The International Writers Magazine: Writer's Lot
The Spy Who Stiffed Me
I never could figure out why Greville Wynne hired me to ghost-write an account of his life and career as a spy -- of those parts the public hadn’t already heard about following his release from Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka prison in 1964, long before we met.
That he could and did get me cheap probably had a great deal to do with my landing the job. Only it turned out to be a good deal cheaper than I ever imagined.
In London, where publishers’ contracts had already been signed, a single phone call would have flushed a gaggle of Fleet Street hacks from cover, any one of whom could have polished it off in a boozy fortnight. Instead, Greville settled on someone half his age whose written diction was conspicuously American, and who had never been anywhere near the Welsh coal fields where he was raised, nor the East European capitals where the drama of Soviet defector Oleg Penkovsky played itself out.
My sole qualifications were a couple of negligible writing credits and the fact that I was living in Majorca, where Greville, true to hoary cliché, had come to “cultivate his roses.” Which is not to suggest the stock image of a superannuated spy puttering in a Cotswolds garden. It was a commercial scheme to grow cut flowers for export to Britain in which he was a lead investor.
Somehow, we hit it off. I wrote The Man from Odessa in the summer of 1981, and accompanied him to London -- paying my own way, save for two occasions when he picked up the check at a fairly decent Indian restaurant -- where I incorporated the putative author’s last-minute whims (“Take out all mention of my second wife!”) and revisions. In due course, the hardcover exhausted its print run, to be superseded by a paperback that also sold quite well, or so I was told, and a large-print edition. A decade later, the words I put into Greville’s mouth were given voice in an audio book that I see has recently been re-released on CD.
That the book never came out in the United States is surely because no deal was ever struck to release the BBC television mini-series, Wynne and Penkovsky, in that country. Was it too forthrightly anti-Soviet for the cluckheads at PBS? Were it not for the opportune tie-in, I suspect even British publishers would have brushed Greville off as yesterday’s news, thwarted his last chance to set more than one record straight and even more than one old score. With my invaluable assistance, of course.
The writer of the Wynne and Penkovsky screenplay, Andrew Carr, was sent to Majorca and it soon became clear over drinks that he was having just as much trouble getting Greville to open up, when one or the other of us would stumble over an obvious discrepancy or some bit that sounded faintly dodgy in the respective texts we were working from.
Andrew was dramatizing The Man from Moscow (published as Contact on Gorky Street in the USA) an expertly ghosted 1967 memoir centred exclusively on the Penkovsky affair. Back then, Greville was still a public figure in Britain, owing to the extensive media coverage given to his trial in Moscow and the real-life Len Deighton spy swap that got him out of the infamous KGB hole where Stalin’s victims were softened up for their public confessions. But his health was permanently impaired, his successful career in business and never very successful marriage equally in shambles. Depending on how you define “breakdown,” that could certainly be added to the tally of his post-Lubyanka troubles.
Did that make him a “fabulist,” by far the kindest of the barbed epithets used to deflate him by Rupert Allason, the former MP who has written a dozen or so books on espionage published under the name of Nigel West? In Seven Spies Who Changed the World (1991), Allason charges that Greville’s “Walter Mitty fantasies led him to collaborate with two ghost writers and write two entirely spurious accounts” of his involvement with Britain’s Secret Intelligence Services (SIS). Sometimes Allason depicts him as pathologically incapable of distinguishing fact from fantasy, sometimes a deliberate fraud not clever enough to add a dollop of credibility to the outrageous fabrications intended to keep his name in the limelight. But that is to disregard the important thing, which how he got to be there in the first place.
Late in 1960, on a business trip in Moscow, Greville Wynne had been approached by a member of the foreign trade committee, Oleg Penkovsky, who was actually a colonel in Soviet military intelligence, the GRU. More to the point, he was part of the nomenklatura, the informal caste that monopolized privilege and power in the Soviet Union, to which he gained entry by marrying a general’s daughter. Personal grudges, extreme idealism and the blistering contempt he felt for Khrushchev and his cronies, along with the fear that their “brinkmanship” might trigger a nuclear war, turned Penkovsky savagely against the system that had coddled him.
