Obituary: Sir Hugh Campbell Byatt KCVO CMG

Devoted and proud Scot who was British ambassador to Angola and Portugal

Sir Hugh Campbell Byatt KCVO CMG, ambassador and diplomat.

Born: 27 August, 1927, in Edinburgh.

Died: 16 February, 2011, in Tarbert, aged 83.

SIR Hugh Campbell Byatt served as an outstanding diplomat in some unstable countries and represented the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in many challenging situations.

He was an extremely able diplomat with a shrewd mind and was able to find the most suitable words to sum up a difficult situation without giving offence.

Nonetheless, Sir Hugh had a way of making his point of view abundantly clear. He was ambassador in Angola and Portugal, but remained a devoted and proud Scot.

He enjoyed the outdoors - especially sailing and fishing - but his lifelong passions were his family and Argyll. In his Who's Who entry, Sir Hugh listed "living in Argyll" as his sole recreation.

The parents of Hugh Campbell Byatt died when he was in his teens and he was brought up by relatives. From 1940-44 he attended Gordonstoun, which had been evacuated to Plas Dinam, Llandinam in Wales, and he then did his national service in the Royal Navy, before reading politics, philosophy and economics at New College, Oxford.

Sir Hugh joined the Colonial Administrative Services and served from 1952-57 in Nigeria and in Bombay from 1961-63, before being seconded to the Cabinet Office for three years from 1965.

He was appointed Head of Chancery at the embassy in Lisbon - a city he was to get to know and love later in his career. Postings in Kenya and Mozambique followed, and then Sir Hugh was sent as a consular observer to a trial of two British mercenaries who had been captured by the new independent government in Mozambique.

It was an assignment fraught with potential diplomatic problems and Sir Hugh maintained a cool head and defused the situation with much sensitivity. Years later, he admitted it had been one of the most taxing assignments of his career.

In 1973, Sir Hugh was appointed Inspector of the Diplomatic Service, his duties comprising visiting the UK embassies worldwide to ensure staffing levels were correct. The post took him to Latin America and Asia and he enjoyed a trip on the trans-Siberian railway from Peking to Moscow.

His first full ambassadorial posting was a return to Angola in 1978. It was, once again, a difficult time in the country, which was war-torn and riven with civil strife.

Angola had received its independence from Portugal only in 1975 and there was deep unrest throughout society.

The Angolan civil war was one of the largest, longest and most prominent armed conflicts of the era and became a touchstone in international politics:

The invasion of Shaba by the insurgents, months after he arrived, made the situation worse.

However, there were lighter moments.

One afternoon there was a loud disturbance outside the embassy and it was feared the building might be taken over.With remarkable presence of mind, Sir Hugh emerged from the front door and offered the mercenaries a cup of tea.

Sir Hugh's final posting was to Portugal in 1981, where there were also political tensions. There was thought to be a strong IRA presence in Lisbon and the security around the embassy was tight. But with his usual good grace and warmth - and his fluent Portuguese - Sir Hugh proved an outstanding ambassador. One of the highlights was the state visit of the Queen in 1985, after which the ambassador was knighted.

Sir Hugh retired in 1986 and returned to his beloved Argyll. He assumed several posts which drew on his knowledge gained during his career: special adviser to Scottish Financial Enterprise, chairman of an Edinburgh investment trust with interests in the Far East and a member of the Parole Board in Scotland.

He also became an honorary sheriff on the Campbeltown bench and was a strong supporter of the Sir Malcolm Sargent Cancer Fund for Children. He helped to set up the trustees throughout the UK and proved to be an excellent chairman in Scotland, annually attending enthusiastically their Edinburgh carol service.

Sir Hugh was at his most relaxed in Argyll, where he fished the local burns (often venturing north to the Spey) and sailed his boat, the Fulmar, around the west coast and to the Mediterranean and the Baltic.

He had been a member of the Royal Highland Yacht Club in Oban for 38 years.

Colin Tindal, a senior trustee of the club, recalls: "Hugh loved cruising the Argyll coast. He seldom raced in the club's competitions, but he was always charming and a devoted sailor.

"He was shy and modest but delightful company with a deep sense of duty. Hugh was a charming gentleman."

In 1954 Sir Hugh married Fiona Coats, a neighbour in Argyll. She and their two sons and a daughter survive.