x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Diplomat who was also an Arabist

Ronald Bailey was one of the dwindling number of British diplomats who was in office before the Second World War, and distinguished himself during stints in the Middle East.

Ronald Bailey enjoyed a wide variety of postings during his diplomatic career.
Ronald Bailey enjoyed a wide variety of postings during his diplomatic career.

Ronald Bailey was one of the dwindling number of British diplomats who joined the Foreign Office before the Second World War. Although his postings were widely spread and included Germany, the United States and South America, he became something of an Arabist spending significant - and dramatic - periods in Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan and Morocco. Ronald William Bailey was born in Southampton and entered the Diplomatic Service in 1939, having read European languages at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. During his first posting, to Beirut, he learnt Arabic. In 1940 he was appointed vice-consul in Alexandria as thousands of refugees from Greece descended on the city. He married Joan Gray in 1945, and after the war returned to Beirut before being posted to Washington, where he replaced Donald Maclean, who would later defect to the Soviet Union.

In 1960, after a stint in Khartoum, he was appointed minister and chargé d'affaires to the Yemeni city of Ta'izz, which was an important centre for British imports. He was initially confined to the town, but the imam eventually conceded that he could venture out if he carried an open umbrella - so he could be recognised and accorded the respect of the locals. One night in January 1962, Bailey and a night watchman were stabbed at the front door of the legation by a local criminal known as "the bomb". Mrs Bailey emerged from the bedroom and pushed the attacker down the stairs. He was also charged by the Bailey's pet gazelle (the bruises exactly matched its horns and helped the authorities identify him). Mrs Bailey, a former Wren, tended the victims and organised the RAF to fly her husband to Aden for further treatment. Bailey requested that his attacker not be executed. He was jailed and later released in an amnesty and came to be appointed public executioner. Although the imam wanted Bailey to return to Ta'izz on his recovery, he was sent instead to Gothenburg as consul-general.

In 1967, after two years in Baghdad, he was appointed ambassador to Bolivia, where he escaped attack from another armed man. His final posting, in Morocco, was less sensational, and he enjoyed being able to converse with the king, Hassan II, in three languages. In retirement in Haslemere, he became involved in local government and edited the 12-volume Records of Oman 1867-1960. Joan Bailey died in 2001. He is survived by their son and daughter.

Ronald William Bailey CMG, was born on 14 June 1917 and died on 14 May 2010, aged 92. * The National