During the eighteen months he managed to stay operational, Penkovsky supplied his British and American handlers with details of the Soviet Union’s secret military assets, order of battle, technical specifics on the Red Army’s tactical and strategic missile program (Marshal Varentsov, the head of Soviet rocket and artillery forces, was a close family friend much given to alcoholic indiscretion), undoctored economic statistics, and he identified GRU officers posted under cover abroad. An astonishing 10,000+ eyes-only documents that Penkovsky photographed in the GRU vaults were passed through Greville on his subsequent visits to Moscow, or directly to his CIA and SIS handlers, during the two trips to London and one to Paris that Penkovsky made under his trade cover in 1961. On those occasions, he would slip away to be grilled by senior case officers from both services during all-night sessions that were required for him to fill in blanks and convince them of his good faith. Later, he continued to pass material to British agents in Moscow, where routine surveillance probably led to his exposure and arrest.
At the beginning, and again, just before the end, Greville Wynne was directly involved. Extreme gestures of reassurance were required to keep the fountain of secrets gushing, such as letting Penkovsky be photographed wearing US and British military uniforms. And though the queen was decidedly not available when Penkovsky demanded an audience, they had no trouble supplying him with bussed-in bed partners (on the SIS payroll, Greville says, seemingly confirmed by a throw-away remark made by Penkovsky’s CIA case officer, George Kisevalter). The truth is that Greville Wynne was needed to play Horatio to Oleg Penkovsky’s Hamlet -- a secret conspirator tormented by self-doubt, driven to commit treason by what he saw as an inescapable duty, and manifesting what are now easy to recognize as bipolar mood swings.
It is widely known and accepted that information supplied by Penkovsky on the precise technical limitations of Soviet missile systems was a critical factor in President John F. Kennedy’s decision to call Khrushchev’s bluff in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Eventually Penkovsky was caught, tried and executed. Intercepted and arrested while on his way to smuggle him out of Russia, Greville was sentenced to eight years in prison, five to be served “under harsh conditions” but was released after a total of 18 months behind bars, 50 lbs. lighter on his feet, tufted hair and teeth loose in their sockets, in an exchange for Konon Molody, alias George Lonsdale, the Soviet agent runner who controlled the Portsmouth spy ring.
It was hard not to find yourself taking to Greville. His vanity and testiness actually made him fairly amusing company in short bursts. These were offset by the natural affability of the successful salesman (which is what he was, really) and a readiness to buy the next round, the latter being an unwritten requirement for residence on the Plaza Gomila, the main square of El Terreno, a suburb of Palma de Mallorca which at that time supported an enclave of English-speaking expats engaged full-time in drinking themselves to death.
Greville drank all right, but at the time I knew him, in the early 1980s, he was not nearly as self-destructive about it as were his cronies. One of the latter remembers him as that oddity, a daytime drinker who started off extremely talkative and sociable, only to become taciturn as the day wore on. When playing liar’s poker, he would sometimes drop the dice into his gin and tonic instead of the dice cup. Once he went off to the gents and lingered so long that he didn’t get let out until the cleaning lady turned up the next morning -- and swore he hadn’t passed out. No, not quite the “tradecraft” you would expect from a secret agent.
For no discernable reason at all, he might turn his nose up at the casual friend he had been socializing with that same morning. He was estranged from his grown son. When Spanish workmen once interrupted his afternoon nap, he hurled an oath down on them from the balcony of his fifth-floor flat and unwisely accompanied it with an empty plastic bottle crate. The Guardia Civil was summoned. Now Greville had been given a confidential number to ring if ever found himself in trouble in Spain, and ring it was what he did. Unfortunately, his tantrum coincided with the start of a three-day holiday weekend. He had not imagined (few would) that the Spanish secret service keeps regular office hours, and so had to wait until Monday to be let out of the lockup.
