Alan Hare was one of the SOE colleagues of Paddy who passed through Cairo and is mentioned as being an occupant of Tara.
by Richard Bassett
First published in the Independent Thursday, 13 April 1995
After a distinguished career in the service of his country first as a soldier, then in what he referred to always as the “Foreign Office so called” both during and after the Second World War, Alan Hare became chairman of the Financial Times in 1978, overseeing the paper’s all-important decision to print in Frankfurt and become “Europe’s Business Paper”.
Throughout his very varied career, Hare discharged his duties with a patrician, almost languid, charm which belied a sharp intellect and remarkable courage. During the war he was parachuted into Albania as a member of Brigadier “Trotsky” Davies’s mission. Betrayed by partisans and ambushed by the Germans, Hare only escaped after a grim chase across snow-bound mountains. Ravaged by frost-bite, he was the sole survivor of Davies’s ill-fated attempt to bring the discipline and turn-out of the parade ground to the isolated valleys of the Balkans. He remained far longer than either reason or compassion would have dictated, tending to the wounds of a fellow British officer. He was later awarded a Military Cross.
Characteristically, Hare took an optimistic line and another British officer in Special Operations Executive (SOE) found him in a half-submerged cowshed, recovering quite cheerfully, his unmistakable voice bringing back memories of Oxford dinners, tours of Burgundy and heated political discussion in London night-clubs.
Alan Hare was born in 1919, a son of the fourth Earl of Listowel, the head of an Anglo-Irish family burnt out in the troubles. Hare’s conventional education at Eton and then New College, Oxford, imparted little of the stuffiness which invested some of his contemporaries. Commissioned in the Irish Guards on the outbreak of war, he transferred as technical officer to the Life Guards. Here he derived satisfaction from the discovery that members of the Household Cavalry jumped into their unfamiliar new tanks more readily if the order shouted was “Mount” rather than a more modern command.
After his distinguished service with SOE in Albania, he found his knowledge of that country in demand. Today it is easy to forget how pertinent the eastern Mediterranean was to Britain’s interests immediately after the war. Significant colonies still existed east of Suez; Albania stood almost at Britain’s imperial jugular. The failure of the British SOE missions during the war to influence or prevent Communist regimes which took over in the Balkans directly affected British and then Nato foreign policy. In this Cold War world Hare’s knowledge was invaluable. In the Balkans and elsewhere, Hare brought his considerable intellectual gifts to bear on a range of security issues. While others developed an almost constipated approach to security, Hare mastered an opaque conversational style which a colleague at the Financial Times later, with some sense of frustration, described as “producing the most fascinating convoluted sentences, to which one had to pay close attention in order not to get lost”.
Once, after concluding one of these to the bemusement of a journalist, he administered a typical coup de grace in the form of a helpful pause followed by a benign smile and the words, “I always believe that, when you cannot unravel, you must ravel.”
At the Financial Times, of which he became deputy chairman in 1976, Hare found himself confronted by union militancy. His qualities of charm, courtesy impervious to insult and total integrity here proved of little use. A determined foe was content to inflict the highest manpower costs in Fleet Street and there was little negotiation could achieve to prevent this.
From the beginning, however, Hare backed the Frankfurt project, often confronted by his board members’ scepticism. Despite criticism of its cost, this decision was fully vindicated. More importantly, he remained determined to safeguard the paper’s independence and the high standards particularly in its foreign news coverage which elsewhere in the then Fleet Street were on the wane. Progressive in mind and soul, Hare often saw into the heart of any matter more clearly than his opponents, who resented the ease with which his charm disarmed all criticism.
Inevitably, throughout his time at the FT there were those who were eager to claim he owed his position only as a result of the Pearson family connections: Viscount Blakenham, the present head of the Pearson family and chairman and chief executive of Pearson plc, which owns the paper, was both Hare’s son-in-law and nephew. But this suggestion did little justice to the facts, or the reality, of being involved on a professional level with members of one’s family.
From the FT Hare moved to the chairmanship of Chateau Latour, then another Pearson concern in the Eighties. Here his avuncular style and natural love of France played a significant part in increasing the fortunes of this famous first-growth claret at a time when competition fuelled by investment in new technology meant that even Latour could not afford to rest on its laurels. Ably assisted by his wife Jill, whom he had met and married in a whirlwind romance at the end of the war, Hare was the perfect host, though he never allowed his palate to be spoilt by this exposure to great wine, often praising lesser-known clarets, much to the chagrin of wine snobs.
He was a committed Anglican and a Samaritan always ready to help those less fortunate than him, but could be brisk with those he felt were mischievous. During an official visit to Albania towards the end of his life he noticed his car being “tailed” by an unknown limousine. No escort had been requested and there was a fear that some old Communists might not have forgotten old scores. Hare’s reaction was instant. When his car stopped, to the great surprise of the fellow passengers he got out, strode boldly towards the unfamiliar car and shook hands with the driver and asked if he could be of any help. This saw off any threat and from then the “tail” kept its distance.
As he faced the debilitating effects of cancer, Alan Hare remained calm and cheerful. A firm believer in progress, he nevertheless remarked that from his perspective in life at the end of a remarkable innings everything could be summed up, to paraphrase Pagliacci, in the phrase “La commedia stupenda”.
Alan Victor Hare, diplomat and businessman: born 14 March 1919; MC 1942; served Foreign Office 1947-61; managing director, Financial Times Ltd 1971-78, chief executive 1975-83, chairman 1978-84; director, Pearson Longman Ltd 1975-83; director, Economist Newspaper Ltd 1975-89, deputy chairman, the Economist 1985-89; married 1945 Jill North (one son, one daughter); died London 10 April 1995.