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Poking fun at foreigners, and thanks to the long-suffering spouse

Parting Shots, Series 2 Episode 1 of 3

Matthew Parris returns with more revealing despatches from Foreign Office archives in a new series celebrating diplomacy's least diplomatic tradition.

Until 2006, a British ambassador departing a foreign capital would write a valedictory despatch, a candid and often very funny report summing up their time at the post. Ambassadors heading into retirement would reflect back on their whole career; an elegant formal equivalent of the unguarded speeches one sometimes hears at office leaving-dos.

During a stint as a desk officer in the diplomatic service in the 1970s, one of Matthew Parris' duties was to copy the most celebrated despatches and - to those with the appropriate security clearance - circulate them across Whitehall.

As classified documents these reports were never intended for prying eyes, but by returning to the Freedom of Information process and to the National Archives the programme team have unearthed a fresh treasure trove of this glorious tradition of indiscretion.

In this programme, foreigners are once more the butt of the jokes, as ambassadors cast an unsparing eye over the national characteristics of their unwitting overseas hosts.

Also in this episode, we look at how diplomats in years gone by paid tribute in their valedictories to their wives - the famous 'trailing spouse' who sacrifices her own career to act as unpaid cook, cleaner and hotel manager in embassy residences from Cairo to Kathmandu.

Producer: Andrew Bryson.

Release date:

30 minutes

Last on

Wed 29 Sep 2010 11:00