Appropriately, on his visits to London, he would head for the Eccentrics Club in Ryder Street, where the clock behind the bar ran backwards. Much later, I was told that he also did his drinking at the Foxhouse Club, a watering hole of legendary seediness patronized exclusively by spies. It, too, was located just off Piccadilly, and said to be so secret that it had never bothered going through the formalities of obtaining a license to serve drinks. Allason charges Greville with lying outrageously, passing himself off as a lieutenant-colonel, to infiltrate The Naval Club -- I suppose he means the Naval and Military Club in St James’s -- of all places where you’d think they’d be able to spot the genuine article! Conclusion: either Greville Wynne was a master of subtle deception or someone in Whitehall picked up the phone, listened for a bit and said with a sigh, “Very well, I suppose you’ll have to let him in.”
Prickliness and vanity were not the sole reasons Wynne felt his story deserved a second telling. He was hurt and offended there had never been acknowledgment that all throughout the Penkovsky affair, and indeed, long before it started, he had been acting under orders. But no, it was always Greville Wynne the feckless businessman, or Greville the go-between, the egregious cat’s paw, the “disastrous courier” (Allason, of course --but what disaster does he think is imputable to his actions?) and never Greville Wynne, the agent who did as he was told, took immense risks and showed uncommon bravery by attempting single-handedly to get Penkovsky out of Russia just when the KGB was closing in on them both. In return for a survivable sentence at the Moscow trial, however, Greville testified that he was pressured into serving as lowly messenger boy Allason goes further by quoting as deadpan gospel two pages of KGB bombast in which it is reported that under interrogation, Wynne “castigated himself for his rashness, his trust in those ruthless sharks from the Intelligence Service” and begged to be allowed to spy for the KGB in return for being let off the hook. (This was the same year that Mandy Rice Davies’ “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?” entered the English language’s catchphrase hall of fame. Penkovsky was also made to confess in the dock to un-Soviet perversions such as drinking champagne from a paramour’s slipper, knocking back half a bottle of brandy per day and -- it’s in the transcript -- “reading trashy best-sellers.”)
After the Russians released him in 1964, Allason indicates that Greville made a major nuisance of himself until was grudgingly permitted to write a preface to the collection of documents known as The Penkovskiy Papers in which his role would be vindicated. But although the book was published only in the United States, any I-spy declarations he may have made in it are absent from the published text. When he finally did get his self-vindication into print with The Man from Moscow, reviewers passed it over without much comment, and the Foreign Office sniffily remarked that “certain passages...would almost surely have been objectionable on security grounds had they been true.”
So how did a sequel come to be written and a TV film made? This is entirely my own speculation, but clearance must have come shortly after Sir Arthur “Dickie” Franks was named to head the SIS in 1978. Franks had been Greville’s handler going back to World War II, and appears in both The Man from Moscow and The Man from Odessa as “James,” with his personal details clumsily scrambled. Franks may well have thought that after what Greville had been put through, he ought to be allowed a toot or two on his own horn, as anything he was in a position to reveal was unlikely to compromise past or current operations.
Franks’ 2008 obituary in the Daily Telegraph revealed that his name was listed as a sleeping partner in the firm Wynne set up to broker sales of manufacturing equipment and electrical systems to Communist bloc countries. “The company's main asset, at that time the longest articulated lorry ever built in England, had been paid for in full by SIS, so as to provide Wynne with suitable cover, that of a mobile trade fair demonstrating British goods in eastern Europe,” admits the well-briefed obituarist. Call him what you please, but if that degree of complicity didn’t make Greville an agent of Her Majesty’s Government, I fail to see what distinction is getting in the way.
You could also call him “paid informant.” Greville’s service record more than backs up his claim to have been “the most over-trained man in the British Army,” qualifying for a wartime commission in the Supply Corps, Corps of Engineers and Signal Corps -- twice, in the latter instance. Wherever he was sent, he was told by officials he supposed were from MI5 to keep an eye on one or more subjects of interest; Polish airmen, post-Dunkirk French refugees; foreign nationals whose background could not easily be verified. Home-grown wrong’uns, particularly members of the British Communist Party called up for service, were also tracked and reported on.
Describing his wartime service, Greville mentions how “the contact man would count off crisp pound notes from a thick wad and hand them over to me. They represented the difference between the enlisted man’s pay I collected under my assumed rank and my officer’s pay.” I later found myself elaborating a conversation in which James announces to Greville that he has been promoted to captain and adds, “We have a rule. I’m afraid this promotion won’t be gazetted. It’s one of those things the service insists on. They’ve made me a lieutenant-colonel, did you know?”
