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. Beginning his career as a historian and lecturer, Beeley entered the diplomatic field following World War II, and served in posts and ambassadorships related to the Middle East. He returned to teaching after retiring as a diplomat and stayed active in many organisations related to the Middle East.

Early life and academics[edit]

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

Beeley did not serve in the British armed forces during World War II because of his 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[edit]


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 15 January 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 he recovered, 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[edit]

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 left New York City 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] Leaving this post in 1964,[3] Beeley spent the 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, retiring from the Diplomatic Service at this time.[1] His service in Egypt was marked by difficulty. During his first 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 gaining 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[edit]

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[edit]

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, Vanessa Beeley, who is a blogger known for her articles on the conflict in Syria and her support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.[6][7][8][9][10]

Patricia died in 1999.[1] According to a 1958 profile in The New York Times, Beeley was said to have enjoyed walking, theatre, and films.[2]



  • Beeley, Harold (1936). Disraeli. London: Duckworth.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Longrigg, John (2 August 2001). "Sir Harold Beeley". The Independent. Retrieved 23 December 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d e "A Scholar and a Diplomat; Harold Beeley". The New York Times. 10 April 1958. Retrieved 14 January 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Sir Harold Beeley". The Telegraph. 22 November 2001. Retrieved 23 December 2008.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Weir, Michael (31 July 2001). "Obituary: Sir Harold Beeley". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 January 2009.
  5. ^ a b c "British Expert on Arabs; Harold Beeley". The New York Times. 24 October 1967. Retrieved 14 January 2009.
  6. ^ "Britisk journalist svarer Khader igen: »Jeg er hverken støttet af Assad eller Putin«". Jyllands-Posten (in Danish). 2 January 2017. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  7. ^ Keate, Georgie; Kennedy, Dominic; Shveda, Krystina; Haynes, Deborah (14 April 2018). "Apologists for Assad working in British universities". The Times. Retrieved 14 April 2018. (subscription required)
  8. ^ "How An Obscure British Blogger Became Russia's Key Witness Against The White Helmets". HuffPost UK. 24 April 2018. Retrieved 17 June 2019.
  9. ^ Solon, Olivia (18 December 2017). "How Syria's White Helmets became victims of an online propaganda machine". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 17 June 2019.
  10. ^ "Disinformation and Conspiracy Trolling in the Wake of the Syrian Chemical Attack". Snopes.com. Retrieved 17 June 2019.
  11. ^ "Disraeli, by Harold Beeley". Library of Congress. Retrieved 11 January 2009.
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