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MRD Foot: a life review of a valued friend


By dxw

Michael Richard Daniell Foot, CBE, 1920-2012. Having worked for Wilton Park during 1975, we are very sad to hear of his passing last month.

Michael Foot (known as MRD Foot in order to distinguish himself from the leader of the Labour party – who was also a distant relative) was a military intelligence officer, historian and Wilton Park Deputy Warden. Whilst at Wilton Park MRD Foot helped Heinz Koeppler create the European Discussion Centre (a miniature version of Wilton Park), where his skills as a linguist came in very useful. On leaving Wilton Park he continued his career as a freelance historian.

As a soldier, Foot served during World War Two in various capacities, but saw most involvement as an intelligence officer in the SAS. During his time in the SAS he had in his own words; “been shot at, have parachuted, have helped to plan raids, have taken part as observer in air operations and in a sea commando raid [and] have organised escapes.”

In August 1944 he was flown into Brittany in a vain attempt to eliminate a notorious Gestapo officer. He was taken prisoner, resisted torture and managed to escape, only to be savagely beaten and left for dead by the French peasants in whose farm he and a comrade had tried to shelter. Recaptured, he was fortunate to be repatriated soon after in exchange for a U-boat commander.

Clearly as a soldier he was an extraordinary man, and his war-time experiences translated into his academic career. He was considered the outstanding British authority on the Special Operations Executive and Western European resistance to Nazi occupation. His writing style was anecdotal yet detailed which made his well-researched and factual histories easily accessible. As a historian he stressed the “untidiness of the past and the wretched unpredictability of war,” as two issues that must be taken into account when recalling the past.

On a personal level he was said to be a handsome man and in 1943 he and the economist Thomas Balogh effectively swapped girlfriends, one the future novelist Iris Murdoch, the other her close friend, Foot’s first wife, the philosopher Philippa Foot. He also holds the rare distinction of being the only person referred to by his real name in a John le Carré novel.