Not even ignorance as immense as mine could let that one get by. So I told Greville I did not really understand in what sense, if any, can a promotion of which no written record is kept be said to actually exist? Was I was missing something obvious, some ineffably British precedent, perhaps? Oh no, he said, the OTC courses qualified him for a commission and all subsequent promotions were confirmed by or through James. He was a major at the end of the war, he insisted, even though the official record might never reflect it. That was just the way things were done. “Right,” I thought to myself, and shut up and kept on writing.
Allason consumes several pages of his book berating Wynne for claiming to have obtained a commission, but I am certain that what the discharge papers said was not relevant to him. Reality was what Greville was told by his handlers, and what Greville was told tended to be what Greville wanted to hear. In any case, it defies credibility to think that the British Army, on a wartime footing, would keep sending a failed candidate back to OTC four times in a row instead of returning him to the ranks and finding him something useful to do. But “ungazetted” Greville -- how early on and how perspicaciously they had him figured out! -- apparently did complete OTC training courses in Hereford, Cornwall, Wiltshire and Aldershot between 1939 to 1944, until he finally saw action in France and Belgium.
Half a century has passed since Penkovsky made his initial approaches to the West. Many of the Americans involved in the operation lived long enough to be interviewed at length about it, including George Kisevalter, the Russian-speaking CIA officer credited with the huge harvest of strategic and technical intelligence obtained from Penkovsky’s debriefing sessions in London and Paris. Kisevalter’s superior, Joe Bulik, also talked extensively about the case in a series of interviews posted on the Internet. Neither one had a good word to say about Greville, but then, they never met him. Unfortunately, Britain’s Official Secrets Act kept Penkovsky’s “brilliant and skilful” interrogator, Harold “Shergie” Shergold; his colleague, Michael Stokes, and their aide. Roger King (Allason gives his Christian name as “Andrew”), mute on the subject -- and only King ever had face-to-face dealings with Greville. Everything was channelled through “James”. I do not know that Sir Richard “Dick” White, who headed the SIS at the time, ever acknowledged that he met personally with Penkovsky, Russia’s legacy spymasters provided Jerome L. Schecter and Peter S. Deriabin, the authors of The Spy Who Saved the World, with many additional details to fill gaps in the Penkovsky narrative but to date have declined to reveal exactly how he was compromised.
So how much of what I wrote for Greville can be assumed to have a basis in truth? The short answer, I think, is: a good deal more than Allason allows. I can see why Wynne would fuddle details of small consequence to improve his chances of obtaining clearance for publication. Obviously, it was not ignorance or perversity that made him claim that his former case officer had retired to a cottage in Sussex, just at the time when “Dickie” Franks actually was put in charge of the SIS, an organization whose existence was not acknowledged by the British government until 1994. Incidentally, it is Allason who is gets it wrong when he sneers that contrary to Wynne’s assertion, Franks “never jumped into Yugoslavia”. Franks’ exequious send-off in the Telegraph recounts that “in 1944, he was parachuted into the Danube area of Serbia in command of a small group of naval saboteurs” and the Times confirms it.
The real question should be: was Greville guilty of pertinacious mendacity, or a shell game concealing what the Official Secrets Act might consider inconvenient truths? You can see him caught in the act of pre-emptive dissembling in the case of SIS dogsbody, Roger King. Allason notes but is unable to explain why in The Man from Moscow, he appears as “Robbins” but elsewhere, including in his testimony at the Moscow trial, his true name is given. Occam’s razor applies, I think: Greville simply got the real name and the made-up one jumbled, a not inconceivable pitfall for someone who cannot fully engage with the written word.
Allason quotes verbatim a wartime pamphlet of Communist party-line drivel printed over Greville’s signature as being of “his authorship” instead of associating it with the episode in which Wynne tells how he was ordered to make friends with a fellow soldier who was a branch secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain. To accept that Greville signed the pamphlet is perfectly coherent with his cover story, to conclude that he endorsed its ideological contents is risible (the upper heights of Britain’s class system never yielded to a more determined gate crasher from the coalfields of Cardiff), but to insinuate that he actually wrote the thing is beyond ludicrous, because he could not have written it -- or anything with even a slightly complex sentence structure.
