Norman Reddaway

Diplomat with a talent for putting the government line to the media

The diplomatic career of Norman Reddaway, who has died aged 81, culminated in his very successful ambassadorship in Poland during the interesting period between 1974 and 1978. It was his last post abroad, and he chose to go to Warsaw rather than to a more conventional - and prestigious - post. Typically, he threw himself into a study of Polish and of the history and civilisation of the country, and he proved to be a most energetic ambassador, much admired and liked by the Poles.

I first met him in 1946, when we travelled together on a troop train from Germany on our way to demobilisation. He was about to take, and I had just taken, the examination for the foreign office, and he always claimed, with some exaggeration, that I had given him valuable tips about this exam. We remained friends.

Reddaway came from a well-known academic family - his father was a professor of history at Cambridge university - and he himself was no mean scholar. From Oundle school, he took a scholarship to King's College, Cambridge, and won first-class honours in French and German in both parts of the modern languages tripos just before the second world war.

He then joined the army and was an early recruit of the GHQ Liaison Regiment, known as "Phantom", which gathered intelligence in the front line and reported directly to the commander-in-chief on the course of the battle and the position of troops. In this unit, he served in various theatres of war, reaching the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He gained an MBE (military) aged 28.

He was lucky to survive the war unscathed; he was one of the few survivors after the merchant ship Aboukir was torpedoed by an E-boat while evacuating troops from Dunkirk in 1940 after the German invasion of Belgium. His escape from drowning when the ship sank was, I believe, due to his courage and strength as a swimmer.

In the diplomatic service from 1946, Reddaway made a speciality of what the foreign office calls information work - that is, putting across to the media the British government's point of view. Early in his career he helped Christopher Mayhew, then under-secretary of foreign affairs in Clement Attlee's 1945-51 government, to establish the very effective information research department. This had been formed by the late Ralph Murray with the authority of the foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, to counter Soviet propaganda.

Later, based in Beirut, he did effective information work in the Middle East. Later still in Singapore, in 1964-65, he was in charge of the successful information campaign which sought to counter the attempt by Indonesia's President Sukarno to subvert Malaysia. Towards the end of his career as a senior foreign office official he took charge of all of its information departments and its liaison with the BBC overseas service, of which he was a valiant supporter. In between times, he had served in the Sudan, in Italy and in Canada. His time in Poland was a fitting end to a career in which he was tireless as a promoter of British interests abroad.

In retirement, Reddaway remained busy; among other activities, he chaired International House, an organisation that has established a worldwide network of teachers in English. In this capacity he and his wife Jean, a talented painter in watercolour, travelled widely throughout the world. During one of these visits he unfortunately contracted a rare virus, which caused much suffering and eventually led to his death.

Norman was a delightful man, admired and liked by those who worked with him, generous both to good causes and to those around him. His devoted wife survives him as well as two sons and three daughters.

• George Frank Norman Reddaway, diplomat, born May 2 1918; died October 12 1999

Contributor

Alan Campbell

The GuardianTramp

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