20 April, 2009

Harold Nicolson


Sir Harold George Nicolson was an English diplomat, author, diarist and politician. He was the husband of writer Vita Sackville-West, their unusual relationship being described in their son's book, Portrait of a Marriage.

Nicolson was born in Tehran, Persia, the younger son of a diplomat, Arthur Nicolson, 1st Baron Carnock. He was educated at Wellington College and Balliol College, Oxford.

In 1909 he joined HM Diplomatic Service. He served as attaché at Madrid from February to September 1911, and then Third Secretary at Constantinople from January 1912 to October 1914. During the First World War, he served at the Foreign Office in London, during which time he was promoted Second Secretary. He served in a junior capacity in the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, for which he was appointed Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the 1920 New Year Honours.

Promoted First Secretary in 1920, he was appointed private secretary to Sir Eric Drummond, first Secretary-General of the League of Nations, but was recalled to the Foreign Office in June 1920.

In 1925, he was promoted Counsellor and posted to Tehran as Chargé d'affaires. However, in Summer 1927 he was recalled to London and demoted to First Secretary for criticising his Minister, Sir Percy Loraine, in a dispatch. He was posted to Berlin as Chargé d'affaires in 1928. He was promoted Counsellor again, but resigned from the Diplomatic Service in September 1929.

From 1930 to 1931, Nicolson wrote for the Evening Standard, but found it increasingly tedious.

In 1931, he joined Sir Oswald Mosley and his recently formed New Party. He stood unsuccessfully for Parliament for the Combined English Universities in the general election that year and edited the party newspaper, Action. He ceased to support Mosley when the latter formed the British Union of Fascists the following year.

Nicolson entered the House of Commons as National Labour Party Member of Parliament for Leicester West in the 1935 election. In the latter half of the 1930s he was among a relatively small number of MPs who alerted the country to the threat of Fascism. More a follower of Anthony Eden in this regard than of Winston Churchill, he nevertheless was a friend (though not an intimate) of Churchill, and often supported his efforts in the Commons to stiffen British resolve and support rearmament.

He became Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Information in Churchill's 1940 war time government of national unity, serving under Cabinet member Duff Cooper for approximately a year; thereafter he was a well-respected backbencher, especially on foreign policy issues given his early and prominent diplomatic career. From 1941 to 1946 he was also on the Board of Governors of the BBC. He lost his seat in the 1945 election. Having joined the Labour Party, he stood in the Croydon North by-election in 1948, but lost once again.

After Nicolson's last attempt to enter Parliament, he continued with an extensive social schedule and his programme of writing, which included books, book reviews, and a weekly column for The Spectator. He was appointed Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO) in 1953, as a reward for writing the official biography of George V, which had been published in the previous year.

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