Greville Wynne was severely learning disabled all his life. Anyone who knew him will confirm that he could scan and decipher newspaper headlines for no more than a few minutes at a time, while writing was a slow-motion ordeal (I’m tempted to add, especially when it came to signing cheques). The dyslexia issue is discussed in the book’s early chapters, where he notes that having to dissemble in school and learn by rote were his introduction to tradecraft. He could never have started a business without his first, stay-at-home wife seeing to the correspondence and agenda; while his Dutch-born wife number two, the post-Lubyanka one subsequently banished from the biography, accompanied him to Malta and the Canary Islands when he tried to get business ventures going there.
The Man from Odessa ends with a version of Greville’s peripheral involvement in a sting operation intended to fox the Russians’ plans to incorporate stolen British aeronautical technology in the supersonic passenger jet they were building to rival the Concorde. He alleges that the SIS subtly doctored the microfilmed blueprints and had Greville deliver them to a “turned” East German courier. This Allason harrumphingly includes in his lengthy catalogue of “bizarre claims that could not be substantiated”. Well, let’s have a look.
On June 3, 1973, five years after edging out the Concorde to make the first supersonic flight by a commercial aircraft, the Soviet-built Tupolev-144 made its public debut at the Paris Air Show. Greville claims he was present when the Concordski plunged from the sky and crashed, killing fourteen people, including three children. Years later, British, French and Russian officials were interviewed for a Nova TV documentary broadcast on Channel 4 in 1998. It made a case for the proximate cause of the tragedy being a Mirage fighter the French sent up to photograph the Russian SST, whose pilot had not been warned of a spy plane occupying his airspace. The Concordski’s engines stalled when the pilot dived to avoid a collision. Were those deaths inevitable?
That the Concordski was not, as claimed by Greville, a carbon copy of the Concorde, and in several important respects, the more innovative aircraft of the two, does not negate the fact that a number of its critical operating systems incorporated technology pilfered from the West, particularly from Concorde’s French contractors. And the Nova transcript confirms that French secret service, the DST, did pass faulty intelligence to the Russians, though the final script is silent on the question of whether the British resorted to so un-gentlemanly, not to say criminally irresponsible, a ruse. It is, however, noted that “Soviet agents first targeted design plans for Concorde's Olympus jet engines. Superior to any Soviet-built engine, they could fly up to three hours at supersonic speeds. But infiltrating Britain's [Rolls Royce] plant in Bristol proved more challenging than expected. Even when information was extracted, Western technical notations were often indecipherable.” The Concordski experienced recurrent problems and at least one other crash before it was yanked from service a few years later.
The book’s title refers to a GRU officer being run as a double by the SIS, whom Greville says he helped smuggle out of Russia. “Major Kuznov” was obviously not his name and Allason found that the ship involved in his story, the Uzbekistan, did not enter service until two years after Greville was in Odessa. If he had thought it mattered, though, wouldn’t he have taken the slight trouble of finding out the name of a vessel that really did cruise the Black Sea in 1959? Disclosures of the information Kuznov brought to the West would also have been deleted in any manuscript submitted for vetting, one possible explanation of why he says Kuznov told the British that the Kremlin was making plans in 1959 to put up the Berlin Wall, two years before all evidence suggests that it happened.
A book without colour or detail or description, a narrative inhabited by individuals without surnames, past histories, or shirt-button specifics, would not let itself be written, much less be read. It is clear that Greville did travel to Odessa. There is a photograph of him on the Potemkin steps, and it is clear that something happened to him there that left him with a severe, permanent hip injury. For the record, I seem to remember seeing something in one of his scrapbooks that tends to confirm that was in Bulgaria at or around the time he said he was -- was it the pass that is supposed to have allowed him to board the ship and recover the documents Kuznov allegedly secreted aboard it? Alas, at this late date, I only recall being pleased with myself for making out the Cyrillic characters that spelled Varna.
