The UN's top brass paid tribute recently to the world organization's jolly, jowly ambassador to the world's children, British actor-playwright Peter Ustinov.
For 30 years the rotund Ustinov has served on all continents but Antarctica as Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, the UN Children's Fund. In the process he brought giggles, laughter, and spellbound escape from grinding reality to hundreds of thousands of children.
As UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted, Ustinov is also a kind of one-man UN himself. His command of real and ersatz languages and his ability to parody diplomats has left many a group in the delegates' lounge laughing uncontrollably. Hearing him do Germans, French, Russians, Texans, and Chinese - with occasional sports car vrooms thrown in for punctuation - tickled seniors alongside the kids he chose to entertain all these years.
Early in his UN duties, Ustinov crossed paths with that other consummate mimic, Jonathan Miller, of the British satiric group "Beyond the Fringe," pioneers of Monty Python-type skits. When the two impersonators did riffs off each other's mimicry, delegates felt they had stumbled on a crazed group of Berlitz instructors working the Tower of Babel.
UNICEF officials deserve credit for knowing how to pick good will envoys. First they sent gibberish-spouting Danny Kaye out to cause mass giggles; then Ustinov. It takes a shrewd diplomat to recognize and recruit such great full-grown children.