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

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: notwithstanding that a year later M15's director-general, Sir Percy Sillitoe, on a visit to Wellington was briefed by the police commissioner on Costello's night in the cells. And at his next call, with the prime minister, Sillitoe assured Holland that there were no security concerns for MI 5 from this episode. The police commissioner was not placated: his staff had been assaulted and insulted by the communistic Costello. Unimpressed with Sillitoe's response, he wrote formally to him to register his concern. (4)

The France awaiting Costello was in a different league to his former playground in Moscow. Moscow's buzz had come from the innumerable visits by global luminaries led by Churchill, Roosevelt, Tito and de Gaulle; his mixing with the hugely talented diplomatic inner core at the American, British and Canadian missions; and mingling with a smart collection of foreign correspondents--such as Alexander Werth, John Hersey and C.L. Sulzberger (John Mulgan's friend). Paris lacked similar stimulation. Costello concentrated on his diplomatic duties (which he admitted to Dan Davin paid him well). He filled his spare time building up credentials for the jump he wanted to, and knew from McIntosh would have to, make to academia. Notwithstanding the personal amicability of the new prime minister and his external affairs minister, the government had little interest in the world at large. Costello's best diplomatic talent --writing dispatches--no longer had the valued currency they had had when sent from Moscow. (The entrails of French domestic politics and culture were of no interest in Wellington: Asia was the coming arena, with ANZUS and SEATO.) In his dispatches, Costello was peddling black clouds as he peered at the demise of French colonialism in Indo-China with that exit happening late on his watch just as a major new trouble-spot for Paris--the Algerian independence war--began. That Costello's diplomatic tide was out was apparent from his absence from the New Zealand delegation to the 1954 Geneva talks on Indo-China: in Peter Fraser's era Costello had invariably been present on such occasions. (5)

In charge at the year-old Paris legation was Jean McKenzie, New Zealand's first woman diplomat. Her integral role for McIntosh in smoothing the way out of External Affairs for Costello was outlined in my 'Alister McIntosh's "best" diplomat' that appeared in the November/December 2017 issue (vol 42, no 6). McKenzie had had a remarkable climb up the public service ladder, and was just who McIntosh needed to handle adeptly Costello's moving on. By early November 1950, when Costello joined McKenzie in Paris, she and McIntosh had a sturdy relationship -- she had joined 'the firm' in 1926 when the Imperial Affairs Section of the Prime Minister's Department was created. When he took charge of it, Carl Berendsen picked McKenzie as his secretary/typist (there was only one other staffer with them for several years atop Parliament Buildings). Prior to then she had had eight years with the Public Works Department in secretarial roles, initially working in Southland, where she grew up, before transferring to the Wellington headquarters in 1924.

In 1932 she was sent to Toronto to be the assistant to the New Zealand trade commissioner. In early 1936 she was transferred to London--based at New Zealand House--to do League of Nations work (Bill Jordan, the new Labour appointee as high commissioner, was New Zealand's representative to the Geneva-based League). In 1941 McKenzie was off to Washington to help establish the new legation. In mid-1943, when Berendsen was made high commissioner to Australia he had her moved to Canberra as his deputy (official secretary): a year later, despite strenuous efforts by Berendsen when he switched to Washington that she go with him, McKenzie stayed in Canberra to settle in the new high commissioner, James Barclay, a former Labour minister. McKenzie returned to London for several months at the beginning of 1946 to be a member of New Zealand's delegation to the first United Nations General Assembly. Afterwards, she returned to Canberra until posted to Paris in September 1949, to again establish a New Zealand legation.

Team player

McKenzie probably first met McIntosh sometime during his decade (1925-35) at the General Assembly Library. They became departmental colleagues when Berendsen recruited McIntosh to his team in 1935 but by then McKenzie was in Toronto and their paths likely seldom crossed as McKenzie never returned to Wellington again to work in the Prime Minister's/ External Affairs office. In all, she visited Wellington only for briefings ahead of her 1946 travel to the General Assembly session and ahead of her Paris posting. Her correspondence with McIntosh, now at the Turnbull, reflects an easy compatibility throughout. McKenzie delivered a high standard as a team player, settling easily into the teams she was placed in.

McKenzie led her small team at the Paris legation from the front, delivering for McIntosh and Costello as well as the delegations that arrived for United Nations General Assembly, UNESCO and other international meetings and dispatching her staff out across much of Europe to represent Wellington at other such gatherings. In Paris Costello was for a considerable period the charge d'affaires, when McKenzie was absent. He did his job diligently while also acting the socialite--the rented house at Viroflay hosted a parade of characters.