“Uniquely, there is no reference to Sergei Kuznov or any other GRU officer resembling him in any of the literature,” says Allason, declaring that “This individual never existed outside of Wynne’s imagination.” But I wonder. In 2003, the CIA’s former Chief of European Operations, John Limond Hart, published a book called The CIA’s Russians, in which he pored through declassified archives to analyze what motivated the great Cold War defectors to turn against their homeland. One of these defectors, a vain and bungling GRU major executed by the Soviets in 1959 whom he calls “Mikhail,” had, until Hart wrote about him, also been a figure unknown to the annals of Cold War espionage. Then, in a final chapter, Hart writes:
In addition to Popov, Penkovsky, Nosenko and Mikhail, I studied in depth and number of other cases. Security considerations, of course, precluded my use of cases that were active at the time. I am not free to use the true names of the other members of my comparison group...Only one of the agents, Grigori, was a civilian, four had been or were GRU colonels [my italics], and one was a KGB colonel.
There you are. Four unidentified, unaccounted for, high-ranking GRU officers come to roost in Langley, Virginia and whose identities and operational histories were not made public even that long after the Cold War’s end. Assuming Hart is veracious (his book was prefaced by CIA director William Colby), I think one is entitled to ask: Could one of them have been the original of the “Major Kuznov” whom Greville claims to have met again at CIA headquarters on a controversial trip to Washington in 1961?
“Given the many absurdities in Wynne’s tale about Kuznov, one is bound to conclude that this individual never existed outside Wynne’s imagination.” Among those many, Greville has Kuznov supposedly tipping off the British that when trying to spot the KGB agents, they should look out for Wellington boots and trilby hats, as these were items unavailable to ordinary Russians in the 1950s. “Ridiculous,” snorts Allason. Well, there’s this: when Harold Wilson’s private secretary, Sir Peter LeChaminant, surveyed British and Soviet spooks lined up along Milbank when Soviet leaders Khrushchev and Bulganin made their 1956 visit to Britain, he wrote: “Those on the river side were British, as evidenced by their uniform dress of duffel coats and black caps -- those on the near side of the road were all KGB, all wearing identical black coats and trilby hats.” James Mason, thou shouldst be living at this hour!
I see now that I have ended up drafting an apology for Greville Wynne, something I had no particular inclination to undertake and certainly should know better than to attempt without access to sources. Even then, I’m sure I still would not be able to refute Allason, merely urge him to moderate the slash-and-rip brushstrokes and harsh colours in the portrait he has painted. Being essentially right about the man and being fair to him involve two quite different orders of rectitude.
I do suspect that for Greville, being constrained from revealing the truth amounted to a license to lie, and if the lie required for the higher purpose of secrecy should happen to enhance his boundless sense of self-importance or improve the story, so much the better. That does not mean that he took kindly to being found out or called to account for his misrepresentations. At some point, long after I ceased to have any contact with him, Greville brought an action for defamation of character against Rupert Allason. I have not seen the court documents, but note that George Kisevalter told his amanuensis, Clarence Ashley, that he thought that Allason a) would most likely lose and b) it would cost him around £200,000. Not because Wynne was in the right, mind you, but because Britain’s notoriously demented libel laws so ordained. The publishers of Allason’s 1987 book, The Friends elected to settle out of court, but the proceedings ended with Wynne’s death in 1990.
At the centre of the legal battle was Greville’s claim that he and Penkovsky were whisked off to Washington during the Russian’s 1961 London visit, under the nose of the Soviet trade delegation he was supposed to be leading, flown across the Atlantic to receive the personal thanks of President John F. Kennedy in the White House and whisked right back before anyone noticed they were missing. Rubbish, rubbish and more rubbish, said Allason and sent his legal team to Washington to take depositions to that effect from Bulik and Kisevalter, as the SIS officers could not overstep the Official Secrets Act.
The CIA helped Allason obtain affidavits from Evelyn Lincoln, Kennedy’s personal secretary, and excerpts from the official White House visitors’ log. I find it interesting, though, that Bulik talks about how Penkovsky “took me aside and said, if I came to America, could I meet your royalty, meaning the Kennedy’s [sic]. I said, no problem. And as a matter of fact, when at one point when we thought that he might be coming to the United States, we talked to Bobby Kennedy about meeting him and Bobby said, I'd be delighted to meet him. Of course, it never came to pass.”
