Sergeant Friday, Mr. Tibbs and The Death of a Hobbit


Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier as Virgil Tibbs in In the Heat of The Night.

“Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
a southern man don’t need him around anyhow”

Lynrd Skynrd: Sweet Home Alabama

The Deep South had already come a long way, socially, when Neil Young wrote his damning tracks Southern Man and Alabama. However, what many Skynrd followers fail to understand is that their verse from Sweet Home Alabama isn’t a put-down; it’s praise. They agreed with Young’s criticism yet were intent on putting him right – things had changed. In 1971 Lynrd Skynrd were recording at Muscle Shoals in Alabama, famed throughout the ’60s and ’70s for recording such acts as Bo Diddley, Aretha Franklin, and most of the South’s R&B influenced rock bands. The superb Muscle Shoals house band, who accompanied the solo artists, were known as The Swampers. Hence the Skynyrd line: “Muscle Shoals has got The Swampers.” The exposure of the good-natured tiff between Skynrd and Young over the South’s history of racism represented a new, musical high watermark in the social history of rock and blues. We could no longer see the rednecks for all that hippie hair. Yet the ghosts of the past take a long time to fade away.

Over the years I’ve been commissioned several times to write the liner notes to CD box set compilations of rhythm and blues hits spanning the 1940s-1950s. As a writer and R&B enthusiast, one tends to think after a while that, historically, there aren’t many artists left to discover. However, through researching thumbnail biographies of long-forgotten stars, some of whom released as few as two records, to be included on a four CD set spanning 100 tracks, I’m constantly being disavowed of the notion that I have anything approaching an encyclopaedic knowledge.
Such was the case when I was faced with The R&B Hits of 1947 when a new name cropped up; Andrew Tibbs. TibbsOf course, seasoned researchers with a detailed knowledge of Chess and the Aristocrat labels would recognise the name straight away. Yet finding detailed information on Tibbs’s life, and what happened to him during the final 30 years up to his death in 1991 was a challenge. The most intriguing aspect of Andrew Tibbs’s recording career was the title of his first single release on Aristocrat 1101 in August 1947; Bilbo Is Dead.
What I’m about to admit would have more erudite blues buffs smirking in superior disbelief. I realised I knew more about J.R.R. Tolkien than I did about the blues. The Hobbit had been published in 1937. Its main character was one Bilbo Baggins. I think I can be excused for considering the name Bilbo to be somewhat unusual . Thus, before launching into the quest to find out more about Andrew Tibbs, I was forced to ponder over the possible scenario of a young, black American blues singer who had read the works of Tolkien as early as 1947. OK, academicians – stop laughing. Such are the learning curves when delving into R&B history. Just about forgotten today, Andrew Tibbs (left) was born Melvin Andrew Grayson, on 2 February 1929, in Columbus, Ohio, and died 5 May 1991, in Chicago, Illinois. For the Chess brothers, he helped to establish the Chess and Checker labels’ forerunner, Aristocrat Records.
His father was a prominent Baptist minister, the Reverend S. A. Grayson. Tibbs was a fine singer who performed in choirs directed by Mahalia Jackson and Ruth Jones, another hugely talented vocalist who married Andrew’s brother, Robert, and later changed her name to Dinah Washington. His influences were Gatemouth Moore, Roy Brown and Ivory Joe Hunter, among others.
Tibbs performed at Chicago’s Macomba Lounge, owned by Leonard Chess, where his subtle stagecraft and smooth vocal style went down a treat – especially with the women. As Chess was in the process of buying Aristocrat Records, He decided Tibbs would be a great act to sign for the label. His first single, Bilbo Is Dead was backed with Union Man Blues. The sardonic, critical Bilbo dealt with the recently deceased Mississippi segregationist senator, Theodore Bilbo, a racist of the foulest ilk, and certainly caused controversy, being banned from sale in a number of Southern states.

Theodore G. Bilbo, 39th & 43rd Governor of Mississippi, and U.S. Senator from Mississippi, reading his self-proclaimed ‘best seller’ Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization.
(Library of Congress) a caption

However, whereas most researchers repeatedly claim that the Chicago Teamster unions objected to the b-side, in her very thorough history of Chess Records, Nadine Cohodas has shown that the story told by Marshall Chess about Tibbs’s 78 being destroyed in its thousands by angry Teamsters because of Union Blues is probably incorrect. Trucking companies weren’t used by Aristocrat – the label simply couldn’t afford them. Another part of the legend seems disproved, that being that Leonard Chess, who sold his product out of the boot of his Buick, was threatened over the Tibbs record with a crowbar. There
appears to be no documentation to verify this. In any case, the lyrics are hardly critical of the union; the verses celebrate being a member, because once joined, he can’t be touched . So, despite the legends, the record wasn’t a complete commercial flop. Bilbo, on Aristocrat 1101, was followed up by Toothless Woman Blues backed with Drinking Ink Splink, on Aristocrat 1102 which appeared in the shops in March 1948 . Tibbs recorded another six singles for Aristocrat, and then his path begins to fade.
It’s difficult, over sixty years on, to imagine how popular artists like Andrew Tibbs were in their heyday. One inevitably wonders why his full potential wasn’t reached to the point where, like many of his contemporaries, he’d remain a recognisable name today, two decades after his death. All we are left with are tantalising glimpses through time’s heavy curtains, such as in the engrossing biography of Jerome Solon Felder, a.k.a. Doc Pomus, (1925 – 1991), prince among rock’n’roll songwriters, a producer, and above all, blues singer;


‘To many blues cognoscenti, Doc foremost among them, the greatest singer in the nation, save Joe Turner and B.B. King, was Andrew Tibbs. His records failed to capture his genius … on stage at Cookie’s Caravan Tibbs held an almost supernatural sway over the audience … That good-evil countenance drove women, and some men, too, into Pentecostal hysterics.’

Pomus and Tibbs often featured on the same bill and would round off their evenings with what they called a ‘battle of the blues’ which often focused – dangerously, if boyfriends or husbands were present – on a particular woman in the room who had caught their eye. Andrew and Doc would trade improvised verses from opposite ends of the room – their powerful voices needing little or no PA system. Considering the racial constraints of the time, the combination of the uninhibited Doc Pomus, a disabled, cigar-chewing white Jew, permanently on crutches due to the polio which had stricken him in childhood, and a coloured man, Tibbs, must have been quite a musical novelty. Andrew also performed regularly with his brother, Kenneth, as The Tibbs Brothers. Later, when Pomus formed his legendary writing partnership with Mort Shuman, the brothers would be early beneficiaries of the Pomus/Shuman writing machine when they recorded two of their songs, I’m Going Crazy and (Wake Up) Miss Rip Van Winkle. Sadly, as with much of the partnership’s output during their learning period, neither song set the world on fire. A small piece of musical history was made when King Curtis did his first Atlantic recording session backing the Tibbs for Atco in 1956. In 1965 Andrew Tibbs, still not really the star he should have been, made his last single for M-Pac! Records, Stone Hearted Woman, then left the music business for good, spending the rest of his life working for the West Electric Corporation. He passed away, aged 62, in Chicago on May 5 1991.
From here on, the reader may well ask ‘what the hell has this chapter to do with R&B?’ However, when it comes to the history of the Deep South and racism, the following few pages are included to illustrate the historical social landscape against which African Americans were forced to struggle in the first six decades of the 20th century. The actual characters that ran states like Mississippi and Alabama were frighteningly real, and for those of us who grew up in Britain in ignorance of their existence, when we look at what they did and said, we can only be shocked at their attitudes. Therefore their inclusion may help us to gain an extra level of appreciation for the courage and tenacity of dedicated black performers during those times and the triumph and durability their enduring music.
When the book finally closes (if it ever does) on the struggle for full African American Civil Rights, at least the courageous young Andrew Tibbs and his barbed reminder of vicious segregation, Bilbo Is Dead, will undoubtedly provide an interesting footnote. The idea of (to use Theodore G. Bilbo’s vile grandiloquence) a ‘Jew and a nigger’ performing together in a club would have been the ultimate anathema to Mississippi’s champion knight of the burning cross. So, over 80 years after the end of the American Civil War, how did the majority of white Mississippians sleep at night knowing they had such a sickening senator? With great ease, apparently; he had no trouble being re-elected.
Theodore Gilmore Bilbo (October 13, 1877 – August 21, 1947) represented the epitome of misguided Southern white supremacy. His family, from Juniper Grove, a Mississippi hamlet in Pearl River County where he was born, were poor. He attended Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee, then law school at Vanderbilt University, failing to graduate from either institution. After a brief spell working as a teacher, he was admitted to the bar in Tennessee in 1908 and established his own law practice in Poplarville, Mississippi.
Bilbo was a Democrat, who spent two terms as Mississippi’s Governor from 1916–20, and 1928–32. He became a U.S. Senator from 1935–47. A rabid racist, a filibustering, scathing rhetorician, his stock in trade was crude, insulting behaviour which often landed him in trouble. At one point one of the recipients of his rudeness broke a walking stick over his head, whilst another prominent victim of his offensive tongue attacked him on a train, pistol-whipping Bilbo in front of startled passengers. He believed that black people were ‘naturally inferior’, supported Adolf Hitler, and was a staunch upholder of segregation, as well as being a committed member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Even allowing for the racist atmosphere people like Bilbo were able to encourage and benefit from, it would be unfair to the population of Mississippi to lump them all together with the KKK. Some of the politicians Bilbo fought against, whilst still incurably infected with the virus of white supremacy, did display slightly more progressive and liberal tendencies.
PercyLeRoy Percy (left) was undoubtedly part of the Delta aristocracy. At the age of 28 he was running the family plantation business. He had a BA from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, and went on to the University of Virginia Law School, cramming three years of courses into one year. Back home in Greenville, Mississippi, he soon established himself by energetically simultaneously running a law practice and his plantations with impressive efficiency. As the 20th century dawned, he controlled plantations covering over 20,000 acres. No-one in the region could match his prestige and power. Yet there was nothing parochial about LeRoy Percy. He had important friends in the Supreme Court and in the Senate Executive office, he went hunting with President Theodore Roosevelt, played poker with the Speaker of the House, and was a trustee of both the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations, and as a governor of a Federal Reserve Bank he had wide business and industrial connections, travelling widely between the boardrooms of New York, Chicago, and even London.
Percy’s Delta domain relied on physical labour. His attempts to attract Northern farmers and immigrants to Mississippi’s Washington County failed, and only poor African Americans turned up. Ever the pragmatist, Percy decided that if it was the black man who was willing to come to Washington County, to stay and work, then at least, unlike many of his Mississippian political peers, he might as well ensure conditions for his tenants were among the most favourable in the state. If African Americans in the South were, (as was frequently the case), chased off their land, disenfranchised and even lynched, Percy would address the balance even by going as far as providing mortgage loans for them to buy Delta farms. However, although he too believed that African Americans were perhaps ‘inferior’ to the white race, he went even further than mortgage loans. His broadmindedness extended to that bête noir of all segregationist ‘good ole boys’; he actually encouraged and provided education for his black workers. Soon, Washington County had black mailmen, policemen and even a few African American judges. Greenville and Washington County reaped the benefits of such liberal tolerance. Surrounded by the smirking rural evil of Jim Crow, Washington County was an island of free-thinking moderation.
In 1910, Percy became a United States Senator, a proud moment for the innovative Percy family. But his joy would not last long.
Hemmed in all around by more ignorant populist forces, their champions, LeRoy Percy’s formidable opponents, were about to smother Washington County under a regressive blanket of spiteful revenge. A ‘nigger-loving’ senator was something they would not abide. Leading the dark hordes was Percy’s greatest rival, Mississippi Governor James Kimble Vardaman (1861 – 1930).
Vardaman is remembered as ‘The Great White Chief,’ a fierce advocate of white supremacy. He said “if it is necessary every negro in the state will be lynched; it will be done to maintain white supremacy.” Vardaman supporters were encouraged to wear a red bandana around their necks. Some historians believe that this may well be the origin of the term, “redneck.” Another well-known term, usually applied to poor white farmers was “peckerwood.” As many white farmers lived in the woods, as did that noisy bird, the woodpecker, the name stuck.
When Percy’s re-election in the Senate came up, Vardaman’s followers came out en masse and Percy was defeated. Vardaman became the new senator, and the Ku Klux Klan got what it wanted – the Mississippi Delta. Vardaman had won 74 out of the 75 counties in Mississippi, and had become the new power to be reckoned with.
However, the KKK still didn’t get Percy’s beloved Washington County. His business partner was a Jew, and he was married to a Catholic – two of the Klan’s most hated targets. He needed his black workers to keep his various enterprises running. In 1922, despite threats on his life, Percy, no longer a member of the US Senate, publicly opposed the Klan, refusing to back down. His calculated and brave defiance, by filling the hall where the Klan were holding a major recruitment meeting with his own supporters, was a national sensation. He kept the Klan out of Greenville, and to many became something of a hero.
Sadly, LeRoy Percy’s liberality would be literally washed away by the great flood which devastated the region in 1927. Based in Greenville, Will Percy, LeRoy’s son, oversaw the relief effort. To his discredit (with echoes of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans) he took little notice of the way African Americans had suffered. Their homes, their work, their crops, everything had gone. Thus the bonds LeRoy Percy had built up with his black labour force over the years evaporated. The devastated sharecroppers left and headed north. A year later over half of the area’s black population had gone elsewhere to seek work.
As if Percy’s demise and Vardaman’s rise weren’t bad enough, there was an even more virulent force waiting in the wings. Theodore G. Bilbo was elected twice elected as Governor of Mississippi in 1916 and again in 1928. In 1934, he became a Senator. Over the next 12 years, his poisonous racist outbursts in the US Senate outraged many. Americans had just fought a war in Europe against the kind of murderous political system the likes of Bilbo aspired to, and there was a new liberalism afoot. It manifested itself in the media, often with startling and dramatic effect.
In 1946 the charismatic and multi-talented actor Jack Webb,

Jack Webb a.k.a. Joe Friday of Dragnet fame.

who would eventually become known throughout the world for his portrayal as hard-boiled Detective Sergeant Joe Friday in the long running (and much parodied) TV series, Dragnet, was about to bring Senator Bilbo’s nastiness to a much wider audience. Radio was king then, and Jack Webb’s new series One Out of Seven, which premiered over ABC’s KGO on February 6, 1946, would break new documentary ground. In many ways, Webb, who admitted to being ‘an ultra-conservative’ was a paradoxical character. He’d served heroically with the US Air force as a B-26 crewmember during World War II. He was a jazz musician, and practiced the on the cornet every day. He greatly admired America’s law enforcement agencies. Webb was happy to have all the scripts for his TV crime series Dragnet inspected and passed by the LAPD. In the movie LA Confidential, based on James Ellroy’s books, LA Quartet, there’s a Jack Webb type character, the charismatic LAPD Sergeant Jack Vincennes, played by Kevin Spacey. Vincennes, like Webb, is connected as an advisor on a fictional police TV show, Badge of Honour. In later life, Jack Webb’s formal, law-abiding attitudes and tough all-American male style fell from grace when the hippie movement swept along the West Coast in the 1960s, and he became a critic of the ‘counterculture.’ His later 1960s episodes of the re-furbished Dragnet were definitely guilty of a florid, trashy misrepresentation of hippiedom to which the hair and beads brigade responded by portraying Webb as a rigid authoritarian who could not adjust to social change. In some ways the view was unfair. Even though he was almost as crazy as Joe McCarthy when it came to ‘the Red Menace’, if anyone campaigned for social change, it was Jack Webb. His life as a musician and jazz aficionado only strengthened his progressive views on race and Civil Rights.
Airing on Wednesday evenings at 9 p.m. throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, the KGO radio series One Out of Seven was a commentary on one of the seven most prominent wire service stories to surface for that week. The show began with the following announcement:
‘The material and direct quotations included within the following programme have been taken from authoritative files and from dispatches filed by the Associated Press and International News Service. We present these statements without editorial comment. We assume no responsibility for their content.’
The first show on February 6 1946 was entitled Senator Bilbo Is An
Honourable Man. Webb and his team obviously knew the power of drama as they damned Bilbo with a sardonic approximation of ‘praise’ in the style of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act III Scene 2 Antony: ‘For Brutus is an honourable man; So are they all, all honourable men’ Over six well-selected vignettes, using original Associated Press wording, Webb, playing all the parts in the script, revealed the hypocrisy and racism of Mississippi’s Senator. This ‘honourable man’ insisted that ‘all negroes, and Jews and Italians were inferior races.’ This same ‘honourable man’ had proposed an amendment to the federal work-relief bill on June 6, 1938, proposing to deport 12 million black Americans to Liberia at federal expense to relieve unemployment. With little sense of shame or decorum, he had also proudly revealed his KKK membership on radio. Before the 1938 session of the United States Senate, he’d filibustered against an anti-lynching bill, proclaiming to the Senate:
“If you succeed in the passage of this bill, you will open the floodgates of hell in the South. Raping, mobbing, lynching, race riots, and crime will be increased a thousand fold; and upon your garments and the garments of those who are responsible for the passage of the measure will be the blood of the raped and outraged daughters of Dixie, as well as the blood of the perpetrators of these crimes that the red-blooded Anglo-Saxon White Southern men will not tolerate.”
Webb’s expose rattled along, including the revelation that Bilbo had replied to one of his female constituents, an Italian immigrant, by starting the letter with the ‘greeting’ ‘Dear Dago.’ After thirty blistering minutes, Senator Bilbo had been condemned out of his own mouth.
In November 1946, nine months after Jack Webb’s broadcast, Theodore Bilbo was re-elected to the Senate for a third term, but the Senate’s newly-elected Republican majority refused to seat Bilbo for the term, rightly suspecting him taking bribes and of inciting violence against blacks who wanted to vote. A filibuster by his supporters delayed the seating of the Senator for days. However, within a year the great white heaven of the KKK called him aloft; Bilbo was dead.
So did things get any better in Mississippi? The departed Bilbo’s Senate seat was to be occupied by his replacement, John Cornelius Stennis (1901 –1995)

John Cornelius Stennis

He was a Democrat who served in the Senate for over 41 years, becoming its most senior member by his retirement. Like his predecessor, he was a devout segregationist. He energetically opposed the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and was a signatory of the 1956 Southern Manifesto which supported filibuster tactics to delay and block an Act’s passage. Stennis also had a nasty earlier career as a prosecutor, yet his demand for the conviction and the death penalty for three sharecroppers, all of whom had been tortured and flogged to get them to confess to murder, led to the Supreme Court overturning the convictions. The trial’s transcript showed that Stennis knew full well that the men had been tortured. In many ways it was also a landmark case with a result that many Southern racists would have hated. The case, Brown v. Mississippi (1936) brought about the banning of the use of evidence obtained by torture. However, time seemed to soften Stennis on the subject of Civil Rights. The 1982 extension of the Voting Rights Act got his vote, yet that old Johnny Reb streak couldn’t allow him to fully open his heart to the black man. When it came to establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday he voted against it. So, Jim Crow, as a simplistic representation of racism, was one thing, but that rot wasn’t confined to the roots of society.
The following newspaper obituary opens up an intriguing epilogue to the subject of Andrew Tibbs.


