First Jewish career ambassador honoured with a room in his name at Foreign Office

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

First Jewish career ambassador honoured with a room in his name at Foreign Office

Sir Horace Phillips died in 2004 after an extraordinary career in the Middle East

left to right; Maureen Phillips, Sir Horace Phillips’ daughter;  Sir Philip Barton, Permanent Under-Secretary at the FCDO; Sophie Ross, co-Chair of the Horace Society; Laura Popoviciu, Government Art Collections
left to right; Maureen Phillips, Sir Horace Phillips’ daughter; Sir Philip Barton, Permanent Under-Secretary at the FCDO; Sophie Ross, co-Chair of the Horace Society; Laura Popoviciu, Government Art Collections

The UK’s first Jewish career ambassador has been posthumously honoured by the government’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).

To celebrate the contribution of Jewish staff to the Diplomatic Service and following the 75th anniversary of his joining, a room at the office’s King Charles Street building is now named in tribute to the late Sir Horace Phillips KCMG.

The former diplomat died in 2004 at the age of 86 following a highly distinguished career.

Sir Horace Phillips. Pic: The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)

“We are all very proud,” Maureen Phillips, his 75-year old daughter, told Jewish News from her home in Italy before flying out for the ceremony for ‘Phillips Room’, to join her father’s great-grandchildren, Permanent Under-Secretary Sir Philip Barton, current and former Jewish staff, and British Jewish communal figures.

“The grandeur of the Foreign Office headquarters in the heart of Whitehall is in such contrast to his modest upbringing in Glasgow. He could never have imagined being honoured in this way.”

Sir Philip Barton said: “The Phillips Room honours the outstanding contribution of Sir Horace and all the FCDO’s Jewish staff, past, present and future. By dedicating this room to him, we have an opportunity to share his story with staff and visitors to our King Charles Street building. That story includes Sir Horace’s remarkable achievements but also recognises the challenges he faced, and that our Jewish colleagues can still face today.”

Daughter Maureen continues: “He didn’t really believe he was going to make it to the top because he was aware that he didn’t tick all the boxes. It was his dream come true when he realised he’d been appreciated for doing a good job.”

Sophie Ross and Rebecca Viney, co-chairs of the FCDO’s Jewish staff network, the Horace Society, (named in Sir Phillips honour) were instrumental in the initiative to commemorate the man they describe as “a trailblazer”.

He remains, they said, “an inspiration for many Jewish staff, who reflect on his diplomatic excellence, talent and fortitude, including in the face of challenges. We hope that the dedication of this room raises awareness of the contribution of Jewish staff to the FCDO Diplomatic Service. We are proud that Sir Horace Phillips’ legacy lives on in the FCDO, with Jewish colleagues continuing to make a contribution at all levels of the organisation, including as Ambassadors.”

Born on 31st May 1917, Horace Phillips was the grandson of Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe. Brought up in an observant Jewish home, he went to school at Hillhead High School in Glasgow. The family went to services at Garnethill Synagogue and Horace belonged to a troop of Jewish Boy Scouts.

His father died when he was a teenager, leaving his mother a single parent at the age of 39 years old, to look after him and six other younger siblings.

Maureen Phillips outside the Phillips room.

As the eldest, the drastic change of circumstances left him with no choice but to forgo university and take a job as an Inland Revenue clerk.

He dreamed of becoming a diplomat, reading avidly, and taking night classes. But the Consular Service rejected him due to his lack of education and means. In 1940, he joined up and served in the British and Indian armies.

He emerged seven years later a Major, having shown himself to be a gifted linguist, learning Arabic, Persian, French, Japanese, German, Italian, Indonesian and Swahili. He finished on Mountbatten’s personal staff and met his wife, Idina, in India. They married in 1944.

Phillips reapplied to the Foreign Office, despite his lack of means and was accepted. In 1947 was sent to Shiraz, Iran. Subsequent postings included Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Aden (now Yemen), Iran again, and Bahrain.

Whilst based in Bushire in the Persian Gulf, he recalls the eventual closure of that office as being the same time as the creation of the State of Israel: “I remember the commotion in Bushire at the emergence of this new entity.”

In 1966, he took up his first ambassadorship in Indonesia and in 1968 was appointed Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The Jewish Chronicle, however, splashed the story, revealing his Jewish background, to the fury of the Foreign Office.

Of the incident, Phillips wrote: “‘As a serving diplomat, I could not myself reply. But the fact is that I have always been a practising Jew and I am to this day a member of Garnethill Synagogue in Glasgow, where I was brought up in the tradition. Any statement to the contrary would give great pain to my family and friends and dishonour my memory in the Jewish community.”

He ended his career as ambassador to Turkey from 1972 to 1977 before retiring.

Phillips was appointed CMG in 1963, and KCMG in 1973. He and Idina, Lady Phillips (née Idina Doreen Morgan) were married for over 60 years. They had two children and four grown-up grandchildren, one of whom is the BBC correspondent Luisa Baldini.

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: