When a British television company made a film in the late-1960s about the Foreign Office, Sir Horace Phillips was featured as one of the many young men from fairly ordinary backgrounds who were giving a new, modern look to a profession that was, until that time, dominated by members of Oxbridge, the great public schools and aristocratic families.

Born on May 31, 1917, Phillips was the grandson of Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe. His father died when Horace was a teenager, leaving his mother almost penniless with seven children to feed.

Young Horace was

educated at Hillhead High School, Glasgow, and was brought up in a Jewish home where the study of the Talmud was obligatory.

He and his family attended services at Garnethill Synagogue and Horace was a leading member of a Jewish Boy Scout troop.

In later life, following his retirement, he once wrote to the Daily Telegraph's obituraies desk begging forgiveness for assuming that upon his death that paper would consider carrying his obituary.

But he said that he wanted to get his ''Jewishness'' right following a famous but frightening incident in 1968 when King Faisal of Saudi Arabia rejected Phillips's credential as British ambassador because Arabs had learned (ironically, from a report in the London-based Jewish Chronicle) that he was a Jew.

He wrote : ''When in March 1968, King Faisal withdrew his agreement to my appointment as the next British ambassador to Saudi Arabia because I am a Jew, it was widely stated in the British press that I was an ex-Jew or a non-practising Jew. Some of this may have been inspired by official comment seeking to play down the embarrassment. As a serving diplomat, I could not myself reply. But the fact is that I have always been a practising Jew and I am to this day a member of Garnethill Synagogue in Glasgow, where I was brought up in the tradition. Any statement to the contrary would give great pain to my family and friends and dishonour my memory in the Jewish community.''

At 18, Phillips left school and worked for the Inland Revenue as a clerical officer. He might have stayed there but for the Second World War. It was soon discovered that the young man from Glasgow had a remarkable talent for learning and speaking languages. Between 1940 and 1947, he served with the Doresetshire and Punjab 1st Regiment in Iraq, India, Burma, Ceylon and Malaya, ending his Army career as a major with a rare talent for speaking fluent Japanese which he had acquired while serving as an officer responsible for detaining and questioning Japanese PoWs.

Later, during a long and distinguished diplomatic career, he mastered Arabic, Persian, French, German, Italian, Indonesian and Swahili, the lingua franca of eastern Africa.

In 1947 he entered the

Foreign Office as acting vice-consul in Shiraz, south Persia, and between 1949 and 1951 was first secretary at the British Embassy in Kabul.

There followed postings to Teheran and the Persian Gulf before he was appointed British ambassador to Indonesia in 1966, the year that saw an explosive Third World commitment to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of which Indonesia's President Sukarno was a leading member

along with Egypt's President Nasser and Yugoslavia's President Tito.

In 1968, Phillips was appointed British ambassador to Saudi Arabia and the Jewish Chronicle reported that the new envoy to this important Muslim country was a Jew. The story was picked up by newspapers throughout the Middle East and King Faisal (bowing to pressure from Cairo, which was in those

days so fiercely anti-Israel) rejected him.

Like everyone else in the Foreign Office, he was angry. He pointed out that before this racist rejection he had spent three years (1953-1956) as first secretary in Jeddah where he had frequently acted as charge d'affaires.

After his rejection by the Saudi king, Phillips was

posted to Dar es Salaam as High Commissioner. It was a tricky time and a difficult job. In 1966, President Nyerere of Tanzania had broken diplomatic ties with the UK over Britain's handling of the UDI issue in ''rebel'' Rhodesia.

As the first British envoy there since the breaking of relations, Phillips helped repair damaged bridges between Dar es Salaam and London.

He was a most popular figure in Tanzania and, although many of the leading politicians in Nyerere's government were coastal Swahili/Arabs, no-one ever made mention of the High Commissioner's Jewish roots.

He finished his distinguished career as ambassador to Turkey from 1972 to 1977. At the same time, he was the UK's representative to the Central Treaty Organisation, based at Ankara.

After retiring from the Foreign Office, he represented the construction firm Taylor Woodrow International in Teheran, Hong Kong, Bahrain and China.

He married Idina Doreen Morgan in 1944. They had a son and a daughter.

Sir Horace Phillips; born May 31, 1917, died March 24, 2004.