From The New York Times, October 18, 1988
John Ball Dies at 77;
A Critic and Novelist Known for Mysteries

John Ball, a music critic turned mystery writer, died of colon cancer Saturday in Encino (Calif.) Hospital. He was 77 years old.The author of some 35 books translated into 17 languages, Mr. Ball’s best-known book is ”In the Heat of the Night” (1965), which won an Emmy from the Mystery Writers of America. The film version won the Academy Award as the best motion picture of 1967.

That book introduced Virgil Tibbs, a detective from Pasadena who becomes involved in a murder case while visiting his mother in a Southern town. In the motion picture, starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, Pasadena was changed to Philadelphia. Worked for Fortune Magazine

Mr. Ball was born in Schenectady, N.Y. on July 8, 1911 but moved to Milwaukee as a child. After graduation from Carroll College in Waukesha, Wis., he joined Fortune magazine in 1937 and three years later became an assistant curator of the Hayden Planetarium. He wrote liner notes for Columbia record albums, became a music critic for the Brooklyn Eagle in 1946, and left in 1951 to review records for the New York World-Telegram .

When young Andrew Tibbs hastily wrote the lyrics to his first single, Bilbo Is Dead, (apparently on a brown paper bag in a cab en route to the studio) he could well have realised that this was a political move which might have repercussions. And his choice for the ‘b’ side – Union Blues seems to suggest a brave, rebellious spirit. When looking at the writer John Ball’s career, which included a spell in the music industry as both writer and critic – right at the time Tibbs made his first recording – might we ask the question, is Andrew Tibbs in any way the inspiration for the black Philadelphia Detective, Virgil Tibbs, in the 1965 novel (and subsequent 1967 movie) as played by Sidney Poitier In The Heat of The Night?
Stirling Silliphant (1918-1996) won an Oscar for his screenplay of the movie, and any avid R&B fan will easily recall the soundtrack with the mighty Ray Charles singing the eponymous title song. It may be a long shot, a pale guess, but a thrilling murder story, written almost two years after Tibb’s recording, about a black detective, temporarily caught out of his usual Philadelphia comfort zone for one steamy night in Sparta, Mississippi, with its threatening undercurrent of violent racism is pure Andrew Tibbs. For Andrew and the fictional Virgil, Bilbo may have been dead – but his spirit lived on in the Sparta police department.
Arkansas, Alabama, Carolina, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana are all beautiful places. Today down South, they don’t lynch black people any more, yet the descendants of those voters who supported the likes of Theodore Bilbo, J. K. Vardaman and John Stennis, although a dying breed, still carry some pale vestiges of that vicious, post-Civil War resentment.
In 1997, the actor Morgan Freeman, whose home town is the epicentre of the Delta blues, Clarksdale, (where he runs his own Ground Zero blues club) was saddened by the fact that at nearby Charleston High School (that’s Charleston Mississippi, not South Carolina) the school Proms were still segregated. Morgan offered to fully fund the city’s first entirely integrated prom. He repeated the offer every year yet it was not taken up until 2009, when it was finally accepted, and filmed by HBO .
Was it a success? Yes. But as if to prove that the bad old days of Dixie could still bite back, a large number of white parents decided to have nothing to do with Freeman’s prom, and since 2009 have held their own, all white proms. Regretfully, facing such an attitude, almost a century and a half since the end of the Civil War, we simply have to accept that racism is an incurable human condition. They may not be spilling blood these days down on the old plantation, but elsewhere around the world the grisly merry-go-round spins on. Serbs and Croats, Palestinians and Israelis, the stupidity of warring religions, Protestants vs. Catholics, Islam vs. everybody else, and although the Third Reich ended over seven decades ago, its anti-Semitism still has plenty of holocaust-denying supporters.
The fact that rhythm and blues artists clung on to their zest for life and fuelled their love of dance and music by courageously continuing to drive through those wicked landscapes of the 20th Century only makes their recorded heritage more precious.





The Mystery of Eilean Mor
Eilean Mor is one of the principal islands in the Flannan Isles, also known as the Seven Hunters, a lonely cluster about 20 miles (32km) west of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Although it means ‘Big Island’ in Gaelic, at 39 acres this isn’t a massive place, but for sailors a forbidding one. It rises 288 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, with perilous sheer cliffs up to 150 foot high. It was here in 1895 that work began on a 75 foot high lighthouse, and from 1899 it commenced beaming a guiding light to sailors up to 25 miles out at sea. In 1971 the last crew of keepers left and the light was automated, and it still shines on today.
More fiction and speculation has been churned out over this genuinely strange story of vanished lighthouse men than any other island-bound maritime mystery. I was cajoled by some of its less steadfast aspects when writing about it several years ago, relying on versions told by such romancers as Vincent Gaddis in his none the less fascinating Invisible Horizons (1965). Some of what has been passed off as fact for the past century appears to be anything but. This is regrettable, because the story needs no such embellishment – its truth stands alone in its genuine weirdness. As well as Gaddis and others, we can blame the colourful imagination of Wilfrid Wilson Gibson (1878-1962), a prolific poet and close friend of Rupert Brooke. His 1912 ballad, Flannan Isle lies at the root of much of the unnecessary detritus this puzzle has gathered down the decades.

Yet, as we crowded through the door,
We only saw a table spread
For dinner, meat, and cheese and bread;
But, all untouched; and no-one there,
As though, when they sat down to eat,
Ere they could even taste,
Alarm had come, and they in haste
Had risen and left the bread and meat,
For at the table head a chair
Lay tumbled on the floor.
There are shades of Conan Doyle’s fictitious rendering of the Mary Celeste here, and things are not helped by a later stanza which goes:

And how the rock had been the death
Of many a likely lad:
How six had come to a sudden end,
And three had gone stark mad:
And one whom we’d all known as friend
Had leapt from the lantern one still night,
And fallen dead by the lighthouse wall:

Eerie hints of creeping madness, shifting personalities, the wages of loneliness and isolation. Meat and drink to a poet. The three keepers, James Ducat, Donald McArthur and Thomas Marshall, were at the end of a 14-day shift in December 1900 but had been prevented from leaving the island due to bad weather. A passing ship, the steamer Archtor, had found it odd on the night of December 15 that the lighthouse, which was normally visible for 25 miles, was unlit. When the relief tender, the Hesperus, set off to the island, the weather, with mountainous seas, had been so bad that they had to stand off for some time, but when they did finally get a man ashore, the truth became evident, as this telegram of 26th December 1900 reveals, sent by Captain Harvie, the master of the Hesperus, the Lighthouse Tender:
‘A dreadful accident has happened at Flannans. The three Keepers, Ducat, Marshall and the occasional have disappeared from the island. On our arrival there this afternoon no sign of life was to be seen on the Island. Fired a rocket but, as no response was made, managed to land Moore, who went up to the Station but found no Keepers there. The clocks were stopped and other signs indicated that the accident must have happened about a week ago. Poor fellows they must been blown over the cliffs or drowned trying to secure a crane or something like that. Night coming on, we could not wait to make something as to their fate. I have left Moore, MacDonald, Buoymaster and two Seamen on the island to keep the light burning until you make other arrangements. Will not return to Oban until I hear from you. I have repeated this wire to Muirhead in case you are not at home. I will remain at the telegraph office tonight until it closes, if you wish to wire me.
All the real, genuine documentation of this case, including the above, is available at the Northern Lighthouse Board’s website However, you’ll not find any of the other revelations which have clung to the yarn as told by Gaddis and others. One of the strangest is Gaddis’s inclusion of entries from the log kept by the lighthouse men, the source of which he attributes to an article by Ernest Fallon in the August 1929 edition of True Strange Stories magazine. It was by repeating these entries when writing this story some years ago that I incurred the displeasure of the Northern Lighthouse Board. Regrettably, the following words are still being peddled by many ‘unexplained’ websites today:
December 12th: Gale north by northwest. Sea lashed to fury. Never seen such a storm. Waves very high. Tearing at lighthouse. Everything shipshape. James Ducat irritable. (Later): Storm still raging, wind steady. Stormbound. Cannot go out. Ship passing sounding foghorn. Could see lights of cabins. Ducat quiet. McArthur crying.
December 13th: ‘Storm continued through night. Wind shifted west by north. Ducat quiet. McArthur praying. (Later:) Noon, grey daylight. Me, Ducat and McArthur prayed.’
December 15th: ‘Storm ended, sea calm, God is over all.’
There are distinct echoes of Gibson’s poem here; ‘And three had gone stark mad’ Gaddis and others claim that these entries were all written in Marshall’s handwriting. The archives of the Northern Lighthouse Board do not corroborate this at all, the handwriting was Ducat’s, and the log seems to have only been kept up to the 13th. There were some final brief notes by Ducat in chalk on the slate written about weather conditions at 9am on the 15th. Whatever befell the men possibly occurred between then and the night of the 15th. Nautical logs are not personal diaries. Any man writing about praying or God, passing facile comments about his shipmate’s moods or even using phrases such as ‘sea lashed to a fury’ would have faced more than a few questions from his practical, no-nonsense superiors ashore. Vincent Gaddis was a decent and highly entertaining writer, but his penchant for invention included such contrived conversations as ‘Looking forward to shore leave?’ asked the skipper, smiling. ‘Aye’, Moore answered, ‘It’ll be good to be back on land for a space where you can see people, talk, and have a drink or two. ‘Tis pretty lonely there some times.’ Gaddis wasn’t there; how could he describe a ‘smiling’ Captain or report conversations? These little verbal excursions in his work might add colour, but they’re bogus, and none of these words appear in any of the documents held by the Northern Lighthouse Board.
Yet my original resort to the creepy log book entries had another result. In 2006 I was contacted by none other than Cyril Nicholas Henty-Dodd, (1935 –2009), better known as Simon Dee, one-time high profile British television interviewer and disc jockey who hosted a twice-weekly BBC TV chat show, Dee Time in the late 1960s. (Some suggest that that Dee was the model for the Mike Myers character Austin Powers). Dee was keen to produce a documentary about the Eilean Mor mystery, but when I stripped it back to its factual basics, mysterious though they are, he expressed his ‘bitter disappointment’ and I heard nothing more.
The mystery of the log entries remains. Where did Ernest Fallon get these from? We must conclude that they are an invention. If not, and somewhere they exist, then they are genuinely strange. But Fallon wasn’t alone in his embroidery. Children’s author Carey Miller in his 1977 Mysteries of The Unknown includes the story that when the man, Moore, is sent onto the island from the Hesperus, when he ‘opened the door of the lighthouse three huge birds of an unknown species flew out to sea from the top of the light’. There is no evidence to support this. As ever, for the newspapers of the time this sinister event presented a field day for inventive journalism. It began with a report in The Scotsman dated December 28 1900, stating that one of the cranes on the island had been swept away by the severe weather. The official report contradicts this. Then the Oban Times weighed in with three misnomers on January 5 1901. They reported that there was a half-eaten meal on the table in the lighthouse, (other reports even tell us that it was mutton and potatoes) that a chair had been pushed back as if its occupant had arisen in haste, and that there was an oilskin found trapped in the wreckage of the island’s west crane. The first two claims are entirely spurious and the third appears nowhere else, and in any case, even if the sea had swept away one of the keepers, the loss of his oilskin seems unlikely.
So the question will remain forever; what really happened? All manner of suggestions have been presented down the years. The paranormal lobby have been busy creating legends of the ‘strange atmosphere’ and peculiar history of the island. Even piracy has been suggested – although they would have been a pretty dumb bunch of Jack Sparrows to attack Eilean Mor. The inevitable sea monster has been cajoled from the deep, time slips, other dimensions, and the evergreen favourite, alien abduction. What a bunch of Venusian tourists would want with three horny-handed Scottish lighthouse keepers is beyond imagination. If their disappearance was not supernatural, then the culprit must surely be the sea. Even though the lighthouse stood over 300 feet above sea level (91m) the sea at Eilean Mor was so violent at times that spray lashed the top of the light. The jetty was reported as battered and the rails were twisted. Perhaps two men had gone out in a storm and a third had seen a huge wave coming and gone out to warn them, with tragic results. We’ll never know. Freak waves are not restricted to Pacific tsunamis. When I sailed through a hurricane in the Pacific, I had no idea how high the waves were, but they towered above the ship like mountains. Two vessels in the South Atlantic in 2001, the MS Bremen and Caledonian Star, both encountered 98ft (30m) freak waves. Bridge windows on both ships were smashed, and all power and instrumentation lost. In 2004, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory ocean-floor pressure sensors detected a freak wave caused by Hurricane Ivan in the Gulf of Mexico. From peak to trough it was around 91ft high (27.7m), and around 660ft (200m) long. The open sea can be a terrifying place.
The mystery of Eilean Mor continues to inspire creative writers and musicians. Part of Gibson’s poem is quoted in Horror of Fang Rock, an episode in the Dr. Who series (complete with the misspelling ‘Flannen’). The Genesis song The Mystery of Flannan Isle Lighthouse is featured on the band’s compilation Archive 1967-75. The missing men inspired Hector Zazou’s song Lighthouse, subsequently performed by Siouxsie on the album Songs From the Cold Seas, and the opera The Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies is also based on the incident.
In 2000, exactly 100 years after they disappeared, silence fell for one minute on nearby Breasclete, west of Lewis, in honour of the three men, in an event covered by the BBC in Scotland. A reporter with BBC Radio nan Gaidheal in Stornoway, Alasdair Macaulay, who had researched the incident, said: ‘I have heard about a woman at Crowlista in Uig who had been hanging out her washing on that day. She was said to have seen a massive wall of water coming in from the west. She apparently ran back to the house as this large wave hit the shore. Her washing and washing line were said to have been swept away.’
Such is the all-consuming power of the sea; merciless, inhuman, and forever mysterious.


‘Out of My Cold, Dead Hands’: EL CID JOINS THE NRA.

This post isn’t really about guns, but about the effect they have on our heroes. The National Rifle Association of America was founded in 1871 after the Civil War. Generals had discovered that for every 1,000 rounds a soldier shot at Confederates, only one bullet hit its mark. Thus an organisation was formed to teach gun-loving people how to aim straight and not waste bullets. Judging by what recently happened in Florida, the long-term results 150 years later are ‘encouraging’. These days, a mentally deranged teenage maniac can successfully murder 17 of his classmates in a few seconds. The NRA has done its job. The NRA has an annual turnover of around $500 million. It has 5 million active members, and is the third largest lobbying group in Washington. Donald Trump’s election campaign was helped along by a $30 million NRA donation. But this story is about an actor. He was a fine, versatile Thespian who played Presidents, Prophets and chariot-driving, chivalrous muscular heroes. And he was a great Shakespearian, too. Alongside Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster, he had always been my cinematic hero. Yet he went from being a Liberal Democrat to a rabid, gun-totin’ President of the NRA. How are the mighty fallen …now read on.

