George Blake 1922 – 2020
Born in Holland, he fought in the Resistance there until he was smuggled out of Europe via Spain and joined his mother and 2 younger sisters in England He joined the Royal Navy and then because of his extensive knowledge 0f languages transferred to SIS. After the war ended he interrogated U boat crews and went to Cambridge to learn Russian, then was sent to Seoul to monitor Soviet activities. He was trapped in Seoul during the Korean War and taken prisoner by the North Koreans for three years during which he changed allegiance and when back in MI6? betrayed numerous western agents. When his treachery was discovered he was tried for treason – the only MI6 employee ever to be prosecuted – and received a 42 year sentence in 1961, but after serving 5 years was helped to escape by three former fellow prisoners, using a ladder made of knitting needles.
There were numerous communist sympathisers scattered round the Wood, including Reggie Smith, a British council lecturer and his wife Olivia Manning, author of the Fortunes of War. They lived in Queens Grove and later Abbey Gardens and their lodger was the actor Tony Richardson (who was so nervous of Olivia’s unrequited love that he hardly dared to take a bath). Tony was persuaded by Rev John Papworth, the anti nuclear left wing priest of St Marks Hamilton Terrace (d 2020) to finance Blake’s escape via camper van to East Berlin and offered to hide him in his house. In a farcical episode, Papworth’s wife told a therapist whom she was consulting that she had seen at home the man whose face was frequently appearing on television as the escaped spy. The therapist told her that she must be hallucinating, and should forget all about it. When Special Branch finally realised who was really behind the escape, this was so embarrassing that it was all hushed up.