the train robbers, this was the great escape
Blake and Bourke and The End of Empires by Kevin O’Connor
Prendeville Publishing Ltd, £12
George Blake, the spy who was given the longest jail sentence in
British history by an Old Bailey judge – 42 years –
is in the news again. He is trying to retrieve £90,000 which
the British Government confiscated from his deal with publishers
Jonathan Cape for his biography No Other Choice. At 81, his life,
times and conversion to Communism defies fictitious espionage.
Blake, born Beher in Rotterdam in 1922, was motivated by a belief
in predestination. A spell in Egypt was followed by incredible bravery
in the Dutch resistance. He cycled to the Spanish border, got himself
interned and was repatriated to England in 1943.
He was quickly absorbed into the security services, who sent him
on a crash course at Cambridge University to learn Russian. This
he did before entering ‘the foreign service,’ where
he was posted to Korea and captured by North Korean and Chinese
forces. After deep thoughts amidst deprivation, he was converted
willingly by his intellect to Communism.
He was a prize catch for the KGB, for he was a rising star in the
British Secret Service. He proved his worth by exposing a telecommunications
labyrinth in East Berlin, which was monitoring Russian military
and political intelligence. It was a devastating blow to the CIA
The net closed in 1961. An hour-long trial saw him jailed for 42
years. He was dispatched to Wormwood Scrubs – he would be
out in 2003.
Enter Sean Bourke, a roistering young Irishman, born in Limerick,
in October 1943. A catalogue of petty crime linked to a cunning
intelligence brought him to Crawley, where he fell foul of the Sussex
constabulary. His grudge with them ended in 1961 when he sent a
parcel bomb to a constable. Bourke got seven years and joined the
other inmates in the Scrubs.
Blake and Bourke’s destinies came together. Blake was now
calm, studious and well-respected in the prisoners’ hierarchy,
and Bourke edited the prison magazine. Among the future inmates
was to be Pat Pottle for peace activism. His friend and fellow CND
activist, Michael Randle, would help spring the three from jail.
On October 22 1956, George Blake went over the wall and was eventually
delivered from beneath the floor of Randle’s camper van into
Russian security in East Berlin on December 17.
Bourke, garrulous, a heavy drinker and the most indiscreet of all
the conspirators, got to Moscow at the beginning of 1957 where he
shared a KGB ‘safe apartment’ with the fastidious Blake.
Eventually he got back to Ireland, avoiding extradition to England
by claiming political immunity. He was found dying and drunk by
the side of a country road in January 1982.
But it is the role of Randle and Pottle which is the stuff of the
scarlet pimpernel. Pottle hiding the most wanted man in Britain
in his grotty Hampstead flat, coping with his extravagant and dangerously
In 1989 Pat and Michael wrote How We Sprung George Blake And Why.
It ended up with a ten-day trial at the Old Bailey. The daring duo
faced up to the establishment, and 23 years after the event, both
were found not guilty. Their long ordeal was over. Pat Pottle died
in October 2002. A couple of odd couples in a tale well told by
Kevin O’Connor, an Irish journalist who interviewed most of
the cast in this dripping melodrama.