The Honorary Consul

Lawrence Landau was London’s first-ever Honorary Consul yet in a career spanning five decades, he has never been to Buckingham Palace in a carriage.

Graham Green’s famous tale of The Honorary Consul is nothing like that of Lawrence Landau’s, whose career as an honorary consul began with a prod in the chest by an immigration officer.

From detainee to honorary consul
As a 30-something chartered shipbroker specialising in maritime law, Landau found himself in front of an immigration officer at Dahomey (now Benin) in the sweltering heat. It was shortly after independence and he’d been sent to sort out the mess after an accident involving an oil tanker in the port of Cotonou.

The immigration officer paged through his passport and asked where Landau’s visa was.

Landau tells the story: “’What do you mean visa?’ I asked the man. This is a British passport!’” At which point he was prodded, arrested and taken to Securité Nationale in Cotonou. Fortunately the police knew all about the oil tanker incident and he was given a five-day visa to sort things out.

“By then I had fallen in love with the place,” says Landau. Returning a few weeks later, Landau knew to apply for a visa – except there was nowhere in the UK for him to obtain one.

“So I wrote a letter simply addressed ‘To The Foreign Minister in Cotonou’. I was a magistrate at the time and wrote that I was an officer of the court and was not in the habit of being arrested. The Foreign Minister wrote back and told me to use his letter as a visa and when I was finished my work, to go and see him.”

This time Landau passed through immigration without a hitch and later paid a visit to the Foreign Minister, who promptly asked him to be Dahomey’s Honorary Consul in London. Then he could issue his own visas.

Making a nuisance
It was 1963. The Foreign Office and Colonial Office hadn’t even merged to create the FCO. “The Foreign Office had no idea what to do with me. No country had ever applied to have an honorary consul in London. Outside, yes, but never in the capital,” explains Landau.

There was much discussion about the scope of his role and the diplomatic immunity and privileges he would be entitled to. He had to visit his bank manager who would attest to his “good character” and we underwent a lengthy interview with Special Branch to do a background check. “Somehow the Lord Mayor was also involved, but I forget why,” recalls Landau.

After “making enough of a nuisance of ourselves” Landau duly got his exequatur in writing, dated 21 March 1972. It was signed “Elizabeth R” by the Queen Mother and “Anne” by the Princess Royal on behalf of the Queen, who was travelling.

The ink was barely dry on the document and Dahomey suffered a coup and in 1975 changed its name to Benin, so Landau had to get a second exequatur, this time signed by The Queen herself.

He was London’s first-ever Honorary Consul and today the ranks of honorary consuls have swelled to 13

No perks
During a career spanning five decades, Landau has been through seven presidents and is now on his 14th ambassador. To date, because Landau is a subject of The Queen, Palace protocol has prevented him from accompanying any of his ambassadors when they present their credentials, much to their (and his) disappointment. He has also never been invited to a Garden Party as an honorary consul, nor has he attended the Queen’s Diplomatic Reception at Buckingham Palace.

This slightly irks Landau who for years has headed a campaign for honorary consuls to at least get a few of the “perks” of the job. He predicts that with budget cuts, the number of honorary consuls is going to increase.

“We represent seven or eight per cent of the diplomatic corps,” he says, adding that the numbers of British honorary consuls are growing too. They are allowed to accompany their heads of mission and Landau thinks Britain should reciprocate.

In addition to being the Doyen of the Honorary Consuls, Landau has also been President of the Consular Corps twice and gives the 110-year-old organisation a useful “institutional memory”. He never fails to remind new consuls of his triumph when he organised a Consular Corps annual dinner at which Princess Anne was the guest of honour.

“Honorary Consuls are undervalued,” he says. “The work we do to help the FCO smooth the way for visiting delegations, and to be a liaison between our countries, goes largely unrecognised. So I think the rules could do with a bit of ‘refreshing’ to show some appreciation.”

If Landau doesn’t get his carriage ride for his new ambassador, he’ll be pushing 90 for the next one, but he will still keep prodding.

Lawrence Landau’s first exequatur