It’s common knowledge that John ‘Duke’ Wayne was as gung-ho a right wing Republican as you could possibly get; little wonder that he got the role of Genghis Khan in the 1956 film The Conqueror. No doubt, as the very scourge of ‘Un-American activities’ he would have enjoyed the company of Senator McCarthy, and the UK’s favourite old movie critic, Barry Norman, tells a scary story of trying to interview Wayne on a train and being threatened as a ‘damned commie bastard’. But with big John, you knew what you were getting. What was on the label was in the can.
However, it’s always a bitter disappointment for a film fan to find that his idols fall well short in real life of the noble characters they often portray on screen. Such a case is the mighty Charlton Heston. Whereas Wayne, however, spent much of his time on screen in uniform, Heston had at least experienced actual military service. In 1944, he enlisted in the United States Army Air Force. He served for two years as a radio operator and aerial gunner aboard a B-25 Mitchell stationed in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands with the Eleventh Air Force. He reached the rank of Staff Sergeant.
In films such as Ben Hur, The War Lord, and The Agony & The Ecstasy, this muscular, booming giant managed the whole gamut of on-screen emotions. He was a skilled, sensitive actor, no stranger to Shakespeare, and an icon of heroic inspiration. That all fell apart for me when I watched Michael Moore’s anti-gun documentary, Bowling for Columbine. Something happened to Charlton along the way. He started his professional life as a liberal-leaning Democrat. He was also a union man who in 1965 became president of the Screen Actors Guild. He remained in the position until 1971. He was well known for his political activism. In the 1950s and 1960s he was one of a handful of Hollywood actors to speak openly against racism and was an active supporter of the Civil Rights Movement.
The contrast by the time Michael Moore got to him in 2002 was staggering. When Moore asked him about an April 1999 National Rifle Association meeting (of which Heston was President) held shortly after the Columbine high school massacre, it had become obvious that every vestige of liberalism had been expunged from his character. He became a different icon; at rabid, right wing NRA rallies, holding his rifle above his head exclaiming ‘out of these cold, dead hands’. Railing against political correctness, this one-time friend of Martin Luther King later claimed he’d not changed, and had only become a Republican because ‘the Democratic party had changed’.
But politics and show business never mix too well, either for the artist or the audience. Whatever Chuck Heston was when he died in 2008 can’t take away his achievements as an epic actor. We should also remember, that at the time he was filming El Cid in 1960-61 he was still a Democrat, and was unhappy that the movie’s schedule was taking him away from his chance to campaign for John F. Kennedy. His lurch into political darkness (or, depending on the reader’s stance, the light) was still a couple of decades away.
El Cid remains one of Martin Scorsese’s all-time favourites. He was heavily involved in the 1993 restoration and re-release, calling it ‘one of the greatest epic films ever made.’ Following the success of The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur, Heston had cornered the market for epic hero roles. Initially, for Ben Hur, William Wyler had sent the script to Kirk Douglas. Kirk, however, thinking that the role was perfect for him, was disappointed that Wyler didn’t want him for the lead; Douglas was to play Ben Hur’s vile chariot racing enemy, Messala. As Douglas says in his 1988 autobiography, The Ragman’s Son: ‘I wasn’t interested in the role of a one-note bad guy.’ But Kirk would get his chance – Spartacus was waiting in the wings.
Almost every film’s production has its own tempestuous story of escalating budgets, difficult diva stars and other disasters. To verify this, one only has to watch Terry Gilliam’s tragic documentary Lost in La Mancha, which tells the astonishing story of his failed attempt to film Don Quixote. And even if you complete your film, the finished product may well be savaged by critics with poisoned pens. The bigger the movie, the greater the potential for strife, and El Cid was no exception.
Without CGI, colossal films like this could not be made today. It runs at three hours and 15 minutes (including an intermission), cost $6,200,000, (a staggering sum for 1961) employs an extra-wide widescreen, a special colour process, 7,000 extras from the Spanish Army, 10,000 costumes, 35 ships, 50 outsize engines of medieval war, and four of the noblest old castles in Spain: Ampudia, Belmonte, Peñíscola (which doubles for medieval Valencia) and Torrelobaton.
The on-screen passion between Heston’s Cid and Sophia Loren’s Jimene (Mrs. El Cid) might seem real enough to the audience, but in reality it was a triumph for Thespian dedication. The fact is, Heston hated Loren with a passion and vice versa. One problem is that Loren was the first woman to be paid well above the going rate for acting in a single motion picture. She got $1 million, much more than Heston. She also demanded a $200-a-week hairdresser. Loren seems to have been not only some kind of advance guard for Hollywood feminism, but a somewhat prickly prima donna. Proof of this emerged in an article entitled Egos: Watch My Line in Time Magazine dated January 5 1962;
‘On a 600-sq.-ft. billboard facing south over Manhattan’s Times Square, Sophia Loren’s name appears in illuminated letters that could be read from an incoming liner, but—Mamma mia!—that name is below Charlton Heston’s. In the language of the complaint: ‘If the defendants are permitted to place deponent’s name below that of Charlton Heston, then it will appear that deponent’s status is considered to be inferior to that of Charlton Heston … It is impossible to determine or even to estimate the extent of the damages which the plaintiff will suffer.’
Thus in epic style, it came to pass that producer Samuel Bronston was sued for breach of contract in New York Supreme Court. ‘The extent of damages’ and the suggestion of ‘suffering’ is typical of the histrionics involved in showbiz litigation. Maybe it would have made sense if the film had been titled Jimene rather than El Cid. It didn’t end there; even Chuck had a go at the finished film, criticising director Anthony Mann by saying it would have been a better movie if it had been directed by William Wyler. One might also wonder how different the movie might have been if the role of the main villain, Ben Yusuf, played admirably by the late Herbert Lom, had gone to Bronstein’s first choice – Orson Welles. As for La Loren’s antipathy towards male co-stars, it surfaces again in The Fall of The Roman Empire where there was no spark of affection between her and her beleaguered co-star Stephen Boyd. Pizza breath strikes again?
On the DVD release of El Cid there are some interesting extras containing comments made by people who were on the set during the production. The animosity between its stars gives you a whole new angle when you watch the movie today. During many of the film’s ‘love’ scenes, Heston refused to look at Loren for more than a glance. It was tough work for director Anthony Mann, begging Heston to look into the eyes of the woman he was supposed to love, but Chuck simply couldn’t do it. It is obvious in El Cid’s deathbed scene, where he doesn’t look directly at his distraught spouse. Heston later claimed that he was ‘looking into the future,’ rather than into the eyes of his wife. Another of Chuck’s gripes was that Sophia had what he called ‘pizza breath’, which was the inevitable result of Ms. Loren having her Italian chef on the shoot, cooking her all her favourite dishes ‘just like Mamma used to make’. Finally, even the man who got an Oscar out of El Cid, composer Miklós Rózsa, had a justified gripe. When he viewed the finished film at the premiere he angrily discovered that 20% of his score had been jettisoned. He fell out with producer Samuel Bronston big time and never worked for him again.
Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (1043 – July 10, 1099), was a Castilian nobleman known as El Cid Campeador ‘The lord-master of military arts’, military leader, and diplomat. Exiled from the court of the Spanish Emperor Alfonso VI of León and Castile, El Cid went on to command a Moorish force consisting of Muladis, Berbers, Arabs and Malians, under Yusuf al-Mu’taman ibn Hud, Moorish king of the northeast Al-Andalus city of Zaragoza, and his successor, Al-Mustein II. Rodrigo’s godfather, Pedro El Grande, was a Carthusian monk. Pedro’s coming-of-age gift to El Cid was his pick of a horse from an Andalusian herd. Rodrigo picked a horse that his godfather thought was a weak, poor choice, causing the monk to exclaim ‘Babieca!’ (stupid!) It seems an odd name for a hero’s horse. Then again, it’s no worse than the Lone Ranger calling his Native American sidekick ‘Tonto’; in Portuguese, Italian and Spanish, the word tonto means ‘fool’ or ‘dumb’ or ‘fat dummy’. But I digress…
After the Christian defeat at the Battle of Sagrajas in 1086, El Cid (The Lord) was recalled to service by Alfonso VI, and commanded a combined Christian and Moorish army, which he used to create his own fiefdom in the Moorish Mediterranean coastal city of Valencia. His tomb is in the cathedral of Burgos, Spain, and his sword is on display in Madrid’s Military Museum.
Although Rodrigo was a real historical character, and is the subject of Spain’s oldest epic poem Cantar de Mio Cid, few details of the man and his true character survive. So as usual, Hollywood ‘history’ takes over, filling in the gaps between the true, main events with romance and invention. That said, screenwriter Philip Yordan (who worked as writer on many epics, including The Fall of The Roman Empire) made a pretty literate attempt at combining all the myths and legends. However, for example, the Cid didn’t die at Valencia before being strapped in an iron corset to his horse to ride off into the Mediterranean sun. After routing the Moors at Valencia, he may have ruled the city in the name of his king, but as far as Rodrigo was concerned, that part of Spain had become his by conquest. Valencia was his, and he died there in the company of Jimene 5 years after the battle, although his armies were formed of both Muslims and Christians. Despite this, Valencia was recaptured by Masdali on May 5, 1102 and remained a Muslim city for another 125 years. There is a legend that Jimena fled to Burgos with her husband’s body and did strap him to a horse to raise morale, but poor Rodrigo’s corpse must have been pretty ripe by then.
Yet Yordan could see the drama in some legends and blended them well into the script. One such tale is of the young Rodrigo discovering a leper sinking in quicksand crying for help, but none of the bystanders dared touch him. Rodrigo pulled him from the bog, clothed him in his cloak, housed him in a barn and went to get him some food. When he returned, he found the leper had transformed into an angelic figure that identified himself as St. Lazarus. He said ‘For your bravery and kindness you will enjoy success as a warrior. You will win battles upon battles and never know defeat’. In a nice nod to the legend, the film contains a scene wherein the banished Rodrigo encounters a thirsty leper who begs a drink. After unhesitatingly offering his own pouch, the Leper thanks him by name. ‘Who are you?’ asks Rodrigo. ‘I am called Lazarus.’ The leper answers. Then he crosses Rodrigo with his staff. “May helping hands be extended to you everywhere you go, my Cid.’


