Sir Alexander Cadogan with BBC Governors, 1964


Sir Alexander Cadogan with BBC Governors, December 1954. Cadogan Papers, ACAD 2/8.

Cataloguing continues on the papers of Sir Alexander Cadogan (1884–1968), the Permanent Under-Secretary in the Foreign Office during WWII and Britain’s first ambassador to the United Nations. Cadogan’s diaries have long been of interest to military and diplomatic historians, but in updating the online catalogue with full descriptions and index points we aimed to give a more rounded sense of the wide variety of his private and professional interests, as well as connections to other personal papers at the Archives Centre.

Cadogan left the UN in 1950 and returned to London, where he was kept busy in his retirement: he accepted nomination as one of three government directors of the Suez Canal Company, was appointed Chairman of the Board of Governors of the BBC by Churchill in July 1952, and served on the boards of the National Provincial Bank and the Phoenix Assurance Company. In 1951 he became the first civil servant to receive the Order of Merit. Throughout the 1950s, Cadogan also attended meetings of the London regional committee of the United Nations Association (UNA) and the English Speaking Union (ESU), the international educational charity promoting the cause of Anglo-American friendship. As historian Tony Shaw pointed out in his 1999 article in Contemporary British History, ‘Cadogan’s Last Fling’, this combination of roles would place the diplomat in a uniquely influential position as the Suez Crisis unfolded in 1956–57: ‘privy to policy-making and diplomatic exchanges’ in Cairo and deeply involved in the direction of media coverage of the dispute in London, whilst invested in promoting British interests to audiences in America and the Commonwealth. [Tony Shaw, ‘Cadogan’s Last Fling: Alexander Cadogan, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the BBC’, Contemporary British History, 13:2 (1999), pp. 126-45.] There were a number of other former Foreign Office men in prominent positions at the BBC during this time, such as Cadogan’s Director-General, Ian Jacob, whose papers the Archives Centre also holds.

Letter from Cadogan to Ian Jacob, 1959


Letter from Cadogan to Ian Jacob, on the latter’s retirement as Director General of the BBC in 1959. Jacob Papers, JACB 2/10. Cadogan wrote: “Much later on, if, like me, you are really innately lazy, I hope you will find that old age, if it has some drawbacks, has at the same time some considerable advantages!”

While it might be assumed that Cadogan had only a backseat role at the BBC — his ‘television set’ was installed in his London flat at their request in August 1952 (ACAD 1/23) — his diaries reveal that he took an enthusiastic interest in both high-level decisions and the day-to-day running of the Corporation. He met privately with Ian Jacob on most weekday mornings, and was party to discussions surrounding the introduction of photography into news reporting, policies and procedures concerning the broadcast of religious programming, and the BBC’s response to the rise of commercial television. Cadogan also occasionally watched ‘telerecordings’ of programmes being filmed live at Lime Grove Studios, such as Panorama, and was even taken to watch an issue of the Radio Times being sent to press. Preparations for the broadcast of the Coronation of Elizabeth II occupied much of his time in 1952 and 1953, although in the event he was ‘thrilled’ to see the ‘wonderful’ royal ceremony in person at Westminster Abbey. “[T]hey have put this country and the B.B.C. on the map.” (ACAD 1/24).

Page from Cadogan's scrapbook, 1953


A page from one of Alexander Cadogan’s scrapbooks, with his invitation to the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953. Cadogan Papers, ACAD 2/8.

Like candid diarist Maurice Hankey, whose papers are also in the process of being re-catalogued, the ever-tactful Cadogan used his daily recording of events during his ‘retirement’ to drily air opinions and pointed remarks he evidently could not voice in public, making for entertaining reading. (At times, this archives assistant was reminded of a cross between the Duke of Edinburgh and Edmund Blackadder). Researchers will discover Cadogan’s opinions of BBC staff and wartime colleagues; reviews of the concerts, art exhibitions, and theatre productions he regularly attended in London; his reaction to experiments in “viewing” the BBC’s programmes in his own living room, such as The Benny Hill Show (“had to turn it off: it was too moronic” – ACAD 1/28); and a range of pithy comments on his reading material, including the Beveridge Report (“Some of it interesting.” – ACAD 1/23).

