Obituary: Sir Crispin Tickell, Honorary Fellow of St Edmund’s College


Sir Crispin Tickell GCMG KCVO FZS, who has died from pneumonia on 25th January 2022, at the age of 91, was a well-respected British diplomat, environmentalist, and academic.  He was elected an Honorary Fellow of St Edmund’s College on 21st November 1995.

Educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, from which he graduated with a first in Modern History in 1952, Sir Crispin undertook his National Service as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards.  On returning to civilian life, he joined Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service and was responsible for the British Antarctic Territory, which naturally may have encouraged his lifetime interest in the Antarctic environment.  Postings to various embassies culminated with his appointment as British Ambassador to Mexico (1981-83).  At the conclusion of the Queen’s Official Visit to Mexico in 1983, he was knighted as a KCVO on the Royal Yacht Britannia. Sir Crispin then went on to become Permanent Secretary of the Overseas Development Administration (1984-87) and then British Ambassador to the United Nations and Permanent Representative on the UN Security Council (1987-1990).  He was appointed GCMG in 1988 for his services at the UN.  In 1989, Argentina and Britain opened discussions aimed at re-establishing diplomatic relations which had been broken during the Falklands Islands conflict.  Over two days in New York, meetings between Sir Crispin, as British representative to the UN, and Argentine Special Ambassador, Lucio Garcia del Solar, resulted in a UN source going on record as saying “[for the] first time since the Falklands Islands conflict ended there appeared to be a new atmosphere, one without the levels of hostility and bitterness of the past.”

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has had a long history with the Falkland Islands and Dr Richard Laws CBE FRS (Master of St Edmunds, 1985 to 1996), the then Director of BAS, was in a position to alert the British Government to the fact that the Falklands had been invaded and to offer logistical advice. Given their shared interest in the British Antarctic and the Falklands, it is not surprising that Dr Laws and Sir Crispin came to know each other and to develop a friendship.  Sir Crispin became Warden of Green College, Oxford in 1990 (in 2008 Green College merged with Templeton College to become Green Templeton College), just as his friend, Dr Laws, had been elected as Master of St Edmund’s House in 1986.  Both Heads of House were interested in raising the profile of their respective Colleges and they approached their governing bodies to see if they would agree to a twinning arrangement, a relationship which is well established between a number of Oxbridge Colleges.  In January 1992, the College received a letter from Green College, in which Green College proposed to twin with St Edmund’s.  The then Association of St Edmund’s agreed to this at its meeting on 9th March 1992 and our two institutions have enjoyed a special relationship ever since.

In June 1993, Sir Crispin hosted a dinner at the Radcliffe Observatory, a lovely eighteenth-century building, which houses Green Templeton College’s dining room.  Dr Laws was due to make a speech at the dinner but unfortunately became unwell during his journey to Oxford and had to return to Cambridge.  On arriving at Green College that evening, I learned that, in my then capacity as Vice-Master to Dr Laws, I would have to give the speech myself, and in just over an hour!  Sir Crispin was a very gracious host, and the occasion went well. Sir Crispin was always a faithful guest at the St Edmund’s College Norfolk Commemoration Feast and he continued to attend as an Honorary Fellow long after he had completed his term of office as Warden of Green College.

On leaving Green College in 1997 Sir Crispin continued to fulfil existing academic positions as well as taking on new ones. He was President of the Royal Geographical Society 1990-1993, President of the Marine Biological Association 1990-2001, Chancellor of the University of Kent 1996 – 2006, and he remained an Honorary Fellow and cherished friend of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge.

Our thoughts are with Sir Crispin’s wife, Lady Penelope Tickell, and with his children, family, and friends at this time.

Rev Dr Geoffrey Cook, February 2022