Inside the Foreign Office makes foreign affairs seem dull

Sir Simon McDonald, head of the diplomatic service, in his Whitehall office
Sir Simon McDonald, head of the diplomatic service, in his Whitehall office
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I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but foreign affairs seems to be in the news a lot. Apparently, our relations with Europe are under a little strain, and various Government ministers keep resigning and then saying everyone else is doing foreign affairs wrong.

So it seems that Inside the Foreign Office (BBC2, Thursdays, 9pm) arrives at quite a propitious moment.

Promising a behind-the-scenes look at what our diplomats do all day, it struggled to make the endless talks and the frustrating compromises of diplomacy interesting.

When they had to rely on a one-question interview in a lift with human rights lawyer Amal Clooney to inject a bit of excitement, you knew you were in a for a dry hour.

But it was hard to get excited over the wording over a UN resolution or a politely-furious phone call to the Russians over the Salisbury poisonings.

There was an intriguingly named ‘official fridge’, but we didn’t see the official snacks and the official drinks inside.

And there was a brief glimpse of the human clementine, Donald Trump, while Boris Johnson bluffed his way around the place like a combination of Winnie the Pooh and Billy Bunter.

But there was very little insight into the mechanics into the diplomacy itself.

By necessity, I suppose, there was a veil, diplomatically placed, to hide the real goings-on.

The most revealing thing was a quote revealing most diplomats to be pathologically passive-aggressive.

“Diplomacy is the art of letting other people have your way,” said the head of the diplomatic corps, Sir Simon McDonald.

Maybe the next episode – focusing on Brexit – will be more interesting, so I might watch, I guess.

I mentioned Dark Heart (ITV, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 9pm) the other week and I have to revise my opinion. It’s evolving promisingly, and Tom Riley’s DI Wagstaffe deserves a second series.

They Shall Not Grow Old (BBC2, Sunday, 9.30pm) was a technical marvel – with one particularly breathtaking moment – but it also had a terrific emotional impact. If you haven’t seen it, you should.