x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

20. A Grundig radio used by Sheikh Shakhbut

To mark the nation's 40th anniversary, we feature 40 historic objects.

40@40. A Grundig radio which belonged to the late Sheikh Shakhbut.
40@40. A Grundig radio which belonged to the late Sheikh Shakhbut.
Oil, or at least the prospect of it, brought a small but increasingly steady flow of westerners to Abu Dhabi during the later years of the 1950s.

The more naive of the new arrivals might have arrived at the Ruler's palace thinking they were visiting a simple desert chieftain in his ancient fortress. It was usually a matter of minutes before they discovered their mistake.

"What is the name of the capital of Venezuela?" was a favourite opening gambit of Sheikh Shakbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan, after the usual formalities had been completed.

When the young diplomat or junior oil executive stumbled over the correct answer, Sheikh Shakhbut might teasingly express surprise that his visitor was so ill-prepared that he did not know the name of the principle city in what at the time was one of the world's leading oil economies.

An American journalist, Wanda Jablonski, was granted an audience with Shekih Shakhbut in 1957, and found herself grilled on the quality of Gulf oil compared with other supplies and precise details of monthly oil exports from the US to Europe.

She later described the Ruler as "curiously intellectual in his approach".

One of the reasons Sheikh Shakhbut was so well informed was this Grundig radio, which dates from the later years of his life. The German-made Ocean Boy had six wave bands and could have picked up dozens and perhaps hundreds of stations.

The Ruler was an avid radio listener, tuning into BBC services in Arabic as well as other news stations in the region. In an age before newspapers in the emirate, let alone television or even telephones, it connected the most powerful man in the land to the daily events of the world.

Frauke Heard-Bey and her husband David visited Sheikh Shakhbut many times after arriving in the city in the 1960s. "He was well informed about everything going on in the world because he was addicted to the radio," Heard-Bey says. "Listening to the radio every day, he was obviously very much better informed than many people around him.

"News was a precious possession, almost, that you gave away in small measures. But as a Ruler he had to know what was going on."

Oh, and in case you'd forgotten, the capital of Venezuela is Caracas.