GHOST BOAT: The strange story of UB65


There are several spooky submarine yarns from both World Wars and later, but none are as celebrated or weird as the story of the ill-fated German submarine UB-65. According to the meticulous and reliable her details are as follows:
She was built by Vulcan, Hamburg (Werk 90), launched 26 June 1917 commissioned 18 August 1917 and had just one commander during her short career from 18 August 1917 – 14 July 1918 , Kapitanleutnant Martin Schelle. On her six patrols she sank seven allied ships and damaged a further six. She was one of a class of 24 submarines especially designed to operate out of the ports of occupied Belgium. It was during construction that bad fortune began to dog this particular boat.
If we are to accept the legend, then the crew of UB-65 were less terrified of confronting enemy forces at sea than they were of the ghost that haunted their ship. As with most of these yarns, this one has had its fair share of embellishment over the years. The initial ‘authority’ who launched the spectre was one Hector Charles Bywater (1884-1940), a brilliant naval journalist and naval strategist, a multi-lingual spy whose ability to speak German passed him off as a native. Bywater is as much of a conundrum as the UB-65 itself. As will be seen, other writers have added layers of spurious ‘authenticity’ to his original exposition. Bywater bases his telling of the saga on a pamphlet published after the war by ‘the distinguished psychologist Professor Dr. Hecht’, and a ‘first-hand account’ by an un-named petty officer who was lucky enough to leave the boat before she died.
The misfortunes of UB-65 began whilst she was still on the slipway.
A heavy metal girder slipped from the crane tackle as it was being lowered into position to be welded into the hull, instantly killing a German workman and injuring another, who died in hospital a few days later. Before launching, poisonous fumes in the engine room took the lives of three more workers. So before the UB-65 had even put to sea, five men had died building her.
Once out at sea on her trial run, a sailor was sent forward on the deck to inspect the hatches. He was swept overboard and lost. Her first test dive was almost fatal. She should have levelled out at 30 feet, but a forward ballast tank ruptured and the sub plummeted to the seabed. She remained stuck there for 12 hours, and during this frightening period flood water seeped into the batteries. The resulting toxic fumes spread among the crew. When, with some relief, the boat finally managed to surface, everyone was violently ill, so much so that two men died in hospital. Could things get worse? Without a doubt, and here the illegitimate elements of this oft-repeated story begin to rear up. Some writers relate that she was commissioned in not in August, but in February, 1917, with U-65 placed under the command of Oberleutuant Karl Honig. Unfortunately, you will not find a commander of this name listed; the records show Kapitanleutnant Martin Schelle as sole commander during the boat’s brief life. But back to the story. While torpedoes were being loaded for UB-65’s first patrol, a warhead exploded, killing the Second Officer and eight seamen. Nine other sailors were seriously wounded. By this time anyone being assigned to this particular submarine would have something to worry about, and on top of it all, the first ghost makes an entry. As she was under tow back to dry dock for repair, a hysterical sailor reported that he had seen the ghost of the Second Officer, his arms folded, standing on the prow. The haunting had begun.
Although Bywater was the first to bring all this to attention in his 1932 book, Their Secret Purposes, most of the crew names don’t crop up until an article on the sub, written by Peter King in Fate magazine in 1974. The story gathered more trimmings in Raymond Lamont Brown’s Phantoms of The Sea (1972) and a further Fate article by King in 1977. Bywater’s source is a ‘Professor Dr. Hecht’ and from somewhere, King pulls a first name out of the bag – now he’s ‘Max’ Hecht. This revelation is followed by a previously unidentified sailor who becomes ‘Petersen’ claiming that he also saw the ghost. Petersen wisely decides to jump ship the day before U-65 was to embark on her first patrol. Several men on that initial patrol reported seeing the ghost of that Second Officer. One night the duty officer was found sobbing on the bridge, claiming to have seen the ghostly figure, arms folded, standing on the ship’s prow. A torpedo man named Eberhard goes berserk and rants about being pursued by the ghost. According to Bywater, he’s given a shot of morphine but despite its relaxing qualities, eventually makes it up onto the deck where he promptly jumps overboard and sinks like a stone. Whilst under attack from depth charges, Lohmann, UB-65’s coxswain, is thrown to the deck, cracks three ribs and dies from internal injuries a week later. ‘Oberleutnant Karl Honig’ was next on the hit list. After patrolling the Dover Straits in February 1918, UB-65 docked in Bruges just as British aircraft began a bombing raid. Honig is said to have been decapitated by flying shrapnel as he stepped down the gangplank, his headless body propelled backwards onto the deck. His corpse was laid there for a while, covered with a canvas shroud, and that same night an officer and eight crewmen said they saw the Second Officer’s ghost again, standing by the cadaver. Now the entire crew of the UB-65 apply for a transfer. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? The German Navy are very concerned, and yet another new name enters the story; he is ‘a German Naval Lutheran minister, the Rev. Franz Weber’, who conducts an exorcism of the ship. A Commodore arrives and investigates. The anonymous chronicler, the petty officer, tells Max Hecht that he missed a trip on the boat due to rheumatism, and the day before she sails he is visited by another crewman called Wernicke, who bids him a somewhat ominous farewell. As new names keep attaching themselves like limpets to this story, such as Petersen, Weber and Max Hecht, Richter, and as the 1974 Fate article identifies the commodore as ‘Michelson’, (Lamont Brown has him as ‘Admiral Schroeder’) we’ll examine their potential origins later on.
By mid-summer 1918, Germany was losing the war. U-boat losses were such that none could be unnecessarily laid up, so UB-65 was put back into service. On June 30 she set out on what was to be her last patrol. The story goes that while patrolling off the coast of Ireland U.S. submarine L-2, operating as part of an American flotilla based at Bantry Bay, was travelling at periscope depth when she spotted UB-65. The American skipper, Lt. Foster, (or Forster) got into position and was about to fire torpedoes at the enemy ship. What followed adds another phenomenal twist to the story. Before L-2 could act, her captain was amazed as U-65 blew up before their eyes and sank. The American submarine never fired a shot. Was that the end of it all? Not quite.
Goss and Behr offer a tantalising follow-up, which I have unfortunately not been able to track down, but it adds a nice spooky coda. They tell us that on July 10th 1968, almost exactly 50 years to the day (give or take 3 days, depending on which report of UB-65’s death is accurate), a man from Baltimore called Sven Morgens-Larsen and his wife June were enjoying a cruise on their yacht Grey Seal off the Irish Coast close to Cape Clear. In the late afternoon they were approaching Fastnet Rock. At 6.30 pm they heard a muffled explosion. The sea, a few hundred feet from them, churned, and up popped a submarine’s conning tower. As the rest of the craft emerged from the foam, they saw the number ‘65’ on her side … and a stationary figure standing on her prow. The whole apparition, submarine, figure, everything, then dissolved and was gone. Apparently Morgens-Larsen knew nothing of the legend until he’d returned to Baltimore where he looked up the story in the archives at John Hopkins University. Fact or premeditated fancy? Who cares; those pesky U-boat men just won’t stay down. Yet even this peculiar report has a precedent. The large American nuclear submarine USS Thresher went down with all hands on a deep test dive 220 miles off Cape Cod on April 9 1963. Her loss in peacetime, with 129 men, was a major maritime tragedy. Fast forward to the summer of 1967 when the Schulz family with their three children are enjoying a cruise on their yacht the Yorktown Clipper, again 200 miles off Cape Cod. Suddenly, to their amazement, to starboard, a massive submarine surfaces. She looks damaged, with a gash in her hull. There are two uniformed US Navy men, one standing on her walkway, and one on her bows, staring back at the Yorktown Clipper through telescopes. This encounter lasted a few minutes, and climaxed dramatically as the sub reared up out of the water, and broke apart amidships, then vanished beneath the waves. The two figures did not budge. As she went down, the Schulzes maintain that they saw the name ‘Thresher’ on her side.
Perhaps in the watery hereafter, the spirits juggle around with earthbound officialdom, because the real nuclear submarine would not have had her name written on her side, just her number, 593, from her official designation SSN-593. So, with the Thresher tragedy still painfully fresh to a seagoing family just four years after it occurred, was this some psychic hallucination triggered by a collective memory? The Schulzes were in the area where the tragedy had occurred. If one person had reported this vision, it could be questionable, but a married couple and their three children? Would a family conspire to make things up? We don’t know – but there’s a distinct possibility that Hector C. Bywater may have done so with the UB-65.
Goss and Behe suggest the story of the jinxed sub may have been part of a British destabilising propaganda drive to unnerve German sailors. On the other hand, his book Their Secret Purposes, (Constable, London 1932) which includes the haunted U-boat, is ample evidence that this inventive, talented man liked spinning a meaty yarn. Bywater was no stranger to intelligence work and had worked behind enemy lines in Germany. He is also famous for his 1925 ‘faction’ book The Great Pacific War, written whilst he was naval correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.
It is a startling but true fact that Bywater prophesied in uncanny detail in Japanese Pacific campaign of World War II. He has been dubbed among some historians as ‘the man who invented Pearl Harbor’. His book opens with Japan’s seizure of Manchuria, Formosa and Korea. ‘But in thus pursuing a policy which aimed at the virtual enslavement of China, Japan had inevitably drawn upon herself the hostility of the Powers,’ wrote Bywater. Much more so than Morgan Robertson’s eerie predictions in 1898 concerning the Titanic, Bywater’s book is replete with so many accurate predictions that it could well have been the handbook used for Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Imperial Navy. The Great Pacific War was published while Isoroku Yamamoto – the admiral who masterminded the Japanese naval strategy in World War II – was an attaché with the Japanese embassy in Washington, D.C. It was featured in the New York Times’ popular book section in 1925, and although the Japanese embassy registered an official protest over the review declaring it ‘provocative’, it would have been essential reading for any Japanese naval officer. Yet despite all this, as a kind of Robert Harris of his day, Bywater was making it all up, but magnificently so, due to his thorough knowledge and grasp of naval affairs.
So, what about all those names mentioned in the UB-65 story? Let’s deal first with the very foundation of Bywater’s version – the mysterious ‘pamphlet’ of ‘Professor Dr. Hecht’. The pamphlet does not exist. Checking on line I find that there was a Max Hecht. He was born in 1857 and is listed as a ‘psycho-semasiologist’. He dealt with semantics and the study of language, and doesn’t seem to fit the bill as a renowned, well-known psychologist. Lamont Brown however, refers to him as such, and states that his ‘unpublicised’ report on UB-65 exists in the Staatsbibliothek der Stiftung Preussicher Kulturbesitz, in Marburg. But as with any other documents mentioned by writers relating the story, Goss and Behr went to much trouble to have these dug out from the relevant German archives, yet found that they did not exist. They are left only with speculation as to who Bywater based his mysterious ‘Professor Doctor Hecht’ upon. They hint that he might have been based on the journalist and screenwriter Ben Hecht (1894-1964), the first screenwriter to be awarded an Oscar. It seems unlikely. There was indeed a Submarine Commodore called Andreas Michelsen, who had commanded the light cruiser Rostock in the Battle of Jutland in 1916, and in June 1917 took over command of U-Boats. With no crew list for UB-65 available, the names Lohmann and Eberhard evade us. Then we have the crewmen Petersen and Wernicke, the man who said goodbye to the un-named petty officer. There’s nothing on Petersen, but there is a Fritz Wernicke (1885-1918), who commanded UB-42 and UB-66 (which is one number away from 65), but UB-66 went down with all hands with Weinecke in command, on January 18 1918 in the Eastern Mediterranean. There are a couple of other names left hanging; some crewman called Richter and the exorcist, Lutheran Minister, Rev. Franz Weber. These appear in versions of the story in the 1970s. Fate magazine became a magnet for these stories, and although in its later incarnation, (prior to its demise in 2009), it wasn’t afraid debunking a subject, in earlier times many features didn’t have to be too academically inclined with sources and footnotes. We were also in the heyday of aliens and the UFO, subjects which could impregnate any other paranormal happening like a virus.
So who were Franz Weber, and the mysterious Richter? If you were looking for some German names to slot into a U-boat story – how does Franz Weber-Richter sound? To discover who he was, we only have to look at an article in Der Spiegel dated February 8 1961, entitled Men From Another Planet. He was Germany’s own George Adamski. Together with his interplanetary associate, Charles Mekis, Weber-Richter had managed to convince a growing army of followers that an invasion of earth by the Venusians was imminent. His leaflets and publications delivered an income, but living in South America provided an added opportunity to raise funds. It may have been tough convincing people that he had spent several months living with aliens on Mercury, but Franz Weber-Richter claimed to be Hitler’s son, an assertion just slightly more credible than ‘the Venusians are coming’ but sufficient to gain sympathetic hand-outs from aging, fugitive Nazis. Der Fuhrer would have been proud.
Whatever ‘the truth’ is about the doomed UB-65, it doesn’t really matter, except for the fact that 37 families in Germany lost their sons and husbands to an unimaginably horrible death. Time and our imagination have built this into an immortal story, and we need such romance in our lives. The careful researchers at mention nothing of her haunting. Her loss is reported thus: ‘14 Jul 1918 – Lost by accidental cause (marine casualty) off Padstow, Cornwall on or after July 14, 1918. 37 dead (all hands lost)’. And she has now been found as the following report states on both Facebook and Wikipedia:
‘An expedition mounted in 2004 as part of the Channel 4 Wreck Detectives underwater archaeological TV series to survey a previously unidentified U-boat wreck that had been located earlier at , during a routine survey by the Royal Navy, confirmed the identity of the boat as UB-65. Inspection of the wreck by nautical archaeologist Innes McCartney and U-boat historian Dr. Axel Niestlé (through identification of design features such as the type of deck gun, and identification numbers that were stamped on one of her propellers) proved conclusively that the wreck was that of UB-65. A survey of the wreck showed no obvious indication of weapon attack being the cause of loss (although this could not be ruled out; shock damage from a depth charge attack could have caused loss through failure of internal seawater systems and hull penetrations that would not be obvious from an external examination). The aft hatches are open indicating a possible attempt by at least some of the crew to escape from the vessel. Consideration of the various observations of the wreck, along with historical observations regarding depth control and handling difficulties on diving experienced by other boats of the class, led to a conclusion that she was most likely lost through accidental causes on or after 14 July 1918, the date of the sinking of a Portuguese vessel in the Padstow area. All of her crew of 37 were listed as lost. Having been identified as UB-65 the wreck was given protected place status under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 on 1 November 2006.’
R.I.P. Petersen, Lohmann, Richter, Eberhard and all your other shipmates, real or imagined.


Berlin, April 22 1945


Cops and Robbers
Capital … has no motion that has not been imparted to it,
but is a reservoir of force which will perpetuate the motion
of the machinery after the propelling power has ceased.

Senator Leyland Stanford (1823-1893)

Churchill had advocated seizing the capitals of Berlin, Prague and Vienna before they were overrun by the Red Army, but his voice no longer counted. Supreme Allied Commander General Eisenhower was contented with the idea of the Red Army taking Berlin. It was the prize many of Stalin’s troops had already died for. Yet the massive red tentacles of an interminable scarlet octopus of grim retribution, revenge, murder and rape were already enveloping the city, and the constant artillery bombardment and bombing had reduced its beautiful old streets to rubble. Already, to the east of Berlin, wherever the Red Army appeared, they carried with them an unforgiving hatred, a lust for vengeance for every foul thing National Socialist Germany had done to their homeland. This was their long-awaited revenge for the massacres, the blitzkrieg, the slaughter of millions of innocent people, the burning of villages and towns, the insane Nazi racial policies and the homicide of millions of Jews. The wild sons of the Steppes were an unstoppable wave of ruthlessness, pillaging vicious beasts, devoid of any chivalry, made so by the enforced lust of war. Their officers and commissars would turn blind eyes as Germany’s female population, from schoolgirls to grandmothers, would be repeatedly violated, with those who side-stepped the option of suicide left mentally and physically damaged for life. This tragic payback for Germany could have never been imagined by the arrogant ‘victorious’ regiments of the Reich, the blowtorch battalions who had rolled their murderous blitzkrieg forward in Operation Barbarossa four years earlier.
Yet still Hitler, pumped full of crazy pharmaceutical compounds with up to 17 injections per day, fumed in his bunker, waving a newspaper at Albert Speer, jumping with sardonic joy at the news that Roosevelt was dead, as if this was yet further proof of providence guiding him to victory. The dogged faithful, Bormann, Goebbels, Hitler’s doctors, Brandt and the quack Morrell, and the hard core of the SS still crowded the bunker, almost convinced that there would still be a turning point in the Reich’s history to avert defeat. By 11 April, American troops were within 48 hours of Berlin, but they advanced no further. Frustrated though the GIs were, they knew that the big prize was Ivan’s. And now, the Russians were at the city gates.
In the corpse-strewn streets the air was thick with the pulverised dust of atomized architecture and the acrid, all-pervasive smell of cordite. In sad futility, women still queued for that rare commodity, bread. Whenever an exploding shell shattered the queue, its bloody gaps of death were closed up as the surviving hungry wives and mothers moved forward. Better to step over a neighbour’s torn corpse and risk death than miss the last crumbs from the baker’s shelves.

The city was already in ruins from Allied bombing. Now yet more Soviet artillery shells began to fall in the streets. Berliners were finally getting a nasty taste of what their glorious Wehrmacht had inflicted upon the besieged city of Leningrad for 900 days. The people faced these events with stoicism. They had placed their faith in a false god, an immoral, unprincipled madman. This was the culmination of his reign, the abrupt, premature end, after only 12 years, of his ‘1,000 year Reich’. Many had already taken their own lives, almost 7,000 of them.
Late in the afternoon of April 12 in the incredibly still standing Philharmonic Hall, Albert Speer had ordered a final performance by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. What was left of Berlin’s music lovers took their seats. It was cold as there was no heating, and the grim-faced audience sat swathed in their overcoats and scarves as conductor Robert Heger raised his baton, knowing this may be the last music he would conduct for some time. Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, Brunnhilde’s final aria from die Gotterdammerung, and the finale, Bruckner’s Romantic Symphony. The last, poignant tones of the Bruckner had been, as instructed by Speer, a musical message to all in the cold building; if you could leave Berlin, this is the signal to do so. Beyond this music, only degradation and death remained. As the fearful, chilled and unhappy Berliners began to file out of the venue, still mentally savouring the fine musicianship they had just witnessed, the insane reality of their situation in the Nazi state struck home with evil gravitas. Standing by the exits were the fresh-faced children of the Hitler Youth in their uniforms, holding forth baskets full of cyanide capsules, free, courtesy of the Reich, to all those who no longer thought life worth living.
By April 22 it was clear to those few Nazi diehards still in Berlin that it was all over.
At Berlin’s SS Headquarters some telephone lines still worked. The one on the desk of the head of the SS budget administration section, 38 year old SS Standartenführer Josef Spacil was ringing loudly. He wiped the brick dust off the handset. The voice on the line was sharp and commanding.
“Spacil! Kaltenbrunner. How are things there?”
“Terrible, Herr Oberst. We can almost smell the Bolsheviks. They’re on the outskirts now. Everything is wrecked. Many of our departments are packing up and leaving. But we’re intent on going down fighting. How are things in Austria?”
“If you think you’ve got problems, think on. The Russians have taken Vienna. The Second and Sixth Panzers have been routed. The Bolshevik bastards are raping and pillaging. At least for the time being we’re safe here in Salzburg. But I will not surrender to the Russians, never, ever. The Americans are getting closer. So you need to get out of Berlin because if Ivan gets you, Spacil, you’re finished in more ways than one. It can only be days now. How many good, reliable and committed SS men can you get together?”
“How many do you need?”
“Enough to rob a bank.”
“Sorry, Herr Oberst, did you say ‘rob a bank’?”
“When were your men last paid, Spacil?”
“They haven’t been paid for weeks.”
“Well, you’ll need to brief them well. Tell them if they want their wages then they’ll have to go and take them. Here’s the plan. The Reichsbank, Kurstrasse. You know it well?”
“Of course, but -”
“But nothing! Shut up and listen! We’re down here in the Alpine Redoubt and we’re going to try and hold out. But we need money to oil the wheels, and even though our men have been acting on all sorts of orders to remove stuff from the bank from various quarters recently, whatever’s left in those vaults is ours.”
“You want us to rob the Reichsbank?”
“For God’s sake! Of course I fucking do! It’s not immoral; all the gold and currency in there is ours anyway. Think of it as a Robin Hood mission. Paying us – the poor, those who’ve been fighting on whilst that crowd still eat their soup and croissants in the bunker. We’ve been collecting loot for Himmler for five bloody years, so it’s time we had a bonus.”
“But what about Reichsfűhrer Himmler? What about the police?”
“Just remind yourself, Spacil – We are the bloody police!”
“But you realise, Herr Oberst, as I’m given to understand by the Leibstandarte’s Sepp Dietrich, that the Reichsfűhrer still has his own special vault and his deposits at the Reichsbank?”
“Yes, yes, yes. Fuck Himmler! That’s why the previous raids didn’t touch that. We know all about the bloody Max Heiliger accounts. He has them in several banks, and in Switzerland, but we can’t be everywhere.”
“So what do we do in that case? Is the Reichsfűhrer in contact with you?”
“Unfortunately, yes. Now, listen and listen carefully. He’s given me the name of an Untersturmfűhrer Gluckmann in the Leibstandarte. He’s still at Lichterfelde. Dig him out for this mission because he’s one of the Max Heiliger so-called ‘guardians’. Bloody Himmler, with his melodrama! He has the documentation to get the bank to open Himmler’s vault. Whatever’s in there, for Christ’s sake keep it separate from the other loot. Don’t send that by road. It has to go on the train – Himmler’s arranged a train from Tempelhof. It will terminate in a siding at Radstadt, and we’ll look after his precious cargo from there. Have you got that?”
“It all seems very complicated, Herr Oberst. There’s been a lot of allied bombing on the tracks.”
“There’s been a lot of allied bombing everywhere, Spacil! But we’re talking Himmler here, and that means complications, but even I refuse to get the wrong side of him. God knows where he’s going to crop up next. He failed miserably to be the next military hero with his bloody Army of the Vistula. He’s spent half his cowardly time in and out of Hohenlychen Sanatorium with his imaginary illnesses. Some military hero! The man’s a hypochondriac.”
“I’d heard he hasn’t been at the Fűhrerbunker since the Fűhrer’s birthday.”
“I’ve heard that he’s going north to Flensburg or somewhere away from the fighting. He thinks he can open peace negotiations. That’s like asking a Jew to open a pork butchers. He was always a naïve bastard. But forget all that, it’s over, Spacil. Take as many men you can muster – good men, strong men, men who remember their oath – and they need to be fit – there’ll be a lot of humping and lifting – remember this Gluckmann, some of the Chancellery Leibstandarte lads would be right – make sure you’re all armed to the teeth, take plenty of ammo, grenades, everything – and if the staff at the bank complain, shoot the bastards.”
“What will the Fűhrer think?”
“If he ever decides to talk to me, I’ll let you know. Now, listen up. Himmler’s train is only four box cars and two saloon carriages with accommodation, so at least you’ll have somewhere to bed down between watches. It’s in siding number four at Tempelhof. Obersturmbannfűhrer Anton Schnelling is in charge of the yard. He has my authority and Himmler’s instructions. Don’t take any shit from the train crew, either. You’ll also need as many L-4500 heavy trucks as you can get.”
“I don’t know how many we have serviceable. Then there’s fuel.”
“Stop presenting obstacles, Spacil! There’s a Wehrmacht fuel dump at Luckenwalde. I’ve checked and there’ll be enough to get the convoy down here. If the army give you any trouble, you’ll have to either bribe them or fight it out. Tell them its important Reich business. Whatever you can get onto the train, then see to it. The rest can go by road to the planes. You need plenty of fire power and security on the train. The rest of the stuff goes straight to Tempelhof airport, where planes have been requisitioned in my name. You’ll have no trouble there. Load them, get your wife on board as well, and I’ll meet you in Salzburg. The train will probably take a while to get down here, depending on the state of the line and the bombing, but make sure the men on board stick with those box cars. Have you got all that?”
“How much stuff do you think there is?”
“There’s still loads of it. But take everything you can. Gold, currency, valuables, gems, the lot. We need it all. It’ll take you all a while to shift it, but you’ll all be rich men if you do.”
“What do I say to the bank staff?”
“You say ‘hands up!’ Tell them the Fűhrer has requisitioned the state’s reserves for a final military push. Tell them anything, but get those vaults emptied!”

