Negotiating turbulent waters: Ken Ross reflects on the place of the Paris legation in ending the Paddy Costello diplomatic saga.

AuthorRoss, Ken

The PM [Holland] said he liked him [Costello] and had confidence in his ability; he had however to consider the position of the government. He reprimanded Paddy severely. (Foss Shanahan, 29 September 1950) (1)

After six years in Moscow, Paddy Costello closed the New Zealand legation in mid-June 1950. He took his family to Britain and then flew to Wellington to discuss a new posting with Alister McIntosh, his diplomatic boss. Costello was not interested in working in Wellington, a place he had previously never been to in his life. Before leaving Moscow he had informed McIntosh he was considering a move to academic life in Britain.

In his ten weeks in Wellington Costello regained the company of war-time friends, including, most eminently, his two old generals, Sir Bernard Freyberg (now the governor-general) and Howard Kippenberger, his war-time chess-mate, heading the War Histories project (and who had unsuccessfully sought Costello to write one). There were new friends to be made at External Affairs (Tom Larkin, Charles Craw, Dick Collins and Malcolm Templeton are those later in life he most usually asked of from McIntosh); past acquaintances to be renewed, particularly J.V. Wilson and R.M. ('Dick') Campbell, now head of the Public Service Commission; and some of the old Moscow team to look up, particularly Doug and Ruth Lake. Peter Fraser, no longer prime minister, was still interested in Costello, who had impressed him in their several encounters in London and who had accompanied him to Berlin when the blockade was underway in October 1948. Most of all he and McIntosh had catch-up time: no records for Costello's time in Wellington revealing their conversations have been sighted. Whether he met Charles Brasch, Jim Bertram, John Beaglehole or Fred Wood, talked to the Institute of International Affairs, let alone did a broadcast for Alan Mulgan's National Broadcasting Service programmes may be revealed next year, when John Beaglehole's correspondence to Janet Paul is able to be opened at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Costello called on the new prime minister, Sid Holland; met external affairs minister Fred Doidge; and did a presentation on Russia to Parliament's External Affairs Committee. He was put in the Waterloo Hotel. He got to the left-wing Vegetable Club for post-six o'clock Friday night drinks. He fraternised with the Bohemian element of the local arts sector--a Christine Cole photograph, at the Alexander Turnbull Library, shows a tipsy Costello on a park bench with James K. Baxter and Anton Vogt. (2)

Costello seems not to have been interviewed by the print media. Malcolm Templeton, who was the Russia desk officer when Costello was in Wellington, nearly 40 years later wrote Top Hats are not being Taken: a Short History of the New Zealand Legation in Moscow 1944-1950 (1988) but in it recalls little of Costello during his time in Wellington, though his memory had recovered some more by September 2008, when reviewing James McNeish's The Sixth Man for this journal.

Late in the ten weeks McIntosh resolved Costello's placement --to be deputy to Jean McKenzie in Paris--and Costello was soon on his way with his new diplomatic passport and his newly acquired war medals. His overnight in Auckland to catch the next flying-boat to Sydney changed his life trajectory: he spent that night in a padded cell, with a speedy processing the next morning through the magistrate's court, and was recalled to Wellington for a right bollocking by the prime minister, who then said 'best wishes for Paris. See you there'--or some such quip. Next, Costello was under instruction from Shanahan, McIntosh's deputy, who had navigated Costello expeditiously from police custody back to Wellington, to be on his way, ordering him to report to McIntosh when he reached London. McIntosh was there with Doidge; mixed messages meant they did not meet (though Costello and Doidge did, amicably). However, McIntosh made it clear in writing to Costello for the fortnight he was in London 'the Minister, would, therefore, like you to avoid not so much publicity but as the church would say occasions of publicity!' (3) Costello spent the time researching at the Public Records Office.

Diplomatic hangover

The diplomatic hangover of that night never ended for Costello...

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