Sir Richard Faber

b. 1924 – d. 2007

Sir Richard Faber wrote well-crafted books of 19th-century English history, and a biography of the courtier Sir William Temple. He ended his diplomatic career as Ambassador to Algeria. Faber was appointed CMG in 1977, and was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, which he served as honorary treasurer from 1986 to 1991.

Sir Richard Faber remembered – by Tony Faber

Some time in 1950 Dick Faber filled both sides of a small sheet of writing paper with two pencilled columns. The first, headed ‘Publishing’, outlined the advantages he saw in pursuing the career that was open to him at Faber & Faber, the company established by his father, Geoffrey Faber, in 1925. Among them was the attractive annual salary of £600, the prospect of getting to know a circle of interesting people –  ‘Uncle Tom’ Eliot was only the most famous of the many friends Dick’s father had made in publishing – and the fact that he ‘would seem to be fairly well equipped for the editorial side of publishing’. After all, at Oxford Dick had taken a first in Greats and been President of the Union; before that he had been head boy at Westminster and a popular sub-lieutenant on troop transporters in the last year of the War.

Nevertheless, Dick chose the alternative on the right hand side of the sheet: ‘Diplomacy’. Of the reasons he listed for his choice, two stand out. First, by contrast with publishing, ‘a job working more or less for international peace is very worthwhile’; and secondly, it might be ‘a little easier to combine some writing’ with a career in the Foreign Office than with one as a publisher.So it proved. Dick used his evenings and annual leaves to pen a series of slim but learned volumes for publication by Faber & Faber. Of The Vision and the Need: Late Victorian Imperialist Aims (1966) James Morris wrote ‘though its scale is precise, its scope is wide and its style impeccable’. Both it and Proper Stations: Class in Victorian Fiction (1971) have since been acclaimed by Philip Ziegler as ‘essential reading for anyone interested in nineteenth century thought and society’. Dick was delighted when his talents were recognised with a Fellowship of the RSL in 1972. Of all Dick’s books, French and English (1975) came the closest to attracting a popular audience. Soon after its publication, he was invited to discuss it on a lunchtime television show. Dick refused. He was too busy to spare any time from his main job at the Foreign Office, where he was by then an under-secretary. His postings had taken him from fox hunts in pre-revolutionary Baghdad to Paris, Abidjan, Washington, The Hague and Cairo. In 1977 Dick was appointed Ambassador to Algeria, where he oversaw a successful visit by the Queen, for which he was knighted on board Britannia.

Dick had hoped for one last diplomatic posting, but he had severe kidney disease and his confirmed bachelorhood may not have helped. He took early retirement in 1981 and was able to concentrate on his writing. Three more of his books were published commercially, the last being Young England in 1987. All were well received, but the audience for elegant writing on slightly esoteric subjects was diminishing. Faber & Faber felt unable to publish Dick’s last two books, including his autobiography, A Chain of Cities (2000, The Radcliffe Press).

Dick continued to be energetic, especially after a successful kidney transplant in 1988. He occupied his time by moving house, satisfying a nomadic instinct that may have been at the root of his original career choice. No sooner had he made a new flat immaculate – he had an excellent eye – than he would be searching for an alternative. It was an expensive hobby, but at least it gave him skills which he could put to good use as Honorary Treasurer of the RSL in the 1990s, when the Society needed to move to new premises. My uncle was good company throughout his life. He was the kind of person one could talk to about anything: kindly, interested, well-read and sensitive. At family gatherings he did not require too much persuasion to break into song, displaying a fine tenor voice on Silver Threads among the Gold or After the Ball is Over. We will all miss him very much.