but mostly fascinating. Have you two met since 1979? P Both my sons were at the school, and were happy there. Since Dan left in 1979, I have been back only occasionally. David and I have met there once or twice and at reunions in London. D My two sons also went there, and the occasions when Peter and I met have mostly been in connection with the school. However, we recently cooperated in organising a reunion of British staff who served in Iran during the revolution, including staff from the BC as well as the Embassy and their dependants. 92 people wanted to come, an amazing level of continuing interest after 10 40 years and testimony to how interesting and memorable we found it to be working there at that time. P David is the senior FCO survivor from those events and I am the senior British Council officer. Did the cold baths and compulsory games somehow make us durable? The reunion you had in November, how did that go? D There was a remarkably high turnout, considering how much time has passed. The reunion was a great success, not least because the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was very supportive. It let us use its finest rooms for the event, and the current Permanent Secretary and the FCO Minister with responsibility today for Iran both joined the party.