As a diplomatic novice of twenty-four, Christopher Mallaby was at the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 1960 when Nikita Khrushchev, having previously told the West, ‘We will bury you’, banged his shoe on the table. That was just a start. During his career, Mallaby found himself drawn into just about every imbroglio of the Cold War. Based in Moscow, he was privy to nail-biting diplomacy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He helped draft and insert the human rights clause in the Final Act of the Helsinki Agreement between the West and the Soviet Union in 1975, which, as he puts it, ‘contributed to the decline and later the collapse of the communist regimes in Europe’. He was involved in the tortuous negotiations over the nuclear test ban treaty later in that decade. He interpreted for British ministers at meetings with Khrushchev and later with Andrei Gromyko, the inscrutable ‘Mr Nyet’ of Soviet foreign policy. And, as a sideshow from the Cold War, he was in the thick of Margaret Thatcher’s campaign to expel the Argentines from the Falkland Islands in 1982.
In the course of thirty-seven years in the Foreign Office, he had postings in New York, the Soviet Union (twice), Germany and, finally, France, where he was the first British ambassador to be accompanied by a French wife. His accounts of his two stays in the USSR are replete with