In an era when many other familiar pillars of society have disappeared in Britain, one valiant figure has survived: the traveller's best friend, the British Consul. Till now there has been no comprehensive account of how the Consul evolved from the fifteenth century as a mercantile officer smoothing the way for British traders in foreign ports up to the twenty-first-century role in the frontline against terrorists or helping the victims of natural disasters. This book describes the transformation of the Consul from the pioneering days of serving with trading houses such as the Muscovy Company, the Levant Company and the East India Company to the challenges arising in the modern era as the result of the package holiday revolution, the global travel of football supporters, the violence of international protest rallies, and the mishaps of over-adventurous backpackers. The inside story is published for the first time of the ordeal of British diplomats when Mao Tse-tung's Red Guards attacked and burned the British Legation in Beijing in 1967, an event that recalled the Boxers' siege of the Legation in 1900.
The author reveals how the Consuls coped with the traumatic experience of British citizens being taken hostage and used as human shields by Saddam Hussein of Iraq in 1990, and being rescued from the Chechen rebels' siege of a Moscow theatre in 2002. The book will be welcomed not only in the academic and diplomatic world because of the access it provides to archive material and the author's great fund of experience in the field, but also to the traveller who may, or may not yet, have needed the services of the British Consul. John Dickie writes with acerbic wit, and illuminates many entertaining and little-known aspects of an under-explored subject.