in Amman as it came under grenade attack during the civil war that erupted between the PLO and the Jordanian army. His first ambassadorial posting, at the end of 1976, was to Yemen, being appointed CMG in 1978. In 1979 he was appointed ambassador to the Lebanon. As ambassador to the Lebanon he became the first senior British official to meet the Palestine Liberation Organisation leader Yasser Arafat. The meeting with Arafat had not been sanctioned by the British government and almost led to Strachan’s dismissal. But it helped to open a dialogue which would eventually lead to the Oslo peace accord. Strachan had been approached at a party by a Palestinian businessman, who asked him whether he would be interested in meeting the PLO chairman. He agreed, not thinking that Arafat would turn up 15 minutes later with an armed guard. The PLO leader immediately launched into a tirade, blaming Britain for the plight of the Palestinians. But Strachan, according to family members, was having none of it. “Look,” he said, “the people in charge at the time have been and gone, governments feel no guilt, so here we are.” Thereupon Arafat visibly relaxed and they were able to talk the problems through. When Arafat got up to leave, he stretched out his right hand and smiled, saying: “We shall ask for you as a first British ambassador of our new Palestine.” That was not to be. Instead Strachan was posted to Algeria, where in 1982 he got caught up in the drama of the disappearance of the prime minister’s son. Mark Thatcher’s car had broken its axle and he was missing for several days; there was speculation that he might have been kidnapped. Mrs Thatcher was distraught, so Denis flew out, and he and Strachan set out to look for him alongside a fleet of aeroplanes, helicopters, trucks and Land Rovers containing hundreds of soldiers, border patrolmen and police from Algeria and neighbouring Mali. After 31 hours of searching from the air, Mark Thatcher was spotted by an Algerian pilot 400 miles west of the Mali border and retrieved alive and well. Strachan was quoted as saying that the prime minister’s son and his colleagues had made a makeshift tent in the desert to shelter them during the six days they were missing. Denis Thatcher, it seems, was inclined to take a less charitable view of his son’s rallying career than his wife. Asked whether his son would compete again, he said: “I jolly well hope not.” Although Strachan got on well with Denis, he was less convinced about his wife and never got round to accepting her invitation to Chequers to thank him. “I’ll be blowed if I’m going to waste my holiday hanging round that lot,” he said. He retired as ambassador to Algeria in 1984 but returned to the Foreign Office as a special adviser (Middle East) during the first Gulf War in 1990. After retirement he returned to Scotland and settled on his farm, Mill of Strachan in Aberdeenshire, where he dabbled, not always very successfully, in a series of business ventures including a language school, a gift shop, a trout fishery and importing Algerian wine. He also became an active member of the Liberal Democrats. A keen golfer, he created a nine-hole pitch and putt course round his fields and published a book, The Skirts of Alpha, on the internet, in which he attempted to prove that consciousness exists in the atom, and that even electrons have free will. In 2005, at the age of 91, he finally graduated, with an MA in Mathematics from Aberdeen University. Ben Strachan is survived by his second wife, Lize, by their two sons, and by a son from his first marriage to Ellen.
Captain Richard Astor Late The Life Guards Richard Astor was a quiet, self-deprecating man. He treated all people the same, and would listen and talk to anyone in
110 ■ Obituaries
any circumstances, of whatever rank, or background, in exactly the same manner. He was most fortunate to have met, courted and married Katherine. He was born on 20th November 1953, and educated at Eton. He was from a Life Guards family; Richard Astor joined the Army and attended Brigade Squad at Pirbright in 1973, where his biggest problem was missing Kaper, his black Labrador. A Brigade Squad story Richard loved to recall was when he was caught out on some minor error that was reported to his instructor. The instructor barked into Richard’s ear, red faced and apoplectic rage and expletives - ‘Astor were you cuttin’ about, or leapin’ about ?’ Being recent arrivals the Squad had not yet learned the right answer to such a question. Richard replied, carefully hedging his bets and with that air of sublime vagueness, or cultivated diffidence ‘I, er’m, think, um, I was, er, doing a bit of both Sergeant...’ He was instantly marched at quick time to the Guardroom and given the chance to be further educated in the use of the floor bumper. At Sandhurst, the junior intake was also on duty for the Sovereign’s Parade. The salute was to be taken by his uncle, Lord Astor. Having been marched out onto the square in No 1 Dress and highly polished ammo boots, Staff Corporal Smart RHG/D, an immaculate figure in Blue Patrol Jacket and tight overalls, was doing the final checks, and said to Officer Cadet Astor ‘wouldn’t Nanny be pleased to see you now Sir ?’ But then his eagle eye settled on a small piece of striped viyella pyjama just sticking out above the blue patrol jacket collar, which he then pulled out - ‘No she would not Sir!’ Richard later asserted that Nanny would have laughed heartily and still have been very proud. His Uncle, on the other hand, was no doubt mildly surprised and may have wondered why all this laughter was breaking out amongst the junior cadets in the rear ranks. He joined the Regiment in Germany for a year on Chieftain tanks as a Troop Leader, returning to Windsor in 1975. He was in B Squadron on the tour to Northern Ireland, securing RAF Aldergrove, with 5 Troop at the Police station in Aghalee, with CoH Denton. This involved extensive vehicle patrolling, and searching Lisburn shops for firebombs. The roads often had inadequate markings, and it was possible to take a wrong road, not realising one was leaving the main road. Richard got annoyed with his Land Rover driver for making this mistake, and told him late one evening not to turn off the main road unless told to. Some time later the driver asked Richard