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The Probus Club of Stokesley and District  Minutes of the 359th

 meeting held at 10.00 in Stokesley Town Hall on Tuesday 21st

 November 2017:  

Speaker Jean Harrod: My Diplomatic Life

Jean is a former diplomat who became a crime author when she retired. She gave a very

interesting and entertaining talk on her career, illustrated with photographs. She suggested

that there is always a connection between diplomacy and crime!

She grew up in Harrow and her first ambition, triggered by the sight of planes flying

overhead, was to be an air hostess. Later, when she received career advice, she had a

lightbulb moment – she wanted to be a diplomat. With 4 good ‘A’ levels, she applied to join

the Foreign Office. To her and her family’s surprise, she was accepted. She was one of the

first women to join the government department..

Jean was not allowed to go abroad until she was 21. Her first trip was to Geneva to take part

in the Conference on Cooperation and Security in Europe. 35 countries were represented

including Russia and the USA. The aims of the conference were to undertake an audit of

arms, to reduce barriers and to improve people exchanges. It was a steep learning curve.

She met her husband in Geneva and the rules of the Foreign Office were that a woman had

to resign on getting married. Women had only been allowed to join the Foreign Office in

1933 on the condition that they never married. She was allowed to remain for the duration of

the CSCE conference. Thanks to the Russians, the conference went on for 2 years and, by

that time, the Sex Discrimination Act had become law and her position was safe.

Her second posting was to East Berlin with her diplomat husband. There was an austere and

chilly atmosphere and Jean learned the art of diplomacy very quickly. Everything in the

Embassy was bugged. At the top of the building, there was a secure area where those with

top security clearance were permitted to go. A ‘safe’ room within a room was built using

components shipped out in the diplomatic bag. This was sound proof and was the only place

where everything could be discussed. Meetings with the diplomats of friendly nations only

took place in the open air. She showed a picture of the confrontation between US and Soviet

tanks at Checkpoint Charlie. What could have been the start of World War III was resolved in

step by step de-escalation after phone calls between Kennedy and Khrushchev.

From East Berlin, Jean moved to Jakarta, where she was Consul, covering the 33000

islands in the Indonesian archipelago. Her workload included murder investigations,

kidnapping, boat sinking, rail crashes and air crashes. She spent a lot of time on the road

and in the morgue. Jean told a tragic story of two backpackers who got lost climbing Mount

Marapi. When the initial fine weather became heavy rain they became lost. They separated

and only one survived. No remains of the other except his passport were ever found.

Her first book, Deadly Diplomacy, features a detective investigating a murder in Brisbane.

Her second, ‘Deadly Deceit’ features the same detective in the Turks and Caicos Islands

where Jean was also Consul. The third book due for release soon is based in China.

Replying to questions, Jean told us that she was in the negotiating team at Maastricht where

the UK obtained opt outs from the Schengen agreement and the single currency. We only

got our opt-out from the Euro, by threatening to veto its creation. She felt that debate in the

press was unhelpful in achieving our Brexit aims. In Zimbabwe, there was little we could do

to help before Mugabe left office. We may be able to assist a new president in solving their

problems. It should not be forgotten that a peaceful transfer of power is worth a big price.