27 year old Untersturmführer Mickael Gluckmann’s platoon of the SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler were among the most committed Nazis still in Berlin. Tall, stunningly Aryan with his broad physique, blonde hair and sharp blue eyes, as a Second Lieutenant with an Iron Cross he was looked up to by his men. They had all been through much together, and even as the Russian shells continued to fall around them, they refused to accept the slightest possibility that the Reich was in retreat. As he addressed the selected 36 men in the Lichterfelde Barracks, he could see by the expression on their faces just how much of an impact this final mission was going to have.
“So there you have it, men. We’ll be joined at the bank by other SS support squads and some Volksturm and Hitler Youth who’ll do most of the humping and carrying. Our job is to enter and secure the bank, take no shit from the staff or management, ensure they open the vaults on pain of death, and if they don’t, we’ll use explosives. But they’ve had so many official raids recently I think they’ll know the drill. This is different however. Our orders come direct from our highest authority, SS-Gruppenfűhrer Kaltenbrunner. The contents of the Reichsbank vaults must be released to us in order for us to continue the struggle in the south against Bolshevism.” He proceeded, with the use of a large architectural plan of the bank, to allocate the men their duties and positions during the raid.
It was dusk when they stormed through the massive doors. Faced with a grim SS phalanx of cocked rifles, Luger pistols and machine guns, the stunned staff in what remained of the once beautiful Reichsbank building, much of which had been reduced to rubble by the US Air Force in February that year, did as they were told. Hands held high above their heads, they waited until their superiors, the directors, entered the main reception area. Led by an outraged, portly middle-aged man in a smart suit, black silk waistcoat and crisp white fly-collared shirt, they formed a thin rank between the massed SS and the rest of the terrified employees.
“What is the meaning of this and who are you?” Standartenführer Spacil stepped forward, his Luger aimed at the man’s chest.
“It’s plain to see who we are. So who are you?”
“I’m the duty manager, Artur Romberg. What are all these armed men here for?” Spacil clicked his heels and gave a nod.
“SS Standartenführer Spacil at your service, Herr Romberg. We have instructions from the Fűhrer to remove what deposits, reserves and other valuables remain in your vaults for the purpose of defending the Reich. You will facilitate this by opening all the relevant vaults and rooms to my men, and your staff will assist our men in removing the contents to the transports we have waiting outside. Any resistance to this request is punishable by death, as ordered by the Fűhrer. Heil Hitler!”
The confused Romberg dutifully returned the salute and glanced at his alarmed assistants.
“But this is outrageous! The SS and the Wehrmacht have already plundered this building several times this year! This is the national bank of Germany, not a village peasant’s savings account! This is robbery! I wish to see your authorisation!”Spacil stepped forward and jammed the barrel of his pistol into Romberg’s chest.
“This is my authorisation! Now do as I say before we start shooting – and if you refuse to open the vaults, we have explosives. Do you understand?”
Romberg’s face drained to a pasty white and he stepped back a few paces.
“Very well, very well. But I insist my clerks take an inventory of everything you remove, and that you sign a receipt.” Spacil sneered, looked around at his squad, and they all laughed.
“That’s fine with us. Let’s keep it legal, eh? Now lead on – we haven’t much time – we’ve trains and planes to catch!” Romberg looked around at his assistants and the rest of the assembled staff and clapped his hands.
“Very well, ladies and gentlemen. You heard the officer. Down to the vaults and give all the assistance requested…”
Guards were stationed outside the building, others in the reception, as the clatter of jackboots echoed across the dusty marble floors as dozens of further armed SS made their entrance. Low trolleys were brought out ready for loading, and soon, in the basement, the nighty steel doors of the cavernous vaults swung open. For almost two hours the SS men, and the aged, wheezing members of the Volksturm, accompanied by the keen, fit teenagers of the Hitler Youth laboured to clear the Reich’s fiscal storehouse. Trolley after trolley was loaded with gold bars, sacks of jewels, canvas bags of foreign currency, until, at the end of the main vault, a further door remained unopened. Spacil grabbed Romberg by the scruff of his neck and pointed at the mystery entrance.
“What’s that – get it opened!”
“I can’t do that! It belongs to SS-Reichsfűhrer Himmler himself. That is his personal vault. It can only be opened on his own personal instruction!” Spacil raised his Luger at the back of the man’s head and fired a shot at the ceiling. Trembling, Romberg fell to his knees with a whimper, as Spacil violently shook him by the shoulder.
“Open the damned door, or the next one goes into your skull!”
“But I need authorisation! If I do this my family will suffer!”Spacil looked around and spotted Gluckmann.
“What’s bothering you, Gluckmann? Have you seen a ghost or something?”
“No, sir. It’s just that I was in the original Leibstandarte squad responsible for the items in this vault. We gave an oath to the Reichsfűhrer that we would protect it in perpetuity, no matter what, at all costs.” Romberg looked desperately from Spacil to Gluckmann.
“I need a password for authorisation.”Gluckmann took a deep breath and murmured “Stahl Adler.”Relieved, Roberg began gesturing wildly to the staff.
“Very well, you know the drill! Open it!” Romberg’s dashed over to the heavy door, and worked at the combination dial until, at last, the assistants swung open the heavy steel portal.
Spacil entered the vault with Gluckmann and surveyed the many neat wooden packing cases stacked high to the ceiling. About a dozen of them seemed very peculiar, over ten feet long. Each one was carefully stencilled with the symbol of the Reich, beneath which were the letters SA H.L.H. As the removal of the contents began, Gluckmann retained his concerned expression.
“Some of the men here and I took an oath to the Reichsfűhrer to protect this material.”
Spacil laughed and patted the younger man on the back.
“Well, Gluckmann, rest assured that’s exactly what we’re doing, protecting it all, is it not? And as usual, Himmler’s as meticulous and organised as ever. And you and your Leibstandarte will be riding the train. That’s some very careful crating and packing there. I wonder what the hell he’s got in those long boxes – any ideas?”
“Yes, sir. Very valuable Persian carpets. The Reichsfűhrer seemed to be particularly obsessed with them.” Spacil shook his head in dismay.
“Dear oh dear. Bloody carpets. All this gold and he collects carpets. Only the best for the boss, eh? What’s the letters on the crates stand for – do you know?”
“Stahl Adler – Steel Eagle. That’s Himmler’s personal designation for the goods, but this is all officially deposited under the bank’s Max Heiliger account. H.L.H. is Heinrich Luitpold Himmler, so there’s no mistaking who this all belongs to. He’s going to be pretty incensed about this raid if anything goes wrong.”
Spacil pondered for a moment as the workers assembled and began moving the boxes.
“Well, maybe he should’ve stayed in Berlin to face the music instead of scarpering off up north. But just to keep him happy, we ought to make sure that what’s in this vault goes onto the train. You’d better oversee the loading, Gluckmann.”
A further two busy hours passed until the last of the 15 large, heavy Wehrmacht trucks had been loaded up. Spacil gave a cynical laugh as he signed Romberg’s hastily assembled inventory and receipt.
“Where is this all going to?” asked Romberg.
“That’s between me and Oberst Kaltenbrunner. Stop worrying. You’ve issued your precious receipt. If I were you I’d pocket some currency and get out of Berlin tonight, before the Ivans get here.” As he finished speaking, another artillery shell fell across the street, exploding and shattering bricks and concrete into the air, some of it falling with a thud on the canvas canopies of the trucks. The low-lying cloud over the city glowed red with the reflection of a hundred fires, and the sound of gunfire and artillery thumped and crackled from all directions. Four SS armoured cars, two at the head of the convoy, and two at the rear, revved up their engines as a dozen well-armed motorcycle and sidecar outriders took up positions at either side of the trucks. Spacil boarded the lead armoured car, and standing like an old time western wagon master, waved the convoy into forward motion, shouting “Tempelhof!”.
In the second armoured car, Mickael Gluckmann lit a cigarette and looked back at the ruined Reichsbank. He would remember this night for the rest of his life.


February 3 The Day the Music Died

“It was already snowing at Minneapolis, and the general forecast for the area along the intended route indicated deteriorating weather conditions,” wrote the Civil Aeronautics Board investigators six months after the crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “the Big Bopper” Richardson on this day in 1959. “The ceiling and visibility were lowering…and winds aloft were so high one could reasonably have expected to encounter adverse weather during the estimated two-hour flight.” All of this information was available to 21-year-old pilot Roger Peterson, if only he had asked for it. Instead, he relied on an incomplete weather report and on the self-confidence of youth in making the decision to take off from Clear Lake, Iowa, shortly after midnight on February 3, 1959. Untrained and uncertified in instrument-only flight, Peterson was flying into conditions that made visual navigation impossible. “Considering all of these facts,” the investigating authorities concluded, “the decision to go seems most imprudent.”
The young pilot’s decision to go may well have been influenced by the eagerness of his almost equally young client, Buddy Holly, to spare himself and his backing band another miserable night in the unheated tour bus that had already sent his drummer to the hospital with symptoms of frostbite. Eleven days into a scheduled 23-stop tour, Holly was fed up, worn out and looking forward to a good night’s rest in a warm bed before the next night’s show in Moorhead, Minnesota. In a similar mindset was a tired and ill J.P. Richardson, who played on the sympathies of Holly’s guitarist to wangle his seat on the flight with Holly. That guitarist was future country legend Waylon Jennings, (seen above in a photo booth with Buddy) Meanwhile Tommy Allsup, Holly’s guitarist, offered to flip a coin with up-and-coming young star Ritchie Valens for his seat. And so it was that Peterson’s Beechcraft Bonanza carried not Holly and his band, but Holly and two of the three other stars of the Winter Dance Party Tour on its ill-fated flight. Dion di Mucci was the fourth of those stars, but he would join Allsup, Jennings and the various other tour musicians on the freezing bus ride ahead.
The plane would crash, and Holly, Richardson, Valens and Peterson would be dead, within five minutes of takeoff, as the direct result of pilot error. Only the next morning, when Waylon Jennings learned what had happened hours earlier, would he recall his final, good-natured exchange with Buddy Holly. “Well,” said Holly when he learned of Jennings’ swap with the Big Bopper, “I hope your old bus freezes over.” Jennings’ response: “Well, I hope your plane crashes.”

The above report is from the History Today website. I remember all this well. I was serving a six week course at Gravesend Sea Training Schools. We had to be up at 6.30 am to work in the galley preparing breakfast. We’d all heard the news, and although we were 15 years old, we shed tears.


It’s time to quote Charles Dickens again: “Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveller back to his own fireside and quiet home!” Of course, back in Dickens’ day, if you were lucky, Yuletide was a goose, a pudding, a nip of gin and some cheap wooden presents for the kids. The enjoyment of the season was the thing; it was all about atmosphere.
How times have changed. Over the past 20 years I’ve spent my spare time during this season as both a professional and volunteer Santa Claus. Whereas it says something for welcome, innocent faith in Father Christmas for the younger kids, those in the 3 – 8 years age group, old Santa has to report that there’s a disappointing growth in cynicism from the older children. For example, at one of my appearances on an estate in Mansfield in early December, after posing for dozens of photos with toddlers and parents, I was accosted by a quartet of junior heretics who doubted my authenticity. “You’re not the real Santa,” moaned one. I asked him why he thought this. “Because you’re wearing a watch. And I looked up your sleeve and you’ve got a black shirt on.” Naturally I asked him, in that case how does Santa tell the time, and that he can wear whatever he likes under his robes. Then another kid suggested that my outfit wasn’t ‘furry enough’ and that if I lived at the North Pole, I’d freeze to death, and I was a fake. A third lad, probably about eleven, laid it on the line; “You’re a phoney. I don’t believe in Christmas, or Jesus and the three kings – it’s all crap. I prefer birthdays, because then I get money!” I said it was very sad not to let a little magic into your life, but he then stabbed me in the heart with “You know, mate, I feel sorry for you, dressing up like that. You’re the sad one, not me.” This seemed staggering contempt for one so young. At times like that, my Yuletide ‘Ho ho ho!’ evaporates.
Yet agnostics or not, they all told me in no uncertain terms what they wanted; X-Boxes, Laptops, I-phones, bikes, etc. To their credit, most of the little girls always seek simpler gifts; colouring books, dolls, Peppa Pig. The lesson I’ve learned as Santa is that despite the junior sceptics, donning the red robes keeps my own spirit alive, the warm memories of the past, those we have lost. It’s a small island in a sea of homelessness, food banks and greed. So let’s remember Dickens who said “And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”