If James McNeish correctly identifies that Henri Curiel was among Costello's old Cairo-era wartime friends who appeared at Viroflay a Pandora box may have sprung open (though not mentioned in the MI5 material, Curiel may have been known to MI6: seemingly we will never know). (6) Through the 1950s Curiel was in Paris 'invisible'--with no French identity papers, let alone passport, he was stateless: King Farouk's Egypt had stripped him of his citizenship in 1950 and deported him to France (Curiel had founded the modern Communist Party of Egypt in the mid-1940s). While it was well after Costello's death that Curiel became infamous, and was assassinated, he was an exotic even in war-time Cairo (the then young Marxist was the son of one of Cairo's top bankers), who could only complicate Costello's suitability to be a diplomatically safe pair of hands in Paris. Curiel had first surfaced in 1941 when he was Geoffrey Cox and Dan Davin's landlord for their Cairo apartment. Curiel had then also just set-up Rond-Point, a progressive bookshop cum left-wing political salon much frequented by British and Commonwealth military officers. Costello (and John Mulgan, too) visited when in Cairo. What the New Zealand intelligence officers knew of Curiel is not known, but Davin at least was upset when local Egyptian police raided the bookshop arresting Curiel in May 1942. Costello was most unlikely to have had contact with Curiel after he departed to Italy with the New Zealand division in September 1943, which was when Curiel, using his father's extensive estates outside Cairo, commenced covert military training for Egyptian communists. While Costello was in Moscow Curiel was mostly in prison in Cairo. (7)

Crucial source

The McIntosh-Costello and McIntosh-McKenzie correspondences have been my prime sources, complemented by some other folders in the McIntosh Papers at the Alexander Turnbull Library, for the earlier article. Now, a crucial additional source is available--Costello's letters from his Paris years to Dan Davin. (8) Costello's journal for his Parisian years is not publicly accessible: that has to be an important document, which will undoubtedly flesh out much of interest. However, from the intimations of James McNeish, who had access to it for his Costello biography, rather than it being an essential tool to grasp Costello it livens his portrait from the 'horse's mouth'.

A further new resource is M15's Costello file, made public in April 2017: much of the more important material is now at the Turnbull--it validates what was already known of how McIntosh stood by Costello. He was open with his MI5 interlocutors as to how Costello would move on and it appears that restraining influences at the top of MI5 and at the Foreign Office enabled him to accomplish that--thereby corralling lesser lights in MI5 (at least, until after Costello died). MI5 did not block Costello's appointment as a professor in Manchester.

McIntosh had actually settled MI5 down by January 1951: the two sides acknowledging Costello had not prompted new concerns since joining the New Zealand military. But it was to be a brief interlude. In September 1951 Costello was done for a dinner. For being a contemporary of Guy Burgess and Donald McLean at Cambridge he came under suspicion of being a member of Burgess's spy ring--part of MI5's panic as to who may have been Burgess's associates. (9) Costello's file was re-activated. McIntosh suddenly had Costello in his very hard basket, particularly as MI5 got to the New Zealand prime minister. But Sid Holland surprises. He had assured MI5 that Costello would be gone but then, though keeping him on a short string, gave McIntosh sufficient wriggle room not to hurry Costello's departure. Holland personally enjoyed Costello's company: he had already had him as his interpreter on his January 1951 visit to Paris. Costello was to repeat that task in January 1952 and more spectacularly, at Holland's insistence, accompany him on his month-long holiday (with his wife) through five Western Europe countries in July 1953.

Revised opinion

In an earlier article I suggested Hollands 'implacable determination was prompted by British insistence that Costello be dispensed with'. (10) But MI5's 2017 release of Costello's folder forces a revision of Holland's demeanour then: Costello does move on but only after close to four years of MI5's efforts. When MI5 pointed out that the British embassy in Paris had to make a considerable effort to trim their association with the New Zealand legation, Holland reportedly quipped 'he did not see why his Paris office should receive top secret papers': seemingly, he had sussed that Costello, for one, did not need British material to do his dispatches. However, his quip was lost on his MI5 interlocutors. It appears that MI5's leadership misread Holland; whereas Michael Parker in his S.I.S (1979) appreciated Holland's reluctance to allow MI5 to create their security service in New Zealand as they had done in Australia with ASIO. Holland, just as Peter Fraser before him, was scarred by the war-time fiasco they held MI5 responsible for when after one of their personnel came to New Zealand to head the new Security Intelligence Bureau it was severely embarrassed by a common criminal making it a laughing stock publicly. (11)

