Seen on the Green
Famous Faces From Chingford
by Councillor Thom Goddard, Chingford Historical Society member.
This Edition: Sir Curtis Keeble
An accusation leveled at some people in today’s society is the unreserved desire to become powerful and famous. However, you don’t have to be well known to have power. They could take inspiration from a Chingford born, East End lad who quietly went about his business and became one of the most influential men in the world.
Herbert Ben Curtis Keeble was born in Chingford on 22nd October 1922. He attended Clacton County High School before entering Queen Mary College, University of London, in Mile End to study modern languages. The start of the Second World War curtailed Curtis’ studies and he joined the Royal Irish Fusiliers. But he didn’t see combat with them as someone found out about his university studies and he was posted as an interpreter to Atlantic convoys. The first sailing took 2,000 Russian soldiers from Liverpool to Odessa. Herbert tried to tell his superiors that he not speak a word of Russian and “studying modern languages certainly did not make me an interpreter"1. However, he saw the Soviet Union for the first time and fell in love with this “powerful, extraordinary, frightening country”2.
After World War Two, Curtis Keeble joined the Diplomatic Service. He was first posted to Indonesia during that nation’s battle for independence in 1949 and spent years serving the British Government around the world. Back in Britain, Curtis was charged with handling the negotiations for the UK to join the EEC and led the talks to end the ‘Cod War’ with Iceland in 1972. After this Curtis Keeble became Britain’s Ambassador to East Germany. One of his favourite stories was upon mentioning to his British staff the poor quality of the brandy in the country, he was shocked when the following day the East German Minister greeted him with a cup of tea and saying “I gather you are not fond of the brandy”3.
In 1978, Curtis Keeble was promoted to British Ambassador to Russia and knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. During the next four years he maintained a cordial relationship with the Soviet Union through modest meetings with Russian ministers even though the Cold War became more fraught with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980. At the end of his tenure in Moscow, Curtis was given a private tour of the Kremlin, the first British Ambassador to have that honour, as a mark of the regard the Russians held for him. After the Diplomatic Service, Sir Curtis Keeble served as a Director of the BBC and his daughter, Sally Keeble, became an MP for Northampton. So do keep a look out for any modest yet successful people you meet in the Mount or have seen on the Green!
East-West Review 1999.
Cocktails, Crises and Cockroaches: A Diplomatic Trail by Sir Curtis Keeble 1999.
The Daily Telegraph 2008.
© Copyright 2016 Thom Goddard. All rights reserved.