The ‘Phillips Room’ in the FCDO’s King Charles Street dedicated to Sir Horace Phillips KCMG, the first British Jewish career ambassador.

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

  • The ‘Phillips Room’ in the FCDO’s King Charles Street building is dedicated to Sir Horace Phillips KCMG, the first British Jewish career ambassador.
  • Permanent Under-Secretary Sir Philip Barton was joined by Sir Horace Phillips’ daughter and other family members as well as FCDO Jewish network staff to mark 75 years since Sir Horace joined the Diplomatic Service.
  • The initiative is an important moment to celebrate the contribution of Jewish staff to the FCDO and Diplomatic Service.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has officially opened the ‘Phillips Room’ in its King Charles Street building in central London, dedicated to the extraordinary life and work of its first Jewish career ambassador, Sir Horace Phillips.

The Phillips Room was named in April 2023, following the 75th anniversary of Sir Horace joining the Diplomatic Service, at an event hosted by the FCDO Permanent Under-Secretary Sir Philip Barton and joined by Sir Horace Phillips’ daughter and other family members, as well as current and former Jewish staff, and British Jewish communal figures.

This initiative, led by the FCDO’s Jewish network, is an important moment to reflect on Sir Horace Phillips’ life and career, to recognise the challenges overcome by Jewish FCDO staff past, present and future, and to celebrate their contribution to the FCDO and Diplomatic Service.

Sir Horace Phillips (1917-2004) led an exceptional life. The grandson of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe, he was born into a working-class family in Glasgow and had a traditional Jewish upbringing. He was educated in state schools and never attended university, defying all odds at the time to become a British ambassador.

He remained a self-described practising Jew all his life, while almost exclusively serving in Muslim-majority countries where he became fluent in Arabic and an expert in the Middle East. He served in Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Bahrain before becoming British Ambassador to Indonesia in 1966.

He was appointed ambassador to Saudi Arabia in 1968 but the Saudi government withdrew agreement to his appointment after discovering he was Jewish. Sir Horace later said that although the episode was traumatic, the Foreign Office supported him throughout and never lost confidence in him. He went on to become High Commissioner to Tanzania and Ambassador to Turkey.

Sir Philip Barton, the Permanent Under-Secretary of the FCDO and Head of the Diplomatic Service 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.

In the 75 years since Sir Horace Phillips joined the Diplomatic Service, the FCDO has made important progress. We will keep striving to ensure our staff represent the people we serve and champion the diversity of the UK today.

There are a number of Jewish staff working at the FCDO and at our overseas posts around the world, continuing Sir Horace Phillips’ legacy. The FCDO’s Jewish Network meets regularly to discuss issues of Jewish interest, as well as advocating for Jewish staff in the FCDO, as one of a range of staff network groups that foster diversity and inclusion. The group is also called The Horace Society, after Sir Horace Phillips.

Sophie Ross and Rebecca Viney, Co-Chairs of the FCDO’s Jewish staff network, the Horace Society, said:

The opening of the Phillips Room is an important moment for the whole Diplomatic Service to reflect on the extraordinary life and career of Sir Horace Phillips, the first British Jewish career ambassador. He was a trailblazer and remains 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.

The Phillips Room features a new display of works from the Government Art Collections, which reflect Sir Horace’s Jewish heritage and his socio-economic background and give an insight into his diplomatic career, focusing on his postings in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Turkey.

The Phillips Room is the latest in a number of rooms and locations in King Charles Street that celebrate exceptional achievements and diversity firsts. These include the ‘Jones Room’, which honours Noel Jones as the first ambassador of colour; the ‘Watkins Room’, named after LGBT+ diplomat Graeme Watkins who co-founded the LGBT+ staff association at the FCDO; and the Mirror Wall, which recognises the first female ambassadors in our most senior posts. In this way, the FCDO’s historic building celebrates the diverse contribution of our staff and brings to life our goal of an inclusive culture.

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Published 19 April 2023