June 28 2016 was a warm, sunny day in Mansfield. As I made my way through the market place I paused at a second hand book stall to browse. Feeling buoyant with the sun on my neck I made a genial comment to the middle aged couple running the stall.
“What a lovely day. It’s like being abroad.” The response threw me. The woman snapped back: “We don’t need any ‘abroad’ here!” Which was followed by words almost spat at me by her partner: “No, we don’t. We’ve taken our country back!” That vitriolic undercurrent, replete with an unprecedented aversion to what was once regarded as friendly colloquial banter, an element of British ‘character’ had, thanks to the referendum, undermined sociability like a parasite, and in subsequent months, it has burrowed ever deeper.
Mansfield, historically the centre of the ancient Sherwood Forest, can be a bitter town. In the referendum the leavers won with 39,927 votes, giving them a victorious 70.9%, whilst the despised remainers gained just 16,417 votes, a measly 29.1% . The town has a large population of eastern European immigrants. In the town centre there’s a Rumanian mini-market, a larger Polish shop and another specialising in Russian produce. The Poles have always been a feature here since the end of WW2, when many came over to work in the coal industry. My next door neighbours are Poles from that wartime influx, and even though their offspring were born in Mansfield, among themselves they still speak Polish. Across the street is a house rented by a large group of Latvians. All of these immigrants have steady jobs. There is a very small Muslim community representing only 0.5% of the population. In a 2011 Mansfield census on religions 61% claimed to be Christian, with 7,036 people claiming to have no religion. 266 people announced they were Jedi Knights and 4 people said their faith was in Heavy Metal.
Apart from a blip between 1922-23 when Sir Albert Bennett, a Tory masquerading as a Liberal, held a short tenure as MP, since 1918 Mansfield had been staunchly Labour. But in May 2017, thanks to Brexit, the town’s lurch to the right saw the demise of Labour’s Sir Alan Meale MP with the election of 29 year old Tory Brexiteer Ben Bradley, who claims to have been inspired to stand because of ‘David Cameron’s compassion.’ Surprisingly, UKIP, with only 2,654 votes to Bradley’s 23,392 did not make an impression. That ship had already sailed.
Yet the UKIP flavoured animosity which pervades here is just one current facet of a further confrontational bitterness which has its roots in the Miners’ Strike of 1984. There’s always been a lot to be angry about in Mansfield. At one time Nottinghamshire, with 42 collieries and 40,000 miners, was one of the most successful coalfields in Europe. When I moved to Mansfield in March 1987, there were 13 pits in the area. Today there are none. During the strike, this was one area where Arthur Scargill’s rolling thunder hit a brick wall. When the NUM called for a strike Nottinghamshire’s miners demanded a ballot which the union never carried out. Nottinghamshire miners were the breach in the NUM’s wall of national solidarity. Nowhere during the conflict did the term ‘scab’ have more meaning than it did here. Following the strike, a significant part of the Nottinghamshire NUM broke away, led by their own ‘Judas’, Roy Lynk, to form the Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM). Spurned by the TUC yet beloved by the victorious Tories, the UDM came to signify the area’s apparent penchant for working class betrayal. The National Archives contain recently released classified files of the UDM’s clandestine meetings with Margaret Thatcher. Roy Lynk even wrote to Thatcher, stating “In 1984 fate threw us together, and I have always comforted myself with the knowledge that the UDM has a friend in the Prime Minister.” For the NUM that was bad enough, yet it appears that the UDM even advised the government on limiting miners’ power, submitting ways to make them work longer hours underground, offering suggestions to weaken the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers (NACODS), and in a privatised coal industry, how to minimise the impact of strikes. The UDM even recommended redundancies. Until relatively recently, when Mansfield Town or Nottingham Forest played certain teams, you’d still hear the chant of ‘Scabs! on the terraces. Even two decades after the strike its remaining social scars resulted in a murder in 2004 in nearby Annesley over crossing the picket lines during the dispute.
As for Thatcher’s pet ‘union’, the UDM, in the end it became obvious to the renegades they were due for the same pitiless treatment as the NUM. When Maggie’s naïve correspondent Roy Lynk, appalled at the pit closure plans, staged a week long sit-in down the Silverhill pit, many local miners said that if he hadn’t gone down the shaft they would have thrown him down anyway. For many ex-miners seeking compensation for various injuries, the UDM came across as lethargic in their support. This was hardly surprising when a subsequent chain of events revealed the misappropriation of millions in compensation funds by the union’s rogue solicitors, culminating in the imprisonment in April 2012 of the UDM’s president, Neil Greatrex, for the theft of almost £150,000 from an elderly miners’ charity.
Such bitterness has gestated down the years, morphing into a new target of disdain: Europe. Those ex-pitmen who have followed the demise of their industry will complain bitterly at the fact that the UK imported17.9 million tons of coal in 2016, a lot coming from Poland. Over 90 per cent of UK steam coal imports came from just three countries Russia, Colombia and the USA. To say foreigners are unpopular in Mansfield is an understatement. As one taxi driver commented to me recently, “Shopping in Tesco on a Friday night is like being in downtown Bratislava”. Following Labour’s defeat at the General Election, the editor of the town’s popular weekly newspaper, the Chad (Chesterfield Advertiser) Andy Done-Johnson, expressed his concerns in an editorial in July that post-Brexit Mansfield could possibly end up being regarded as ‘the most bigoted town in England’. He based his anxiety on the fact that Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn had called on Theresa May to give her MPs a free vote in legislation which would benefit the lives of transgender people. However, a counterintuitive sarcastic response by Professor Steven Fielding of Nottingham University’s politics department, “That’ll win back Mansfield” laid bare the growing liberal disdain for the town.
Mansfield’s defection to the Tories came about for two reasons. One was the somewhat lacklustre campaign by Labour’s Sir Alan Meale. It is well known that during his 30 year hold on the seat, Meale spent a lot of time commuting between Westminster and Brussels. Having always won comfortably in elections since 1987 Meale probably thought his 2017 victory was a given. This did not go down well with the Mansfield electorate as they digested a daily anti-immigrant UKIP diet of news from the ‘evil’ EU against which they had voted in such numbers to leave. With the perceived EU fence-sitting by Corbyn’s Labour, Mansfield voters rallied behind what they regarded as Theresa May’s more robust ‘Brexit at any cost’ campaign.
Mansfield’s District Council, with an elected Executive Mayor, is also the brunt of much dissatisfied grumbling. At one time, standing as a Tory in this town was political suicide, so right-thinking candidates for council election found an alternative niche between Labour and Tory – they called it The Independent Forum. This business-based challenge overturned decades of Labour rule. Yet the current Mayor, Councillor Kate Allsop, has been challenged by the only real Conservative on Mansfield District Council, Councillor Stephen Harvey. He is angry at the council’s £24 million pound investment in property, which stretches from Glasgow and Edinburgh to London. This includes a Travelodge in Doncaster, brought for £5 million in June 2015, and another in Edinburgh for £7.98m, the Glasgow Volkswagen Van Centre, £2.98m as well as other multi-million pound properties out of the area, including a 2017 London residential investment of £6.23m. Despite concerns about a country with Human Rights issues, Mansfield has also put £7m into the biggest bank in the United Arab Emirates, First Abu Dhabi Bank. However, local leisure centres, such as the one at Warsop, are to close due to lack of investment. Defending these investments, councillors will remind grumblers that money from central government for the council has dropped from £10.3 million in 2011 to £5.4 million today, and that by 2020 there will be no money at all for local councils from Westminster. Thus councillors face a learning curve as property investors and trainee venture capitalists hoping for a sizeable return.
How ‘taking our country back’ will pan out in Mansfield after the drawbridge is raised in 2019 remains to be seen. It is easy to see why the hated, mythical ‘Liberal Metropolitan Elite’ would regard the town’s 40,000 over amplified Euro sceptics as some mass movement of bigotry. Yet every township has its redeeming cultural factors, past and present. Alternative comedians such as Andy Parsons and Rich Hall both sold out at the town’s Palace Theatre. Mansfield produced one of the world’s greatest classical pianists, John Ogdon – and even Alvin Stardust was a Mansfield lad. We have our own Olympic Gold Medallist swimming star, Rebecca Adlington, and an internationally famous girls’ choir, Cantamus. There’s the constantly good humoured and entertaining battle between Mansfield and Yorkshire to keep Robin Hood as our local hero, and this also is the home of Robert Dodsley (1704 –1764) playwright, bookseller, poet, and miscellaneous writer. His premises still stand next door to the Brown Cow pub on Ratcliffe Gate. Few people realise that Mansfield is the birthplace of the Quaker religion. George Fox, the founder of the Quaker Movement, lived as a shoemaker in Mansfield and began to establish the religion in 1647. The site of Mansfield’s award-winning new bus station is located on the site of where the Old Quaker Meeting House and burial ground once stood.
In the final analysis, it’s too early and perhaps unfair to label this bustling East Midlands town as bigoted. Yet the next time the sun shines and I’m browsing at the book stall on the market, I shall keep my mouth shut. As the lady said; “We don’t need any ‘abroad’ here…”


BSA: Racial Prejudice by Region
Coal statistics


RED KNIGHTS: a play for radio



Red Knights

A play for radio
Roy Bainton

©Roy Bainton 2014



NEWS REPORTER Here in Berlin, it seems that this is an unstoppable event. The Berlin Wall has been breached. Thousands of East Germans are now being re-united with their West Berlin relatives. Even the soldiers and guards of our own forces are helping in the destruction of the wall. This could be simply the end of an era for us in the USSR, yet it may well signify something more cataclysmic.


SVENTLANA: What’s the matter, Grandpa? You’ve turned the TV off. You’re always watching television. What’s wrong?

IVAN: I can’t watch that. It’s all over now. All gone.

SVETLANA: It’s only the Berlin Wall, Grandpa. It had to come down eventually. It was wrong.

IVAN: Svetlana, remember the thing you most hated about being a school teacher here in Leningrad?

SVETLANA You know full well what it was. Kalashnikov drill.

IVAN: What was the school record?

SVETLANA: We had a girl called Tatiana from Vyborg. She was 14. She could break the gun down and re-assemble it in 38 seconds.

IVAN: All that gun practice, drilling. What was it all for?

SVETLANA: It was so that we didn’t have to go through what you went through with the Germans. But I never liked it. Guns in schools. It made me sick.

IVAN: So that’s it. It has all been for nothing. 72 years wasted. Huh. Did you hear what the man said? Something ‘cataclysmic’. They celebrate in Berlin so what shall we do here in Leningrad? Bring the Tsar back?

SVETLANA: Who needs the Tsar? We’ve already got Yeltsin and Gorbachov. Cheer up, Grandpa.
You can’t change the course of history.

IVAN: You’re wrong. Svetlana. Once upon a time we did change it. If only I’d known that night back in 1917. I should have stayed at my workbench, ignored the revolution and gone home to my mother …



TEENAGE RED GUARD: Halt! State your business!

TROTSKY: How old are you, son?

IVAN: Show me your pass!

TROTSKY: Comrade, How long have you been a Red Guard?


IVAN: I ask the questions here.
Who are you, and show me your pass.

TROTSKY: You don’t recognise me?


KAMENEV: Lev! Hurry! We’ve been waiting for you –
The debate’s in full swing!

TROTSKY: Apparently I’m a security risk.

IVAN: Comrade Kamenev, this man refuses
to answer my questions and show his pass.

KAMENEV (LAUGHING) How long have you been at the Smolny, son?

RED GUARD: It’s my first day, comrade.
I came over from Vyborg this morning.

TROTSKY: What’s your name, son? How old are you? Do you have a day job?

IVAN: Do I have to answer to this man?

KAMENEV: Son, you should look at a few Bolshevik photographs and learn who’s who. This is only Comrade Trotsky.

IVAN: Oh. I’ve heard that name. I am Ivan Borchov. I’m 17 and I’m an apprentice lathe operator at the Putilov works.

TROTSKY: Well, young Ivan, if you’re as dedicated at your lathe as you are as a red guard,
we can look forward to some good tanks and artillery. Can I come in now?

EINO RAHJA: It’s looking bad out there. Kerensky’s
raised the bridges on the Neva – the workers can’t get across.

LENIN: Don’t panic, Rahja.

RAHJA: With great respect, Comrade Lenin –

LENIN: Respect, respect! ‘Comrade Lenin’? Stop being sarcastic Rahja!. Just say what’s on your mind.

RAHJA: Well, it’s all kicking off out there.
We’ve no idea if the Army or the Cossacks are planning anything – the congress are debating in a few hours at the Smolny – you have to be there.

LENIN: I’m an exile, Rahja – I’m not even supposed to be in Petrograd. I could be recognised.

RAHJA: Well, use your disguise again. It worked well last week when you met the Central Committee.

LENIN: I looked stupid.

RAHJA: What? Dressed as a Lutheran Minister?
It fooled me – apart from the fact that you kept fiddling with your toupee.

LENIN: Those bastards. They were laughing at me.


LENIN: Trotsky, Zinoviev – and that bloody bumpkin, Stalin.

RAHJA: Well, come on, you have to admit it was funny. The great Lenin in a dog collar and a ginger wig. I thought Kamenev was going to wet himself. Even I laughed when the wind blew it off on the way back here.

LENIN (Sighs): Oh, well. I suppose you’re right.
We ought to make a move. But no Lutheran Minister this time.


RAHJA: Well, your wig’s nice and clean. I washed
all the mud off it. Tell you what – how about the wig and a bandage?

LENIN: A bandage?


RAHJA: Yes. Wrap this old towel around your jaw; we’ll go by tram – you’ll look like a worker who’s been to the dentist. Here – you can wear my cap.

LENIN: Once again I’m to look like a clown.


LENIN: What the hell are you strapping on there?
RAHJA: Beauties, aren’t they? Colt 45s. I pinched them from an American in Helsinki.

LENIN: For god’s sake, Eino – who do you think you are – Wyatt Earp? If we get stopped and searched –

RAHJA: Then I’ll shoot the bastards! There’s no point in my being your bodyguard if I’m not armed.


LENIN: Vodka? How much more can you conceal under that greatcoat? You’re going to look like Falstaff waddling down the street!

RAHJA: What does a man need on the eve of a revolution? I’ve got it all – two loaded revolvers and two bottles of vodka.
If we go down fighting, we can at least have a drink.



TROTSKY: Comrades! Workers, soldiers, sailors – this is the day and the night we’ve waited for. In 1905 we learned a bitter lesson – but this is 1917. Our time has finally come. We shall end Russia’s capitalist war and soon be at peace.
Look at the front now – the Germans are confused. Today there is not one single Russian Army unit … which is not in the control of the Bolsheviks!


Yes, I see you’re all here – the Mensheviks, social revolutionaries, I can even smell a few miserable democrats and Kerensky supporters in the room. But in a couple of hours we shall open the Congress of the Soviets. Only they – the workers and soldiers organised by the Bolsheviks will transform theory into action. The provisional government will be arrested! So when we re-assemble, remember these words – All power to the Soviets!


RAHJA: Come on, wait over here by the wall. Stay out of the street lamps. There should be a tram along soon.

LENIN: It seems quieter than I imagined. Are you sure the trams are running?

RAHJA: Trust me. There’ll be a tram. Just relax.


LENIN: Shit! That’s all we need. Cossacks!

RAHJA: Don’t panic. Pretend to be drunk. Sway around a bit. We’re pissed. Stagger!


COSSACK 1: You there – you pair of shitheads!
Where do you think you’re off this time of night?

RAHJA (slurring) Hello, Captain .. lovely horsies … does your gee-gee want a lickle drinkie?

SECOND COSSACK: Leave them, Dubrovsky. They’re drunk.

COSSACK 1: They look like Bolsheviks to me. Step forward into the light where we can see you!


SECOND COSSACK: Are you Bolsheviks? Speak up!

RAHJA: Boshy what? Boshy wiks? Here. Lickle horsey … lovely horsey… we love gee-gees ..

COSSACK 1: Bloody state. No wonder we’re losing the war. Why aren’t you at the front, you useless turds!

RAHJA: We were wounded, comrade. Does horsey want a drink?

COSSACK 1: Stay away from my horse, arsehole!

COSSACK 2: We’re not your ‘comrades’ you lazy, idle bastards! You there! What have you got under your coat?

LENIN: (whispers) For Christ’s sake, Rahja …


COSSACK 1: What’s that, shitface?


RAHJA: Wahey! Good Petrograd vodka! Come on you Cossacks – have a drink with us! And the gee-gees!

COSSACK 2: Leave them Dubrovsky – they’re just a pair of pissheads.


LENIN: Good god, Eino – that was close!


RAHJA: Damn it! It’s that mouthy one – he’s coming back.

LENIN: Be careful, Rahja – he’s got his whip out.


COSSACK 1: You! You in the greatcoat – come here!


COSSACK 1: That’ll sober you up, dungheap!


LENIN: Bastards! Eino – your head’s bleeding.

RAHJA: Oh, well. I’ll have a nice duelling scar to remind me of the revolution.


LENIN: How do I look?



RAHJA: Stop worrying comrade. We both look just as we’re supposed to look. Bloody awful.
Just get on the tram and stay quiet.



RAHJA: Two to Suvoroskiy Prospekt please.

CONDUCTRESS: Your head’s bleeding.

RAHJA: Yes. I had a run-in with the Cossacks.

CONDUCTRESS: Murdering swine, the lot of ‘em.

LENIN: It’s quiet tonight – we’ve had to wait ages for this tram.

CONDUCTRESS: Huh! Think yourself lucky there are any trams! I nearly stayed at home. It’s going to be a big night.

LENIN: Why – what’s happening?

CONDUCTRESS: God, you need a tram conductor to tell you?

RAHJA: Oh, take no notice of him. He’s been to the dentist.

CONDUCTRESS: Well, what kind of workers are you if you don’t know what’s going on? The revolution starts tonight.

LENIN: Is that a fact?

CONDUCTRESS: Hah – you’re obviously not a Bolshevik. Tonight the workers are going to stuff it to the bosses, and about bloody time.




LENIN: Hell, Eino -what are you doing now?

RAHJA: What does it look like? I’m having a drink. That whiplash really stung.

LENIN: Even the tram conductress seems to know what’s happening. I hope Trotsky’s worked everything out.

RAHJA: Of course he has! You know what Comrade Lev’s like. No stone unturned. Look – out there …


RAHJA: Soldiers and workers warming their hands around a fire. They’re our soldiers. Not the Tsar’s, not Kerensky’s or Kornilov’s.
They’re Bolshevik soldiers. And they’re ready.

KAMENEV: I think you’ve kept them happy for the time being, Lev.

TROTSKY: My job’s not to make them happy, Kamenev.
My job’s to keep them angry. Do you have a cigarette?

KAMENEV: Yes, here. Not nervous are you?


TROTSKY: Where the hell is Lenin? He should be here. He’s needed.

KAMENEV: He’ll get here, I know he’s coming.


KAMENEV: Bloody hell! Lev! Guard! Over here, quick!

IVAN: What’s wrong, comrade – is he ill?

KAMENEV: What does it look like? He’s bloody fainted – here, help me get him to his feet!


KAMENEV: Come on, Lev – what’s up here? Wake up!

TROTSKY (COUGHS) It’s that Balkan tobacco, Kamenev. It would fell a rhinoceros.

KAMENEV: Bollocks. You’ve smoked plenty before. When did you last eat anything?

TROTSKY: Oh … I can’t remember. Perhaps three days ago.

KAMENEV: And when did you last sleep?

TROTSKY: The day before yesterday.

KAMENEV: Well no wonder you’re collapsing. You need to get some shuteye for a couple of hours.

TROTSKY: I’m alright now. Give me a light again. We’ll wait for Lenin.

LENIN: Couldn’t we have arranged a car, Rahja?

RAHJA: We need all the cars tonight. In any case, there will be more Cossacks around and they’re stopping cars.

LENIN: How much further do we have to walk then?

RAHJA: Stop grumbling. Just around the next corner.


RAHJA: There you are. The Smolny Institute. It’s a shame you haven’t been here before.

LENIN: Yes. It seems exile has deprived me. It’s a fine base for a revolution.

RAHJA: We had great fun taking it over from all those rich Bourgeois tarts and prissy princesses.

LENIN: What a hive of activity. I never expected to see soldiers drilling at this time of night.

RAHJA: You see, comrade, that’s your trouble. You’re just the brains behind all this.
They’re the action. These lads drilled for the Tsar. Now they’re drilling for the workers – and Trotsky.

GUARD: Halt! What’s your business? Oh, it’s you, comrade Rahja. ‘ere – your head’s bleeding.

RAHJA: I got a whipping from some Cossacks.

GUARD: Bastards. Better get yourself to the first aid post – that’s a nasty slash.
Who’s this ragamuffin you’ve brought us?

