Friday, March 23, 2018

Canal pub landlord foils Russian spy ring

With all the hoo hah going on about Russian spies, it was purely by coincidence that yesterday I came across this story whilst idly skimming through stuff at The National Archives.  Kath sits there digging up old ancestors and I potter about amongst old previously secret cabinet papers for a laugh.  The story concerns a one time landlord of the Dolphin pub that many of you will know sits by the canal in Uxbridge (although if you are a watcher of "Lewis" on telly, you could be forgiven for thinking the pub was in Oxford, because they use it in their Oxford canal scenes.)

In 1927 the new Dolphin landlord was Edward Langston, a disgruntled ex employee of ARCOS the All-Russian Co-operative Society Ltd, ostensibly a trading organisation operating in Moorgate, London.  Edward had been recently sacked from his photostat operator job at ARCOS in one of the organisation's periodic "Loyalty Test" purges despite his good employment record there.  That turned out to be a big mistake on ARCOS's part because while he was there, a senior staff member had asked Edward to make a copy of a British Army training manual.  Thinking it improper that the Russians should have stuff like this, Edward had kept a second copy for himself as evidence and after he was sacked he took his revenge by reporting the incident to British intelligence. This was just the sort of evidence Special Branch needed to get the Home Secretary to authorise a raid on ARCOS (about which they had deep suspicions) and in May of that year, 200 police officers together with teams of civil servants and intelligent agents broke into the building and spent five days turning the place over for further evidence, removing several lorry loads of papers and setting about several heavily defended safes and rooms with pneumatic drills.

The eventual upshot was not ideal.  Despite not much of import being found, the UK severed all diplomatic relations with Russia and expelled 400  Soviet citizens. The whole episode became a major topic of debate and set the frosty tone of Anglo Russian relations for many years.  The Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in justifying the actions to parliament foolishly read out Russian communications that had been intercepted and decoded by our boys, thus causing the Russians to adopt a much more indecipherable code which were subsequently unable to crack.  Doh!

As to Edward Langston, he spent his life in fear of Russian reprisal and wrote to MI5 asking them for a pistol to defend himself.  one source says that the Russians did track him down, but I don't know if they ever did anything to him.  Mr Google has some links to all this stuff if you want to read more.  I leave you to decide if this story has a moral or not, but you have to admit that it is sort of topical.

Interestingly, the Dolphin's website makes no mention of this claim to fame, preferring to mention its four plasma TV screens although it does say "All parties catered for".  UKIP?  Monster Raving Looney?


Carol said...

Great story Neil! Regards to you both. x

Vallypee said...

Brilliant! What a story! Now doesn’t this give you ideas for a third novel, Neil?