This is a remarkable photograph of the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Alec Douglas Home, being held aloft by an Iranian strongman in a gym in Tehran. Lord Home (pronounced ‘hume’) is surrounded by no fewer than 13 athletes. It is not entirely clear what is happening with his tie. Less than six months after this was taken Lord Home would become Prime Minister of Great Britain for one year from 19 October 1963 when he was chosen as successor to Harold Macmillan. I recall hearing of his becoming PM in the news as a teenager in the United States.
This photograph emerged some weeks ago when a colleague in the Archives was sifting through a new collection. The reverse of this photograph reveals that it was taken at a gymnasium in Tehran, Iran on 2 May 1963 during a visit by Lord Home, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. It is one of a large collections of photographs recently accepted into the King’ College London Archives to form the Sir Denis Wright collection. Wright (1911-2005) served as Britain’s ambassador to Iran from 1963 until 1971. I suspect that the smiling man seen standing in the photograph behind Lord Home may be Sir Denis himself.
Lord Home, some while after his term as Prime Minister, joined the cabinet of Edward Heath and again served as Foreign Secretary from 1970 until 1974. The most recent visit
by a British Foreign Secretary to Tehran, Philip Hammond on 23 August 2015, was
notable as the first in 12 years. He reopened the 140 year old embassy, closed in 2011.
In the 1963 photograph, the wrestlers, a search of Wikipedia suggests, likely are practitioners of Pahlevani and zoorkhaneh rituals, traditional Iranian athletic routines initially devised to train warriors. More recently, the importance of this tradition has been recognised by the United Nations as a ‘masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity’. A table on left of the photograph shows a collection of meels or Indian clubs.
As a record of an encounter between two cultures, I regard this photograph as a gem.
by Stephen Miller, Digital Projects Coordinator