RAHJA: For god’s sake, you can take the towel and the wig off now.

GUARD: Christ! If he had a beard he’d be a dead ringer for Lenin.

RAHJA: It is Lenin, you twerp. Now get out of the way!



KAMENEV: Vladimir Illyich! Here at last.

LENIN: My god, it stinks in here!

TROTSKY: It’s the smell of revolution, comrade.
It’s good to see you. Has Rahja been looking after you well?
LENIN: Yes, he’s gone off to get his wound dressed and probably drink more vodka.


LENIN: Never mind the small talk, Lev. What’s happening? Have the Soviets convened?

TROTSKY: No, we’ve a couple of hours yet.

KAMENEV: Unfortunately we’ve got a mixed bag in there. Everybody’s after a slice of the pie.

TROTSKY: But it’s a Soviet pie and I don’t think some of them enjoy the taste.

LENIN: Well, they’d better get used to it. You look exhausted Lev. Can we find somewhere to sit for a while?

KAMENEV: Your sister’s here, Vladimir Illych. She’s sorted a room out for you and Lev to take a rest for a couple of hours. She’s even found a blanket and some pillows. Maybe you should both grab some sleep.

LENIN: Well, I’ve slept in some Spartan beds before, but one blanket on a bare floor and two filthy pillows –


TROTSKY: Don’t just stand there. I’m worn out. You may as well come and lie beside me.

LENIN: You’re a tough bird, Lev Davidovich. How the hell can you get comfortable lying down there? Anyway, it’s too damned cold in here.

TROTSKY: Look – there’s a roll of carpet over there by the wall. Pull it over here. It’ll make a good eiderdown.


LENIN: God. I bet the Tsar never had to do this.

TROTSKY: Well if he had, he might realise how his subjects suffer. That’s right – get it unrolled … now lie down here. At least you’ve got a pillow.

LENIN: Christ. This floor is so bloody hard.

TROTSKY: Oh, relax and stop chivvying. Think of those poor lads out there. They’d be happy to be here under an imperial carpet.


TROTSKY: That’s a first, the great Lenin giggling. What’s tickling you?

LENIN: Oh, just a thought. We’re about to make history and already we’ve been swept under the carpet.

TROTSKY; Well, at least the rug’s not been pulled from under us. Now, for god’s sake, just lie back and try to sleep.


LENIN: I hope those are our guns.

TROTSKY(yawning) Yes, they probably are.

LENIN: Probably? You’re in charge of the Military committee –

TROTSKY: Yes, but that doesn’t make me a psychic!

LENIN: So you’ve done everything that needs doing?

TROTSKY: Yes, yes, yes! That’s why I haven’t slept for three bloody days, that’s why I’m lying here trying to!

LENIN: The railway stations?

TROTSKY: Oh, God give me strength … yes, the railway stations, the post office and telegraph offices, even the Winter Palace.
In fact, that big gun you heard is probably the cruiser Aurora. The sailors moved her up river to be in range of the Winter Palace.


LENIN: So much has happened. It’s hard to believe that just five months ago I was living above that cobbler’s shop in Zurich.

TROTSKY: I’d heard it was a butcher’s shop.

LENIN: No, that was next door.

TROTSKY: Was his meat any good?

LENIN: He made a fine sausage.

TROTSKY: Well, in a few months’ time we’ll all be eating good sausages. Now go to sleep.

LENIN: What about the army, the Cossacks?

TROTSKY: They can get their own sausages.

LENIN; I’m talking about our enemies. Surely they’re prepared. What we planned for tonight is no secret.

TROTSKY: Illych, war is war. It’s like football.
Two teams. Look – you were there last week at the Central Committee meeting.

LENIN: Yes, and?

TROTSKY: You heard what Kamenev and Zinoviev said.

LENIN: Yes, bloody Zinoviev. His pessimism … at least Kamenev has changed his mind and come on board.

TROTSKY: Well, Kamenev might be my brother in law, but just like him you can be annoying at times. You confuse pessimism with caution. Zinoviev and Kamenev both did the necessary homework. What can the enemy bring out to oppose us? You want me to frighten you? Well, seeing as we’re laid here in the dark under a shitty old carpet, here’s a suitable horror story;
5,000 Junkers, magnificently armed and knowing how to fight, troops at the army headquarters, and then the shock troops, and then the Cossacks, and then a considerable part of the garrison, and then a very considerable quantity of artillery fanned out across Petrograd.

LENIN: My god. It could be a blood bath.
TROTSKY: Or it could be a picnic with a few firecrackers. Listen comrade. We have 40,000 bayonets on our side out there and the Kronstadt Sailors. Illych, you’re the great theorist. So think about the army of the enemy. It contains the wormholes of isolation and decay.
LENIN: And a hard core of fanatics and a lot of heavy artillery.
TROTSKY: Now who’s being a pessimist?
LENIN: I’m sorry, Lev. I was thinking back to that Central Committee meeting. Kamenev and Zinoviev were against tonight’s insurrection. They said it was too early. What if they were right?
TROTSKY: Alright, misery guts. Then we’ll fail, a lot of blood will flow, the Tsar will crow like a rooster, capitalism will triumph and the Germans will keep killing our men on the front.

LENIN: And it won’t be exile for us this time.
It’ll be the firing squad.

TROTSKY: Well, at least it would shut you up.

LENIN: Yes … I am being pessimistic. This is what we’ve devoted the past thirty years to. It’s just … well, lying here, listening to the physical outcome of millions of words and thousands of speeches; it’s breath-taking.

TROTSKY: Oooh! Be careful, Illych. I smell creeping romanticism. You’re the philosopher, remember your Karl Marx.
LENIN: Which chapter, which verse?
TROTSKY: The philosophers have only interpreted the world –
LENIN: – the thing, however, is to change it.
TROTSKY: And now we’re doing it.
LENIN: Yes. I remember Kamenev telling me something Stalin said to him one night when they were exiled to Siberia.
TROTSKY: Another of Josef’s malodourous farmyard homilies, no doubt.
LENIN: No, considering tonight, it was very apt.
He said something about …let me recall – yes; ‘to choose one’s victims, to prepare one’s plan minutely, to slake an implacable vengeance …and then go to bed … there is nothing sweeter in the world.’

TROTSKY: Mmm. That’s Stalin to a tee.

LENIN: Well, isn’t that us? Slaking an impeccable vengeance and going to bed?

TROTSKY: There is a difference.

LENIN: How so?

TROTSKY: When Stalin goes to bed he goes to bloody sleep! Fat chance of that with you around!


LENIN: Lev. Are you awake?


LENIN: Lev! Lev! Wake up!


TROTSKY: For God’s sake, Illych! I’m buggered here – can’t a man have a bit of sleep?

LENIN: I think the Aurora fired another salvo.

TROTSKY (yawning) Oh, well, all power to the sailors. This is purgatory. You’re like a kid on Christmas Eve.

LENIN: And that’s our role – Saint Nicholas.

TROTSKY: It’s not Father Christmas you need. It’s St. Raphael the Archangel, patron saint of people suffering from nightmares and mental problems.

LENIN: I’m impressed. For a Jew, you certainly know your Catholic Saints.

TROTSKY: Know your enemy. But don’t expect me to quote the Talmud. Are we done now?

LENIN: Done?

TROTSKY: Yes. Can we get to sleep?

LENIN: I just wanted to say something else.

TROTSKY: Huh. Go on then, spit it out.

LENIN: Well, when Eino Rahja and I were travelling here on the tram tonight, I felt very proud.

TROTSKY: Whoa! Steady on comrade… the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins.

LENIN: I saw workers, soldiers, armed, guns and bayonets, warming their hands around a brazier, their faces illuminated in the darkness. I felt proud that we’d brought them all together at last.

TROTSKY: Well it isn’t as easy as you make it sound. Propaganda and written theory are one thing – practical organisation is something else. Books versus artillery doesn’t work.



LENIN: Touché… I’ve relied heavily on your mathematical brain, Lev. I’m interested, from a military point of view. How have you organised all this?


TROTSKY: Keep this in mind; we’re not an attacking force. We’re a defending force, defending our revolution. If they shoot, we’ll shoot back. If Kerensky and his men accept reality and surrender, we save bullets.
We need people to live for the revolution, not die for it. There’s already enough corpses piled up at the front.

LENIN: So – the military aspect – how have you planned it?

TROTSKY: Our basic military unit is ten; four tens make a squad, three squads, a company; three companies, a battalion. With its commanding staff and special units, a battalion numbers over 500 men. The battalions of each district constitute a division. Big factories like the Putilov have their own divisions. Special technical commands – sappers, bicycles, telegraphers, machine-gunners and artillery men – were recruited in the corresponding factories, and attached to the riflemen – or else act independently according to the nature of the given task. The entire commanding staff has been elective. There was no risk in this: all are volunteers here and know each other well.

LENIN: Well, there we are. An incredible achievement. Now will you allow me to be proud?

TROTSKY: Only if it all works. Huh! Pride. Dante’s definition was “love of self, perverted to hatred and contempt for one’s neighbour.”

LENIN: Well, maybe we can allow ourselves that luxury. Aren’t you proud of what we’ve achieved – especially what you’ve accomplished – after the entire struggle?

TROTSKY: I remember the first morning after I’d slept with Natalia. She said you never know the full measure of a man until you’ve shared a bed with him.

LENIN: What’s that supposed to mean?

TROTSKY: I’m getting a new measure on you, Illych.

LENIN: Well, maybe your Christmas analogy isn’t far off the mark. We’re a couple of kids tonight. Wasn’t it John Locke who said ‘Children are travellers newly arrived in a strange country of which they know nothing?’

TROTSKY: I’m sure he did. But kids go to sleep at night. Even on Christmas Eve.

LENIN: Point taken. I usually sleep like a baby.

TROTSKY: People who say they ‘sleep like a baby’ usually don’t have one alongside them in bed!


LENIN: Lev – listen!



LENIN: Lev – Lev! You can’t miss this!


TROTSKY: Oh, now what? Sod me – you’ve got the bloody window open!


LENIN: Oh, Come on Lev! Listen to that.
You know that song, surely?

TROTSKY: Yes, it’s something to do with over the hills or something – a forest song from the Taiga.

LENIN: It’s called ‘The Soldiers’. Listen at them
out there. Magnificent. What a night, eh?

TROTSKY: Yes, and I’m about to catch pneumonia.

LENIN: How can we think of sleeping with this going on?

TROTSKY (yawning) It’s easy, comrade. Anyway, I thought you didn’t like music…

LENIN: I never said that. I said it was a distraction from revolutionary work.

TROTSKY: Well it’s certainly a distraction from sleep.

LENIN: I used to play the guitar when I was younger.

TROTSKY: Well thank God you gave it up. Shut that damned window and come to bed.


TROTSKY: What time is it?


LENIN: Oh, I thought you’d gone back to sleep.

TROTSKY: I should be so lucky.

LENIN: It’s too dark. I can’t see my watch.

TROTSKY: Ah well, Kamenev said he’d wake us when the congress starts.

LENIN: I’ve been thinking.

TROTSKY: No change there, then.

LENIN: If it’s all worked out tonight – if we’ve taken power, if we can disband and arrest the Provisional Government, put Kerensky on trial –

TROTSKY: Slow down, take it easy. Stuffing the provisional government shouldn’t be too hard. They’re a mamby-pamby bunch OF lickspittles with no sense of direction.
But the only sense of direction that slippery slug Kerensky has is the road out of Petrograd.

LENIN: Yes, well all this begs a question. We’re to form a new government, right?

TROTSKY: You’re working well tonight, comrade. That is the general idea.

LENIN: But it needs to be something new, something totally different.

TROTSKY: I think ‘revolutionary’ is the word you’re looking for.

LENIN: Exactly. So – will we have ministers?

TROTSKY: Mmmm. Nasty.

LENIN: So what shall we call them?



TROTSKY: Anything but ‘ministers’. That’s such a vile, hackneyed term. We might call them commissaries … but there are too many commissaries just now. Perhaps ‘supreme commissaries’? No. That doesn’t sound well, either. What about ‘People’s Commissars?’

LENIN: People’s Commissars? Well, that might do, I think. And the government as a whole?

TROTSKY: A Soviet, of course. The Soviet of People’s Commissars, eh?

LENIN: Mmmm … yes. The Soviet of People’s Commissars. That’s splendid; smells terribly of revolution! You can go back to sleep now.

TROTSKY: I don’t think I’ll bother. Your incessant worrying has infected me.

LENIN: In what way?

TROTSKY: Well, I’m the chair of the military revolutionary committee, and here I am dozing under a carpet whilst god knows what I’ve set in motion out there is going on.

LENIN: Well, don’t the Africans say that sleep is the cousin of death?

TROTSKY: Now he tells me! So that’s what you’ve been up to under this carpet – keeping me alive?


TROTSKY: That’s the second time you’ve laughed tonight. This is looking serious.


LENIN: I don’t see the funny side of life as often as you do, Lev.

TROTSKY: Well you should dress as a Lutheran Minister more often. That was a laugh a minute.

LENIN: Yes, Rahja brought that up. I have to admit I was annoyed. There we were planning an insurrection and you all kept bursting out sniggering.

TROTSKY: We’re not going to issue a decree on humour, are we? You should take a leaf out of my brother in law’s book, and even Zinoviev’s. They may be serious most of the time, but they like a good laugh.

LENIN: Sometimes it’s bad manners and ignorance.

TROTSKY: Oh – let me guess – Stalin.

LENIN: I’ve every respect for him as a revolutionary, but he has the manners of a pig.

TROTSKY: Well, we wanted a revolution by workers and peasants, Illych. We’ve had enough bourgeois chatter over the coffee cups to last a lifetime. A bit of crudity livens things up.

LENIN: I’ll admit Josef has firmness of character, tenacity, stubbornness, even ruthlessness and craftiness – qualities necessary in a war. But if the rest of the world is going to take us seriously, we still need a bit of sophistication.

TROTSKY: If you’re talking about diplomacy, it’s a lot of twaddle. Jobs for the boys, upper class chinless wonders talking in riddles.

LENIN: Perhaps. But if we have to negotiate with governments –
TROTSKY: Negotiate?! As we’ve discussed, Illych – the revolution might start here, but it won’t finish in Russia. When the Germans lose the war –
TROTSKY: When the Germans lose the war the comrades in Germany will follow our lead. We’re lighting a forest fire here. The French and the British workers will follow suit. It may take time, but it’s inevitable.
LENIN: In the meantime, when we do appoint ministers –
TROTSKY: Ah-ah! Commissars, remember?
LENIN: Then we need commissars of quality.

TROTSKY: I don’t like the implications of the term.
Any one of those lads out there on the street tonight has more ‘quality’ than a dozen Kerenskys or Rodziankos. You could send that hulking great sailor, Dybenko to deal with that windbag Lloyd George.
LENIN: All right, Lev. So whilst we’re at it, as a judge of character, give me your assessment of our team.
TROTSKY: An ‘assessment of our team?’ You know them as well as I do. Assess them yourself. Assess me if you want – I don’t care.
LENIN: Don’t be flippant, Lev. I value your judgment. We’ll have to build some kind of a cabinet.
TROTSKY: Oh, of course. We need something to keep the drinks in.
LENIN: Be serious. It doesn’t go beyond this room.


TROTSKY: If you think in my exhausted state that I’m going to go through about twenty personalities then you’re mistaken. Just give me a couple of names and we’ll call it quits.

LENIN: Zinoviev and Kamenev.

TROTSKY: Don’t think I’m going easy on Kamenev because he’s my brother in law.

LENIN: Why should you? Family ties are the first thing to be severed for a revolutionary.

TROTSKY: Zinoviev and Kamenev are two profoundly different types. Zinoviev is an agitator. Kamenev a propagandist. Zinoviev is guided in the main by a subtle political instinct. Kamenev is given to reason and analysis. Zinoviev is forever inclined to fly off at a tangent. Kamenev, on the contrary, errs on the side of excessive caution. Zinoviev is entirely absorbed by politics. He has no other interests or appetites. Kamenev’s a sybarite and a aesthete. Zinoviev? He’s vindictive. Kamenev, yes, alright, he married my sister, but he’s good nature personified.

LENIN: Mmm. Interesting.

TROTSKY: ‘Interesting’? That’s a bit nebulous for you, isn’t it?

LENIN: What about Stalin?

TROTSKY: You’ve already summed him up. What was it again? ‘tenacity, stubbornness, even ruthlessness’.

LENIN: What kind of commissar would he make?

TROTSKY: The People’s Commissar for spittoons.

LENIN: You know, Lev, there’s still a bourgeois streak in you.

TROTSKY: Bollocks.

LENIN: Now you’re sounding just like Josef.

TROTSKY: Oh, come off it with the hypocrisy, Illych. If I’m a bourgeois then you’re the Tsar’s arsewipe. I know deep down what you think of Stalin.

LENIN: Really?

TROTSKY: Yes. Go on – remind me. I’ve given you Zinoviev and Kamenev. You give me Stalin.