Of course, it didn’t. But it was being thought about and arrangements were made that got far enough for the consent of the “royal family” to be solicited. And I find it disingenuous to argue that the White House logbook would “prove” that Penkovsky never got anywhere near the Oval Office, given what everyone now knows to have been a parade of unlogged women summoned to the White House take part in Kennedy’s poolside carnivals of carnality. So the Russian defector credited with the biggest intelligence coup of the Cold War couldn’t have been slipped past White House flunkies for whom a turnable blind eye was a job requirement? That I don’t believe for a minute. Yet both Bulik and Kisevalter made a big deal of the logbook being proof that the whole thing was fantasy.
My own theory is: not the whole thing. Just the bit about himself coming along for the ride. I would not be surprised to learn that Penkovsky told Greville, falsely, that he had met with Kennedy in Washington. Why? Had Greville lived long enough to read The Spy Who Saved the World, he would have found out about how Penkovsky chafed at being in a subordinate position to his mentor and tour guide, the Virgil leading Dante through the fleshpots, night spots and dead drops of the West, and lorded it over him the whole while. Until finally, in Paris, Penkovsky complained to his interrogators that Wynne was becoming increasingly disgruntled, concerned that he might never receive a decoration or remuneration for all that he had done.
The British were startled. They knew perfectly well Wynne had been repaid all his expenses and given an “ungazetted” bonus of £15,000 for services to Queen and country. Roger King was sent to check and reported that at that point, at least, Greville was not making an issue over chest ribbons or money. The British, who by then had carefully analyzed Penkovsky’s “difficult” psychology, concluded that the Russian had assumed Greville was hard up and wanted to make sure the money came through him as a way of establishing a kind of ascendancy. It was decided to ignore the whole thing. Penkovsky and Wynne parted on cordial terms in October, 1961, and were not to meet again until July of the following year, when the operation was falling apart and both were perilously close to discovery.
Writing The Man from Odessa taught me how to quarry a narrative out of bulk oral history, working from a straight-up chronological first-person account of Greville’s childhood, military service, post-war pursuits and of his doings in the espionage trade before and after the Penkovsky affair. Several fast-paced, vividly written chapters of The Man from Moscow had been spliced incongruously verbatim into the appropriate chronological slot in the plodding, self-obsessed autobiography. I was told that the book that would be produced from what was contained in that manuscript and only that. I understood that to mean that Greville had managed to get the project vetted by the SIS under strict caveat: this far and no further.
That the master document I worked from started out as Greville talking into a tape recorder, I have no doubt; the mannerisms were recognizably his, and tell-tale slips of the ear, such as Caen for Cannes, pointed to its oral provenance. Instances of very slightly off-register English syntax led me to suspect his Dutch ex-wife had been involved in its preparation. By the time it got to me, the ur-text had been worked into a sort of crib or précis of the unwritten book, trimmed of the tics, filler and repetitions that characterize off-the-cuff verbal reminiscence, but also devoid of detail and description and no dramatic “scenes” set up at even the most obvious moments.
When pressed to elaborate, Greville’s reply would be “just go with what you have”. After a while, that’s what I resigned myself to doing -- I wanted my money. Andrew Carr, I think, was more determined to get the contradictions ironed out of the script he was writing and did not balk at pressing Greville hard, in all the right places. Far more worldly than myself, he knew how to handle the type of British character that Greville was. And his money was coming from the BBC.
There was no dialogue, none. From first page to last, I had to surmise, invent, fabricate what might have been said at such and such a time and circumstances. That at least some of my attempts at reproducing the class-anchored nuances of British speech were way off the mark, never seemed to bother Greville-- that is, if he read the typescript, or had it read to him. He never commented and never complained, not even when I tossed out huge chunks of tedious childhood memories.
For this I was to receive a first instalment of £2,500, payable on the publisher’s approval. After final touches were made, Greville wrote me out a cheque and I returned to Majorca. The remainder of my fee -- an additional £2,500 -- was to be one-half the amount the Sunday Telegraph agreed to pay for the rights to run a very substantial excerpt from the book, accompanied by a framing article and interview, spaced over two issues of their Sunday magazine.
