7 OCTOBER 1972, Page 10


Who's spying on whom?

Olga Franklin

Are the Russians spies? Well, yes. So are we, I hope. If not, we're certainly not doing a job. It's hard to tell what Lord Franks really means. Does he want us all to stay home every night . . . in case we bump into a Russian in Notting Hill Gate? If journalists are not to mix — with Soviet agents, Arabs, Jews, Copts, Tom Cobleys and all — how can either Fleet Street or Westminster be expected to do their job?

I first started really 'mixing it' with Soviet colleagues back in January 1941, that is five months before Hitler invaded Russia. Down in Reuters' basement at 185 Fleet Street, we all took shelter from the bombs, Russians along with us. After the all-clear we drank tea most of the night, swapping Anglo-Russian stories. Later when the Germans nearly reached Moscow, I used to run upstairs to the fourth floor to comfort poor Misha Basharin, with his all-steel teeth and poorly health. One of the Fleet Street girls got pregnant by a Russian. We were all very friendly, in the same boat, so to speak.

After that I used to meet Soviet sailors in Newcastle-upon-Tyne where I was a junior reporter. One sailor got drunk in the Turk's Head and fell off his lend-leased destroyer into the Tyne and was drowned, and I got lumbered with the story. I used to ask them all sorts of spying questions because my news editor wanted me to spy on what they thought of Newcastle and the Geordies. The Russian sailors were dim though; all they cared about was going to look at the natty gents' suits in Jackson's the Tailor's windows in Westgate Street. They used to stand there in the cold looking through the windows, as though it was some sort of performance. I suppose, now, they were taking secret photos and doing their stuff.

I was sent to spy on the Red Army in East Germany, and we had a rather hilarious weekend in Schwerin in Mecklenburg. There was Ian Colvin and John Midgley and we all rushed about spying on everybody else, including the East Germans. It was better at the Nuremberg trials because there was dancing. MY Russian admirers kept swapping their uniforms which made it more tricky for me, not knowing which was Navy, Army or Red Air Force. I kept spying like mad all the time we were dancing, but I never did find out who was in which regiment.

Earlier, I'd had three whole weeks spying on the movements of Dynamo, the first Soviet football team ever to visit Britain, when they landed at Croydon airport in November 1945. Captain Semichastny made no bones about it; he called me a spy to my face and he warned all the chaps against me.

Meanwhile the Dynamo team were doing a fair bit of their own spying. At the Central Hotel, Cardiff, the boys used to creep about the hotel lounge picking up copies of Weldon's and other ladies' fashion mags and smuggling them up to their rooms. With my own eyes, I saw them snip a picture of Rita Hayworth out of one magazine, and Rita was very nearly topless at the time. It was terrible for me because the Daily Sketch editor and my own boss, who was Pim Manning's father, the top football-writer, wanted me to spy out what the Russian team were having for dinner.

And that wasn't so easy. Dynamo had a daily conference about it, with their doctor, physio-therapist, chef, etc, but they kept the door locked and the hotel manager had to stand outside it, in case I tried listening at the keyhole.

It went on for years; there was just no let-up. If I wasn't spying on the Oistrakhs because the news editor wanted to know how much they got paid, I was lying in wait for the married couples whom Stalin had parted, or running Mr Brezhnev's son to earth or Mr Kosygin's daughter, and so on . . . Once I was sent to do a proper kidnap too. I had to kidnap Krushchev's son-in-law Alexei Adjubey, who was touring London with the lzvestia man, Vladimir Ossipov. Suddenly the Daily Express man turned up and the only thing was to fight it out. The Express got hold of Adjubey's one arm and I got the other. But I won, because I was screaming away in Russian outside their hotel in Victoria, and I think the Russians got frightened. So I took my captives, hurled them into a taxi and took them, as ordered, to the Daily Mail conference, headed by my editor, William Hardcastle.

All in all, I picked up a fair bit of information from time to time. There was the time when I took the lzvestia man, a highly unconventional Georgian named Melor Sturua (now in New York) for a Private informal talk with Mrs Mary, Wilson at No. 10. We'd been told to bring our questions, in writing, but it turned into a real heart-to-heart with Mrs Mary Wilson handing over her favourite poems (in photostat) so that Mr Sturua could reproduce them in lzvestia. Melor asked Mary Wilson some really pointed questions too (not the ones in writing at all). He asked her if she chose Harold Wilson's ties. He also asked her if she felt it her duty to "control the moral behaviour of the country in the way Madame de Gaulle tries to do!" Anyway I was never allowed to write any of this in the paper, otherwise everyone would see that I was just a spy.

Spying on the Russians? I'll say. What did I find out? Well, Russian men like sometimes wearing perfume and lovely, lovely suits. Their women are very devoted, but the men don't really deserve it. And, oh yes, they've given up drinking tea in samovars. For one thing, there aren't any samovars left in the USSR. And for another, they prefer coffee, like us.