In marked contrast to the 1940s diaries, in which the diplomat often expressed his frustration with politicians and world leaders, by the early 1950s the strongest statements of Cadogan’s exasperation are reserved for the female Governors whom he encountered in meetings and social occasions at the BBC – especially Professor Barbara Wootton, Lady Juliet Rhys-Williams, and Thelma Cazalet-Keir. Private correspondence between the Chairman and his Governors, held elsewhere in the collection, sheds light on heated discussions at Broadcasting House during the 1950s (ACAD 4/8). This is not to say that Cadogan’s relationship with professional women was always strained: in October 1950 he spent a fruitful afternoon “at the Office of the ‘Economist’ discuss[ing] the Acheson proposals with Miss Elizabeth Monroe”. Monroe, an experienced Middle Eastern correspondent, former League of Nations staff member and Director of the Middle Eastern Division of the Ministry of Information, and later historian and archivist, was according to Cadogan “quite intelligent” (ACAD 1/21).

As well as providing an insight into Cadogan’s routine attendance at committee meetings of the ESU and UNA throughout this period, there are numerous hints in the diaries suggesting he maintained intimate links with former Foreign Office colleagues and other individuals at the very heart of the British government. Cadogan often met with Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and his own successor as P.U.S. for Foreign Affairs, Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, walking with the latter informally during the afternoon in St. James’s Park. Cadogan was therefore well placed to smooth negotiations between the BBC and the government over the ‘Closed Fortnight’ or ‘Fourteen Day Rule’ (whereby the Corporation agreed not to broadcast discussions on subjects due to be debated in Parliament within the next fortnight) and public spending on overseas information services, still referred to in this period as “propaganda”.

Cadogan's diary entry on Suez, 1956 Cadogan's diary entry on Suez, 1956


Cadogan’s diary entry for 26th July 1956, recording the night the news reached London that Egyptian President Nasser had nationalized the Suez Canal. Cadogan Papers, ACAD 1/27.

Cadogan could also act as an effective intermediary between the Corporation and its critics. In July 1954 the diplomat was visited personally at the BBC with “copious notes” by Sir Waldron Smithers, the ardent anti-Communist Conservative MP for Orpington. Smithers, as it emerged in a file released at The National Archives in January 2016, had previously warned Churchill that there were “traitors in our midst” in the organisation. Cadogan was not impressed.

“It all amounted to nothing at all: vague insinuations of communist infiltration into the B.B.C. and malpractices on the part of the staff. Not a shred of evidence: no facts. I assured him that we worked closely with M.I.5.” (ACAD 1/25).

Alongside his professional commitments, the most descriptive sections of Cadogan’s 1950s diaries are increasingly given over to his hobbies and household management. The diplomat gradually swapped what he referred to as the “orgies” of Canasta and cocktail parties he and his wife Lady Theo had been prone to while living in New York after the war for more leisurely activities: the couple were ‘early adopters’ of the new board game Scrabble, purchasing a set on its first release in Britain in 1955 (ACAD 1/26). In 1956 Cadogan took up drawing and painting again with relish, hiring a tutor at the prestigious Trafalgar Studios in Chelsea and carrying an easel with him on family holidays to Portmeirion and the Cotswolds. Still life painting proved a particular challenge, but Cadogan compared himself favourably to the artists he encountered in museum collections and commercial art galleries around the capital, including “those German painters at the Tate” (ACAD 1/27). In the following year he submitted three of his own paintings to an autumn salon at the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, though the piece he personally judged to be the “best” – rather fittingly entitled ‘Whisky and Soda’ – did not make it into the exhibition. In 1958, having stepped down from his chairmanship at the BBC, Cadogan rented studio space at The Slade, where he found himself among “extraordinary people”:

“The men mostly have long hair, and the females wear tight trousers. […] Their methods are very odd.” (ACAD 1/29).

As well as giving a privileged insight into the history of the BBC and cultures of public diplomacy during the early years of the Cold War and Suez Crisis, the Cadogan diaries make an excellent resource for the study of high society, élite masculinity, and politics in post-war London.

— Heidi Egginton, Archives Assistant

See also Heidi’s earlier blog, Cataloguing The Alexander Cadogan Papers, part one.

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