I never saw the money. Greville maintained that one of the big-circulation dailies --- I’d best not say which, without confirmation -- deliberately and maliciously broke the embargo under which he had let himself be interviewed as part of the book’s publicity campaign. That torpedoed the guarantee of an exclusive which the Telegraph had specifically included in the terms of their contract with him. They never paid Greville -- or so he said -- and Greville, needless to say, never paid me the balance of what I was owed. But his effusive assurances that his London solicitors would soon recover the money was sufficient pretence for us to end our collaborative endeavors on terms of fraught, chilly politeness. I knew I was never going to see my money, but was glad to have my work published and reviewed and was ready to move on other things. I left Majorca, never to see him or think much of him again, until I read of his death in February 1990, in London, where he had been undergoing treatment for throat cancer. No prizes for guessing who the Independent got to write the obit.
Greville’s publisher had proposed that he follow up The Man from Odessa with a work of fiction to be written by me and published under his name. The novel’s market appeal was to have been enhanced by one of these “decide for yourself if it’s true” plot devices: the revelation that the caverns of Gibraltar were stockpiled with tactical nuclear warheads to be rushed to the front if the Russians ever stormed through the Fulda gap, it being a strategic truism the Red Army would require no more than 48 hours to overrun the whole of West Germany. (A few years later, as a journalist in Madrid, I heard about Gibraltar’s cached nukes for a second time, from a source who claimed to have got it from the Palestine Liberation Organization’s delegate in Spain, and who said it was an “open secret” among diplomats.) The novel, however, never got off the ground. Greville was sternly put on notice that further literary effusions bearing his name might jeopardize the pension that he was due to start collecting in three years’ time. This story I believed.
I never became Greville’s friend; I was too young, too American (he didn’t care much for Americans), too put off by his his outrageousness, his grievances and prejudices. “No-one ever asked me if I wanted to live in a multi-cultural Britain.” I must have heard that a hundred times, with the accent on “me”. He wasn’t a particularly nice man, perhaps not even a very good man, but he was a courageous one. In October 1962, even after Penkovsky became convinced that he was being shadowed by the KGB, Greville volunteered to go in and exfiltrate him in a secret compartment of that custom-built display lorry that had been paid for by the SIS. By that point, Greville knew the KGB was already on to Penkovsky, and had them both under intense surveillance when they last met in Moscow in July.
Was it a grab at clandestine glory or had he come to feel responsible, even personally concerned about the Russian’s fate? I’d like to think the latter. The KGB rounded up Penkovsky first, probably on October 22, just when the Cuban Missile Crisis was at its height, and he almost certainly fingered Greville -- or confirmed what they already knew of his involvement. The Soviets grabbed Greville in Budapest eleven days after Penkovsky was seized. Why didn’t the SIS signal Greville that the operation was blown and he should make a run for it, as soon as Penkovsky’s whereabouts could not be accounted for? Ah, there is the book I would really have liked to have written.
That Greville was capable of courage and patriotism and personal loyalty does not make him a truthful witness to history, but it does suggest another measure for those who judge him and others who share his occupational frailties. In a non-fictional account, John LeCarré once described a low-level operative he knew in Austria in 1952, characterizing him as “mad, and living in a secret bubble all his own, a condition that in the spook world, rather like a superbug in a hospital, is endemic, hard to detect, and harder still to eradicate.
“The [Air Intelligence Officer] like the rest of us, dreamed the Great Spy's Dream. He imagined himself at the Spies' Big Table, playing the world's game. Gradually the gap between the dream and the reality became too much for him to bear, and one day he decided to fill it.” That sounds a lot like the Greville I knew, and on balance, I suppose I’m glad that I did know him, but I still could have used the money.
© Robert Latona August 2010
A Rebuttal by Nigel West Oct 2016
Towards the end of April 1964 a slightly disheveled, disorientated middle-aged man stumbled through RAF Northolt after his arrival from Berlin where he had been exchanged in a spy-swap for the former KGB illegal rezident in London, Konon Molody, who had been arrested in January 1961