The saga ended with Costello's 30 September 1954 resignation. McIntosh has received numerous accolades for his accomplishment for Costello--three months post-resignation salary (the government would not grant Costello three months paid leave, which would have entitled him to a continuing rent subsidy and superannuation contributions). The Costello family remained in the accommodation that the New Zealand government had had them in at Viroflay since 1952: an arrangement had to have been made for the eleven months beyond his resignation date for the family to stay there. It seems that for those eleven months, given Costello's known near constant penury, McIntosh discreetly arranged the rent privately. Evident from Costello's correspondence with Davin is that McKenzie loaned a substantial amount to 'assist' Costello, pending his future being sorted out. (12) McKenzie herself had no such substantial funds to lend Costello. It is probable McIntosh facilitated her loan. It seems he may have utilised his close mate, Dick Campbell; now back in London as the deputy high commissioner. (13) There is circumstantial evidence, including McIntosh being in London and Paris in January 1955, quietly engaging with Campbell and McKenzie while on official business. Following McKenzie's retirement in 1956 McIntosh became a retriever of loans she had given others, usually foreign diplomats, which had not been repaid. Costello was not one of those chased. In March 1956 Costello borrowed from Dan Davin to make his last re-payment to McKenzie. (14)

Turbulent waters

McIntosh's consideration for Costello would be consistent with the duty of care he showed to others who had hit turbulent waters in his vicinity: Doug Lake and Dick Collins were with Costello the big casualties of Cold War security scares within External Affairs that McIntosh handled in 1954. Lake and Collins later in life acknowledged McIntosh's loyalty to them as they left. It was McIntosh who persuaded Les Verry to take Lake on at the New Zealand Press Association as his deputy. Collins and McIntosh kept their friendship until McIntosh's death--Collins was one of the three who gave tributes at the funeral. McIntosh had drawn Collins in as his principal lieutenant with his broadcasting work for the Kirk government in the mid-1970s.

Costello sits in the front-row of New Zealand's most colourful and accomplished diplomats. The only other who at least matches Costello's decade of service that can be compared to him is Chris Beeby. Others were either colourful or accomplished but none combined the twin attributes so adeptly.

Paddy Costello's 1950s were dogged by a drunken September 1950 night in Auckland and by MIS's pursuit of him following MI5's debacle with the defection to Moscow of two British diplomats (Guy Burgess and Donald McLean) in May 1951. Costello's time as a diplomat in Paris had Alister McIntosh facing a near insuperable challenge to his desire to retain his 'best ever diplomat'. The saga would end with Costello's resignation in 1954, his departure facilitated by the minister in Paris, Jean McKenzie, New Zealand's first female diplomat. Alister McIntosh appears to have assisted him financially in this difficult time.

Ken Ross was an analyst with the External Assessments Bureau, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet from 1976 until 2012. He has been a research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London and the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Canberra.


(1.) Alexander Turnbull Library (ATL), MS-Papers-6759-342. Shanahan's hand-written note to Alister McIntosh (in London) detailed Costello's arrest in Auckland and his return to Wellington to appear before the prime minister.

(2.) ATL, PAColl-10290-2.

(3.) ATL, MS-Papers-6759-260. McIntosh's 8 Oct 1950 note.

(4.) ATL, MS-Papers-12306 contains 75 pages from the MI5 material made public by Britain's National Archives in April 2017.

(5.) Roberto Rabel, New Zealand and the Vietnam War: Politics and Diplomacy (Auckland, 2005), pp. 1-30.

(6.) James McNeish, The Sixth Man: the extraordinary life of Paddy Costello (Auckland, 2007), pp.111, 247-8, 340.

(7.) Gilles Perrault, A Man Apart: the Life of Henri Curiel (London, 1987).

(8.) ATL, MS-Papers-5079-437.

(9.) ATL, MS-Papers-12306. The MI5 in-house memorandum dated 29 September 1951 is where the book is thrown at Costello. MI5's premises in this memorandum are to be examined in a forthcoming article.

(10.) Ken Ross, Alister McIntosh: a mandarin for all seasons', NZ International Review, vol 42, no 5 (2017), p. 17.

(11.) Michael Parker, S.I.S. (Palmerston North, 1979), pp.9-21.

(12.) ATL, MS-Papers-5079-437 for the note, dated 13 Mar 1956.

(13.) Campbell and McKenzie knew each other well: first working together at New Zealand House, London from 1936 to 1941. He was in the mix when the New Zealand 'Oxford academic mafia helped enable Costello to secure the professorship in Manchester.

(14.) ATL, MS-Papers-5079-437, Costello to Davin, 13 Mar 1956.

Caption: B/7 and Paddy Costello and, at left, Jean McKenzie (Alexander Turnbull Library, PA Coll-0039-3-001)

Caption: in centre, Jean McKenzie, Paddy Costello and Sid Holland (ATI, PAColl-0039-3-002)

Caption: Jean McKenzie and Paddy Costello, at right, attend a wreath-laying ceremony (ATL, PAColl-0039-2-001)

Caption: Sid Holland greets a French general with Paddy Costello at right (ATL, PAColl-0039-3-002)
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Author:Ross, Ken
Publication:New Zealand International Review
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 1, 2019
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