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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Austria

27th February 2019 Vienna, Austria

#ViennaMemories #8: The Third Room (and the Third Man)

What is a Third Room?

I occasionally consider on this blog objects I acquired during my first diplomatic posting in Vienna in 1984-87.  One such is the “Third Room” sign below.  I had it made in Vienna in 1985 when working as Second Secretary in the old British embassy in the Reisnerstrasse.

According to the Palgrave-Macmillan Dictionary of Diplomacy, a “Third Room” was the traditional description in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the junior members in FCO departments.  Thus, the ambassador might have said, “Let’s see if the Third Room can work up a statement on this.”  It originated from the fact that such staff usually worked in one large office while the head of department and his or her deputy each had rooms of their own.

The “Third Room” has also be used traditionally to describe the engine room of embassies overseas.  Thus, in the 1984 Vienna Embassy, the Ambassador and the Deputy Head of Mission (then known as the Head of Chancery) each had their own rooms.  More junior staff were in a single, larger office – the Third Room – where they could all talk to each other.

In our current Vienna Embassy, opened in 1989, much of the working space is divided up into small offices.  I continue, however, to like the idea of the “Third Room” as a space where expertise, knowledge and folk memory is concentrated and where staff can exchange ideas and to come up with great new ones – as they constantly do here in Vienna.

PS The ability of small shops in Vienna to survive making rubber stamps and signs is one of many admirable features of this city.  I hope Vienna will continue to resist the tide of chain stores for as long as possible.

PPS Talking of The Third Room reminds me of my favourite film, The Third Man.  If you have not read my recent blog on re-naming the residence bedrooms, do take a look.

2 comments on “#ViennaMemories #8: The Third Room (and the Third Man)

  1. I can visualise that embassy quite clearly, even now, 43 years later. I served as 2nd Secretary during 76 and 77, after which I was cross-posted to Rome – a pleasant journey over The Brenner.

    The building gave me the creeps – particularly that dark top floor – with its grim history.

    1. Thanks Ken! I recall the top floor of the old Reisnerstrasse Embassy clearly – largely empty when I was in the building 1984-87. I do not, however, recall any discussion of the building’s “grim history”. Can you give us any further details, either on this channel or direct? Thanks.

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About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.