LENIN: Oh, I’ll tell you about Stalin, but I’ve another question first. We spend as much time apart, you and I, as we do together.

TROTSKY: Such is the curse of exile.

LENIN: Yes, quite. But in the various scattered enclaves of the party, other opinions must arise. This is a good night for me to wonder; what do they think of me?

TROTSKY: What does who think of you?

LENIN: Well, everyone – they must talk. You, yourself, for example?

TROTSKY: Oh, I can quote chapter and verse the utterances you’ve made about me – both verbally and in print.

LENIN: Dialectics demand fearless honesty, Lev.
You’ve kicked me around too.

TROTSKY: Oh, well, how about 1909 – “Trotsky’s major mistake is that he ignores the bourgeois character of the revolution and has no clear conception of the transition from this revolution to the socialist revolution”. Utter bullshit.


LENIN: Well, much has happened in six years.

TROTSKY: Perhaps. However, wounds heal but there are scars. Take your 1911 attack for example: “We resume our freedom of struggle against the liberals and anarchists, who are being encouraged by the leader of the ‘conciliators,’ Trotsky.”

LENIN: I had a point. You’ve always been a fluctuating character, Lev. It takes time for you to see sense…. Yet here we are, after all the arguments, under this carpet. What about the others?

TROTSKY: What ‘others’?

LENIN: You needn’t name names. What’s the general opinion of me among the comrades?

TROTSKY: Fearless honesty?

LENIN: I can take it.

TROTSKY: Your writings, your dedication, your discipline, without these the engine in our ship would be several pistons short.

LENIN: That’s a compliment.

TROTSKY: I haven’t finished. As Zinoviev is always saying, revolutionaries have neither the time nor space for sentimentality, or personal and familial relationships. Yet on occasion, men can’t help but to succumb to human emotion.

LENIN: You can skip the biology lesson.

TROTSKY: Oh, I intend to. Cold, mechanical, aloof,
intolerant, humourless, implacable. How does that sound?


LENIN: You’re still issuing compliments.

TROTSKY: I remember once talking with Martov –

LENIN: That sad bastard. He was anti-Bolshevik even in 1911, criticising us for expropriating the capitalists by robbing their banks! He’s finished.

TROTSKY: Yes, I agree, but he’ll be at the congress tonight. As I was saying – he once expressed his opinion that if Lenin was sitting at his desk and Marx and Engels walked in, your arrogance would drive them both out of the room.

LENIN: Shows how little Martov knows. Why would I ever do such a thing?

TROTSKY: Martov cited your philosophical conceit and over confidence. He said even when Lenin is wrong, he’s right.

LENIN: (laughs) There you go, Lev. Three laughs in one night from your cold, mechanical and implacably humourless party leader.
Anything further you’d like to reveal?

TROTSKY: No – we had a deal, remember? Stalin. Is it true you wrote a letter to Gorky in 1913 calling Josef ‘a marvellous Georgian?’

LENIN: Yes, I probably did. Fair enough. He’s a good revolutionist. He’s tough and he’s brave. He’s a lousy orator and a poor writer.

TROTSKY: And you let him edit Pravda.




LENIN: Yes, but he got the message across to the workers. But he’s certainly no theoretician. Stalin’s value lies wholly in the sphere of party administration and machine manoeuvring. Have I left anything out?

TROTSKY: His brutish manners. I was with him when we went around the Putilov works introducing ourselves to the women workers. He actually farted. Not quietly, either, and certainly not odourless.

LENIN: Well, you can’t get less bourgeois than that. Maybe our first decree ought to be the freedom to break wind wherever we like.

TROTSKY: If you don’t mind me saying, this is a facile and pointless discussion. We’re a revolutionary body. We’ve got more farters, belchers, boozers and smokers than half the governments of Europe. It hasn’t held us back.

LENIN (Yawns) No. We may be a disparate gang, but the aims and objectives weld us together.
I’m tired now.

TROTSKY: Oh, you’re tired now. That’s rich.

LENIN: I think I may snooze for a while.

TROTSKY: The hell you will. If we fall asleep now even a shell from the Aurora won’t wake us up. Anyway, you’ve kept me awake.

LENIN: I wonder what history will make of us?

TROTSKY: Mincemeat, if we make a hash of tonight.
Think on what Hegel said; ‘What experience and history teach is this – that people and governments have never learned anything from the study of history, or acted on the principles deduced from it.’


LENIN: Until now.

TROTSKY: One hopes, therefore, that we’ll be remembered for our nature rather than for our deeds.

LENIN: I doubt it. Remember Goethe? ‘Sin writes histories – goodness is silent’.

TROTSKY: You should have stuck with the guitar, and I ought to have become a mathematician. We’d both be silent goodies then.

LENIN: I suppose a century from now they’ll see us like all other governments; we had to use violence to get our own way.

TROTSKY: We’re animals, comrade. Ants, spiders, rats, foxes, tigers … violence is part of life. We’re no different except for our politics. The best revenge we’ll have on history is that we avoided imitation. Whatever else they’ll say about us, at least we were original.


KAMANEV: (quietly) Glory be … look at this …babes in the wood …
(Shouts) Comrades! Wakey wakey! Up! Up!


LENIN: What is it Kamenev? Has the Congress begun?


KAMENEV: The Soviets are assembling. I thought I’d call you as soon as possible. You’ve got about half an hour. One of the comrades is bringing you some tea and some bread. Give you chance to liven yourselves up.

TROTSKY: Get me some cigarettes, Kamenev.

KAMENEV: Here. Take these – but for god’s sake don’t faint this time!


LENIN: You damned smokers. Is there any wonder this place stinks so much. We should issue a decree against tobacco.

TROTSKY: You do and you’ll end up talking to an empty hall.


LENIN: Hah-ha! Room service, no less.

IVAN: Comrade Kamenev has sent this tea and bread for you, gentlemen.

LENIN: Spoken like a true waiter. Gentlemen, eh?

TROTSKY: Yes, it’s a while since we’ve been called that. Put the tray down here, son, on the floor.


TROTSKY: Hello, hello … vodka as well?

IVAN: Yes, Comrade Trotsky – compliments of Comrade Rahja.

LENIN: Typical Rahja – he’s bloody incorrigible.

TROTSKY: And all the better for it.


TROTSKY: Ah! Mother Russia’s milk!

LENIN: Well, thanks son – you can go now.

IVAN: Er … excuse me, comrade …

LENIN: Yes, what is it?

IVAN: Are you – are you really … Lenin?

LENIN: Yes – that’s me, lad. Don’t look so surprised, I’m not the Tsar.

IVAN: May I … could I …

LENIN: Could you what?

IVAN: Sir, could I shake your hand?

TROTSKY (laughs) Hey, kid – he’s not Chaliapin either –
He’s only a politician.

IVAN: I apologise, but my father has read all of your works comrade Lenin, your books and pamphlets. If I can tell him that I’ve shaken hands with you, I think he’ll be very impressed.

TROTSKY (laughs) Hey – you’re making me jealous Ivan Borchov. Don’t you wish to shake my hand too?

SVETLANA: Grandpa, here, Come away from the window. I’ve made you some tea. Either cheer yourself up or go to bed.

IVAN: I should have shaken his hand.


IVAN: Leon Trotsky.

SVETLANA: I knew you met Lenin once – you never mentioned Trotsky.

IVAN: No-one mentioned Trotsky.

SVETLANA: Will you come away from the window, sit down and drink your tea!

IVAN: They told us he was a criminal and a counter-revolutionary.

SVETLANA: Forget Trotsky. Think about Pushkin; “Ecstasy is a glassful of tea and a piece of sugar in the mouth.” Despite the Berlin Wall, we have both, so come and sit down and enjoy it.

IVAN: Criminals and counter revolutionaries. Huh. I wonder what they’ll call Gorbachov and Yeltsin.

SVETLANA: You still believe in it all, don’t you?
What are you staring at out there?

IVAN: My city. St. Petersburg, Petrograd, Leningrad. Fancy a city having three names in less than a century. Come over here, Svetlana. I want to show you something.

SVETLANA: Well, what is it? Show me.

IVAN: You can just see the lights from here around the Winter Palace. Do you remember when you were a little girl, during the siege?

SVETLANA: I don’t want to talk about it. Those were horrible times, and best forgotten.



IVAN: You know, the week before the Nazis attacked us there was an exhibition over there at the Hermitage. I’d bought a newspaper – the Leningradskaya Pravda. It had a big advert for the exhibition. It was all to do with Tamerlane. There’d been an expedition to Gur Emir at Samarkand and they’d opened his tomb. When they found his skeleton, one leg was shorter than the other.

SVETLANA: Well, that’s all very fascinating, but why don’t you go and sit down, drink your tea before it gets cold.


IVAN: It even snowed on May Day in 1941. But one thing I remember reading in that newspaper was about Tamerlane’s tomb. There was a legend that if anyone opened it – and they did – they removed the lid – it was a big block of green nephrite – if they opened it then a great war would be released.

SVETLANA: Coincidence and superstition. So there was a great war, and we won. Now take things easy and stop torturing yourself. Good, hot tea, Grandpa. That’s what you need, not bad cold memories.

IVAN: Just let me stand here for a few more moments.(PAUSE)
Lenin didn’t appreciate Petrograd. To him it was just a sweated slum, a place of intrigue and agitation.

SVETLANA: Well forget Lenin. Pushkin loved it – “Show your colours, City of Peter, and stand steadfast like Russia.” Now come and sit down.



IVAN: Mmm. ‘Stand steadfast like Russia’. We certainly did that night.

LENIN: Well, it wasn’t much of a sleep, but it’ll have to do.

TROTSKY: We would have been better off with separate rooms. I’m still tired.

LENIN: We have work to do.

TROTSKY: Yes. If everything’s gone to plan, we have that damned rabble in the hall to sort out.

LENIN: Are you ready then?

TROTSKY: Yes. Those baying dogs out there.
What shall we tell them all?

LENIN: It depends. Either there is a revolution or there isn’t. Let’s go and find out.


LENIN: Kamenev! You look happy – is this a good sign?

KAMENEV: Damn right it is!

TROTSKY: Have we pulled it off?

KAMENEV: Clockwork, Lev, clockwork. Telegraph offices, railway stations, and governmental buildings- all occupied without any noteworthy resistance.


TROTSKY: What about Kerensky – the Provisional Government?

KAMENEV: Troops of the Military Revolutionary Committee surrounded the Winter Palace. The Provisional Government were in session, but we put a stop to that.

LENIN: Has there been much bloodshed?

KAMENEV: Some, but Kerensky’s Cadets asked ministers if they should fight to the last man. The ministers backed down. They sent us a message; ‘No bloodshed – we surrender’.

TROTSKY: What medical facilities do we have in place?

KAMENEV: Yesterday the Vyborg district soviet issued the following order: “Immediately requisition all automobiles … Take an inventory of all first-aid supplies, and have nurses on duty in all clinics.” That’s been done.

TROTSKY: Brilliant. Did we arrest Kerensky?

KAMENEV: The bastard’s as slippery as ever. He’s escaped. But everyone else has been arrested. We’ve locked them up in the Peter and Paul fortress.
Comrades – we are victorious.

LENIN: Curb your passion, Kamenev. We’ve won a few skirmishes, not a war. We still have to sell this to that crowd of spineless procrastinators in the hall.

TROTSKY: Well, now is as good a time as any.

KAMENEV: Comrades, there’s 650 overheated delegates in there – but we’ve got wall to wall Bolshevik support – the Kronstadt Sailors are all around the room.



TROTSKY: Yes, comrades, as comrade Lenin has announced, now we shall have peace, bread and land. Our troops are already being told about our success. Think back to March this year when those same soldiers kissed the hands and feet of liberal priests, carried ministers on their shoulders, got drunk on the speeches of Kerensky, and believed that the Bolsheviks were German agents – of that filthy propaganda there is nothing left! No, comrades. Those rosy illusions have been drowned in the mud of the trenches, which the soldiers refused to go on treading in their leaky boots.


ARMY OFFICER: The Bolshevik hypocrites who now control this congress told us we were to settle the question of power – and now it is being settled behind our backs, before the congress opens!


Blows have been struck against the Winter Palace, and it is by such blows that the nails are being driven into the coffin of the political party which has risked such an adventure!




TROTSKY: Yes, off you go, Mensheviks, stamp out of your antiquity like petulant children. Go to your provisional government – it’s finished. But don’t look for Kerensky – he’s cleared off. Go and join him!
What has taken place is an uprising – not a conspiracy. An uprising of the masses of the people needs no justification. We have been strengthening the revolutionary energy of the workers and soldiers. We have been forging, openly, the will of the masses for an uprising. Our uprising has won!


And now we are being asked to give up our victory, to come to an agreement? With whom? You are wretched, disunited individuals; you are bankrupts; your part is over. Go to the place where you belong from now on – the dust-bin of history!

SVETLANA: You’ve gone all quiet on me, grandpa. Do you want some more tea?

IVAN: Leave it, Svetlana. I’ll be up all night peeing.

SVETLANA: Mr. Grumpy! Well, why don’t you get an early night? I can’t be doing with you sitting here all silent. It’s not like you.

IVAN: It’s only ten o’clock. I’m 89, for God’s sake. What does it matter when I go to bed. There’s no peace in sleep and little to get up for.

SVETLANA: Oh dear, oh dear. Even I’m beginning to wish they’d left the Berlin Wall alone now.

IVAN: Did you know two months ago that British woman was in Moscow – what’s her name again – some minister –

SVETLANA: Margaret Thatcher.

IVAN: Hatchet faced old biddy.

SVTELANA: Grandpa! That’s not nice. When did we ever have a female premier? She’s got some good ideas. People admire her. We’ll have a market economy like the British. No more waiting in queues for rubbish products.

IVAN: She met Gorbachov.

SVETLANA: Yes, I know. I watch TV sometimes too, when you’re not hogging the set.

IVAN: Do you remember what she said to Gorbachov?


IVAN: She was against the break-up of East Germany. She wanted the wall to stay.


IVAN: Yes, and that French clown – Mitterrand. Know what he said? He said “I like Germany so much I would prefer to have two of them.”

SVETLANA: Well, that’s all water under the bridge now. It’s a good job poor Grandma isn’t alive to see you sitting here moping like this. Think on – you’ve got your pension, and Germany can look after itself. There’s nothing you can do about it. We’ve still got the Soviet Union.

IVAN: We haven’t had the Soviet Union since 1924. My seven years in Siberia taught me that much. What we have now has been constantly whittled away by the western nations.

SVETLANA: For heaven’s sake, don’t exaggerate.

IVAN: When you were a schoolteacher what did Leningrad kids want?

SVETLANA: Oh, I suppose … well, the same things they’re wanting today. Jeans, rock and roll, Coca Cola.

IVAN: Not in my day they didn’t. We wanted our own Russian culture. The classics, good music, radical art. We had good sportsmen and women, the finest doctors. What are the next generation going to be? Pizza cooks and hamburger flippers?

SVETLANA: Oh, I don’t know what’s got into you Grandpa. If you’re not going to bed, then I am. You can sit here and stew in your own miserable nostalgia.


IVAN: Yes. Go to bed … switch off the lights, pull the sheets up over your head. Go to sleep. History is simply a pageant, not a philosophy. I can’t hang it all on my memories. They’re too frail to take the weight. They are recollections of hope, enthusiasm, sadness, death, struggle, a remembrance of seven pointless decades. They’re all sleeping now: the just and the unjust, the sinners, the saints and the murderers. And yet I’m still awake, thinking about you all. But none of it seemed pointless back then. I know; I was there, it all happened, and for a brief moment, I, Ivan Borchov, full of fire, young, idealistic, played his part.



KAMENEV: That told them, Lev!

TROTSKY: They needed telling.

LENIN: You’re smoking again, Lev.

KAMENEV: You ought to try it, Illych.
It calms the nerves.

LENIN: My nerves are calm enough.


TROTSKY: Ah-ha! It’s the lathe operator from Vyborg. Don’t tell me you’re going to speak to that rabble too!

KAMENEV: You’ve deserted your post lad! You should be on the door!

LENIN: Oh, leave him, Kamenev. He’s done no harm.

IVAN: I apologise, comrades. But I heard the cheering. Have you spoken yet, Comrade Lenin?

TROTSKY: No it was me.

IVAN: Oh. When will you go in there and speak, Comrade Lenin?

LENIN: I am about to. Any second now. Why?

IVAN: Will it be alright for me to go into the hall?

KAMENEV: No it will not – you’re not a delegate!

TROTSKY: Don’t be hard on the lad, Kamenev. Let him have something to tell his grandchildren.

LENIN: Well, young comrade Burchov, what are you waiting for; follow me.


LENIN: All power has passed to the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers and Peasants’ Deputies.


A new phase has opened up not just in Russia, but throughout the entire world. We will announce decrees on peace and land. And this new phase will inevitably lead to the victory of socialism.


Without this, it is not possible to resolve all the problems that are posed before us by life and war…. We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order!



T h e E n d