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Brian Stewart

Brian Stewart Scottish diplomat

Scottish diplomat
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Scottish diplomat
Countries Scotland
Occupations Diplomat
Type Politics
Gender male
Birth 27 April 1922 (Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom)
Death 16 August 2015
Star sign TaurusTaurus
The details

Brian Thomas Webster Stewart CMG MCS (27 April 1922 – 16 August 2015) was a Scottish soldier, colonial official, diplomat and the second-most senior officer in the British Secret Intelligence Service. He fought in the Second World War, played an influential role in the Malayan Emergency, then served as British Consul-General in Shanghai on the eve of the cultural revolution, as British Representative to North Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and as the Director of Technical Services and Assistant Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) from 1974 to 1979.
He is credited with being one of the first China specialists in the Secret Intelligence Service, and the first Director of Support Services. Sir Colin McColl, Chief of SIS from 1989 to 1994 said of Stewart: "Everything he did, he did very well. He was one of the most remarkable persons in the service."

Early life

Stewart was born on 27 April 1922 in Edinburgh, the second of two children of Redvers Buller Stewart, a Calcutta Jute Merchant, and his wife Mabel Banks Sparks. His parents returned to India, shortly after he was born, leaving him and his brother in the care of his aunts in Kirriemuir in Scotland. He and his brother George Redvers Hudson Banks Stewart were educated at prep school in Dalhousie Castle, and then at Glenalmond College in Perthshire, before both boys won open exhibitions to Worcester College, Oxford University.

World War II

During World War II, Stewart and his brother joined the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment), in which their grandfather had also served George (Stewart's older brother) was posted to the 5th (Angus) battalion, was wounded at El Alamein and killed in Sicily. Stewart went to OCTU at Eaton Hall, and was assigned to the Tyneside Scottish (Black Watch).

He landed on the Normandy beaches, and later remarked of the German army, “They had a bad habit of sticking snipers up trees. But I had a bad habit of shooting at snipers up trees”. He fought at the Battle of Rauray, as part of Operation Epsom, in which the unit he commanded claimed the destruction of 12 Panzer tanks, and where he was wounded The Regiment was awarded a battle honour for its role in the Defence of Rauray: the battle, and Brian Stewart's role in it, is described in detail in the regimental history.

Colonial career

After the war, Stewart joined the Malayan Civil Service, where he became a Chinese Affair Officer. He was awarded the highest marks awarded to any cadet in his Cantonese exams, and after an early postings as a district officer, during which he ambushed a troop of bandits at night and sentenced them, as magistrate, the following day, he was made Secretary for Chinese Affairs in Malacca, and then Secretary for Chinese Affairs in Penang, at the very young age of 32.

His period in Malaya coincided with the Malayan Emergency. He worked closely alongside the Malayan Police in counter-terrorism operations. The key figure in his Malayan life, and great hero, was the High Commissioner General Gerald Templer, for whom Stewart pioneered the 'White Area' policy, whereby cooperative communities were relieved of the burdens of martial law.

Intelligence career

Following Malayan Independence in 1957, Stewart joined the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), commonly known as MI6, where he specialised in Asia. A first posting in Burma, was followed by postings in Beijing, as British Consul-general to Shanghai (where he formed a close friendship with Nien Cheng, who describes him in Life and Death in Shanghai), Malaysia and the Philippines. In 1967, he was made British representative to North Vietnam, and consul-general to Hanoi - a post in which he was preceded by John Horace Ragnar Colvin and succeeded by Gordon Philo who was then succeeded by Daphne Park.

In 1968 he became the first intelligence officer to be made Secretary of the Joint Intelligence Committee, inheriting the role from Brooks Richards, and serving under Sir Dick White. In 1972, he was made head of station in Hong Kong, and political adviser to the General, responsible for intelligence operations in the Far East. In 1974, he was invited back to become one of the three most senior figures in SIS, as Director of Technical Services - the equivalent of Q (James Bond) and he served as the de facto deputy of his friend and mentor Sir Maurice Oldfield. He had hoped to succeed Oldfield as Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, but when the post was instead awarded to Dick Franks, he retired.

According to Oldfield's biographer, SIS colleagues had no doubt about Stewart's abilities as an intelligence officer but found his character "chilly – with a streak of arrogance. ...In an unprecedented move, senior MI6 officers agreed that they would resign en masse if Maurice insisted on pushing the appointment through."

Post-government career

His first role after leaving the Secret Intelligence Service was as Director of the Rubber Growers Association in Malaya, in which role he was responsible for a few thousand policemen guarding rubber plantations. Then, three years after leaving government, he became the Director of Operations in China for Racal Group, based in Hong Kong, leading their business in their newly opened Chinese economy. He retired in 1997, returning to his father's house, Broich, in Crieff, Perthshire, where he wrote five books, and planted thousands of trees.

On his brief trips to London, he was an active member of the Athenaeum Club, London and the Special Forces Club. Stewart is commemorated in a painting by Paul Benney, portraying him as a 92-year old Normandy Veteran, commissioned by The Prince of Wales, and held in the Royal Collection. The Atlantic Magazine described Stewart as an example of one of the 'last waves of Allied Heroes..a connection to almost unimaginable courage—and to the heyday of British colonialism".


  • Stewart, B. (2003). Call to Arms. Acorn. ISBN 190326376X. 
  • Stewart, B. (2006). Operation Sharp End. Meigle. ISBN 0955452805. 
  • Stewart, B. (2015). Why Spy. Hurst. ISBN 1849045135. 
  • Memoirs of a Roving Highlander (his autobiography)
  • All Men's Wisdom (a book on Chinese proverbs)


UK : Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG), 1968; France : Légion d'honneur, 2015


Stewart has two daughters by his first wife Peggy Pollock, Heather and Anne, who married Andrew, the son of Field Marshal Michael Carver, Baron Carver.

Through his second marriage to Sally Elizabeth Acland Nugent (daughter of Dr Samuel Rose and Mary-Louise Wroth - later Baroness Nugent), he was the father of a daughter, Fiona, and of a son, the traveller and diplomat, Rory Stewart OBE MP.

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