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Matthew Parris opens the diplomatic bag to reveal some of the funniest, most striking and memorable despatches sent home by British diplomats down the ages. Diplomats toiling in obscure posts know that by employing a bit of wit and style their reports can end up being read by senior Ministers - even by the Queen.

In an interview for this programme, Sir John Major recalls the curious tale of a racehorse given to him as a gift by the President of Turkmenistan in 1993. The stallion had to make an epic train journey across the former USSR, overcoming an attack by bandits. Despatches by a junior diplomat recounting her subsequent efforts to rescue the horse from the clutches of the Moscow railway bureaucracy - aided only by her ingenuity and a carriageload of melons which had also made the journey - reached 10 Downing Street.

The former British High Commissioner in Sierra Leone, Peter Penfold, reads from his 1998 despatch in which the worlds of Westminster and West Africa collide.

And we venture into the Saharan desert with the Spanish Ambassador to try to find out what's inside his unfeasibly large suitcase.

These new programmes follow a previous BBC Radio 4 series Parting Shots, which looked at the last despatches ambassadors sent before quitting a post.

Producer: Andrew Bryson.

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28 minutes

Last on

Mon 4 Feb 2013 23:00