Harold Beeley

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Sir Harold Beeley KCMG CBE (15 February 1909 – 27 July 2001)[1] was a British diplomat, historian, and Arabist. He began his career as a historian and lecturer, but then entered the diplomatic field after World War II, and served in a variety of posts and ambassadorships related to the Middle East. He returned to teaching after retiring from diplomacy and stayed active in many Middle East related organizations.

Early life and academics

Beeley was born in Manchester, England in 1909 to an upper middle class London merchant,[2] and studied at Highgate School and then The Queen's College, Oxford.[3] He began his career in academia; in 1930 he began teaching modern history as an assistant lecturer at Sheffield University, the following year he moved to University College London also as an assistant lecturer, in 1935 he became a junior research fellow and lecturer at Queen's College, Oxford, and from 1938 to 1939 Beeley was a lecturer at University College Leicester.[1] During his academic career he wrote a short biography on British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, published in 1936, which was one of a series of Great Lives biographies published by Duckworth.[3]

Beeley did not serve in the British armed forces during World War II because of poor eyesight.[1] Instead, he worked at Chatham House with Arnold Toynbee in 1939; he subsequently went to the Foreign Office's Research Department,[1] and he finally worked on the Preparatory Commission of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945, where helped design the UN Trusteeship Council along with Ralph Bunche.[4]

Before becoming a diplomat, Beeley was chosen to serve as Secretary of the Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry on Palestine in 1946.[3] Beeley believed then and afterward that the founding of Israel would forever complicate relations between the United Kingdom and the Middle East, which resulted in a lasting dislike of him among prominent Zionists and the Jewish Agency.[2][5] According to The New York Times, his views on the issue may have helped persuade Ernest Bevin to try to limit Jewish immigration to the region.[5]

Diplomatic career


In 1946 Beeley officially joined Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service, which at his age was later than most.[1] His first posting was as assistant in the geographical department responsible for Palestine, which led him to advise Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin.[1] Together with Bevin, he negotiated "the Portsmouth Treaty" with Iraq (signed on January 15, 1948), which was accompanied by British undertaking to withdraw from Palestine in such a fashion as to provide for swift Arab occupation of all its territory. According to then-Iraqi foreign minister Muhammad Fadhel al-Jamali,

" It was agreed that Iraq would buy for the Iraqi police force 50,000 tommy-guns. We intended to hand them over to the Palestine army volunteers for self-defence. Great Britain was ready to provide the Iraqi army with arms and ammunition as set forth in a list prepared by the Iraqi General Staff. The British undertook to withdraw from Palestine gradually, so that Arab forces could enter every area evacuated by the British in order that the whole of Palestine should be in Arab bands after the British withdrawal. The meeting ended and we were all optimistic about the future of Palestine."[1]

Beeley spent 1949 to 1950 as the Deputy Head of Mission in Copenhagen, moving on to Baghdad from 1950 to 1953 and Washington, D.C. from 1953 to 1955,[1] where he worked closely with the US State Department.[4] Following this he was appointed to his first ambassadorship, as UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia in 1955; yet within months he caught tuberculosis in Jidda,[2] and was forced to return.[1]


After restoring his health, Beeley returned in June 1956 to be the Assistant Under-Secretary for Middle East affairs,[4] where he remained until 1958,[1] living in London's St John's Wood.[2] During this time he was not informed of the secret plans drawn up between Britain, France, and Israel that resulted in the Suez Crisis; this led him sincerely though mistakenly tell to US officials that there were no plans for a British intervention.[1] Beeley not only participated in efforts to end the international crisis, but also chaired the Suez Canal Users' Association in its aftermath.[4]

United Nations

In 1958 he left his desk job to be Deputy Head of the British Mission to the UN.[1] Here Beeley was engaged in efforts to solve the Buraimi dispute as well as the UN's peacekeeping mission in the Congo (Léopoldville), and developed a close relationship with UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld.[4] He also took part in the 1958 Murphy-Beeley mission, which was launched in response to French bombings over the border into Tunisia during the Algerian War.[4]


In 1961 he quit New York to be the ambassador to the United Arab Republic in Cairo[1] (though Syria left the union this year, Egypt was still known as the U.A.R.), which considering his stance on Israel, was met with displeasure by the Israeli government.[5] Beeley spent two years (1964 to 1967) as UK Representative to the Disarmament Conference at Geneva and was then reappointed first as Special Envoy of Foreign Secretary George Brown and then ambassador to Egypt from 1967 to 1969, at which time he retired from the Diplomatic Service.[1] His service in Egypt was marked by difficulty. During his fist tour he represented the first British ambassador to Egypt since the Suez Crisis, yet according to The Telegraph, "He went on to develop a relationship with the Egyptian people, and especially with President Nasser, unequalled by any British envoy of his generation."[3] Among his accomplishments during this first period was getting permission for the British Council to return to Egypt and in settling compensation claims made by British citizens who had been expelled from the country.[4] His second tour occurred in the wake of the Six-Day War, yet he again succeeded in repairing relations.[3]

Later life

Harold Beeley returned to his original profession of academics following his diplomatic career and also served in several positions related to the Middle East. In 1969 he became a Lecturer in History at Queen Mary College, London, where he remained until 1975.[1] He also became president of the UK's Egypt Exploration Society in 1969, and served as such until 1988.[3] In 1973 he was appointed chairman of the World of Islam Festival Trust, where he stayed until 1996, and from 1981 to 1992 Beeley served as chairman of the Egyptian-British Chamber of Commerce.[3] He was also the vice-chairman of Middle East International.[4]

Personal life

Beeley married twice, first to Millicent Chinn in 1933, with whom he had two daughters. They divorced in 1953 and he then married Patricia Brett-Smith in 1958, with whom he had another daughter. Patricia died in 1999.[1] According to a 1958 profile in The New York Times, Beely was said to have enjoyed walking, theatre, and films.[2]



  • Beeley, Harold (1936). Disraeli. London: Duckworth.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[6]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 Longrigg, John (2001-08-02). "Sir Harold Beeley". The Independent. Retrieved 2008-12-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "A Scholar and a Diplomat; Harold Beeley". The New York Times. 1958-04-10. Retrieved 2009-01-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 "Sir Harold Beeley". The Telegraph. 2001-11-22. Retrieved 2008-12-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Weir, Michael (2001-07-31). "Obituary: Sir Harold Beeley". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-01-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "British Expert on Arabs; Harold Beeley". The New York Times. 1967-10-24. Retrieved 2009-01-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Disraeli, by Harold Beeley". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2009-01-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
Diplomatic posts
Unknown British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
Succeeded by
Sir Roderick Parkes
Preceded by
Colin Crowe
as Chargé d'affaires
British Ambassador to the United Arab Republic
Succeeded by
Sir George Middleton
Title last held by
Sir George Middleton
British Ambassador to the United Arab Republic
Succeeded by
Sir Richard Beaumont