The fact that the Indian Civil and Sudan Political Services have long had their
own ‘old boys’ organization, and that the ‘Overseas Services Pensioners’ is not an
all-embracing association within the total meaning of Britain’s erstwhile imperial civil
services, is no reason not to mention these well and wittily written memoirs of a young
ICS officer assigned to Burma in 1943 who left Rangoon fifteen years later as a
member of the British Diplomatic Service. After all, young Glass did apply for the
Colonial Service, even though he reassures us that the fox-hunting Director of
Recruitment sensed his scent was not quite right! And, after all again, the older Sir
Leslie Glass did end up as ‘our man in Lagos’.
The celebrated observer of Empire, Jan Morris, who wrote a foreword to the
book, underlines the enjoyment as well as the importance of these memoirs. The
author himself is at pains to disclaim that this is an attempt to write a history of those
years: based on no diaries and no letters, the book is for him “mainly a string of
personal anecdotes and impressions of memorable personalities... an album of
verbal snapshots” . Whatever the source and however the techique, the outcome is a
notable example of pro-consular memoir, authoritative and enlightening without
ever losing its dominant element of enjoyability.
How right Jan Morris is when she concludes that “If you happened to live in his
part of the British Empire, you were lucky to have Mr. Glass as your master. On the
other hand, if you happened to be Mr. Glass, you were lucky to live in such a place” .
Yet for me. The Changing of Kings earns one extra plus. It is one of the few insiders’
memoirs written about the final rather than the fulness of years of Britain’s imperial
experience. Only when we all know as much about decolonisation as we do about the
central colonial period can the picture and the record be said to be complete.