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Black and white in the pre-PC days

Tuesday, 5 November, 2013

Back in March 2006, Garry O’Connor of the Scottish football side Hibernian agreed a £1.6 million transfer to Lokomotiv Moscow. He was not, however, the first Scot to play football in Russia. Robert Bruce Lockhart won the Moscow league championship in 1912, playing with Morozov — a textile factory team. But all this was a cover for his real profession: espionage. And if one believes the conspiracy theorists, he was at the centre of a plot to assassinate Lenin.

British Agent Robert Bruce Lockhart was Acting British Consul-General in Moscow when the first Russian Revolution broke out in early 1917. Working for the Secret Intelligence Service, he had been given £648 worth of diamonds to fund the creation of an agent network. Diamonds are said to be a girl’s best friend and it was almost inevitable that Moura Budberg, the beautiful widow of Count Johann von Benckendorff, became his mistress. With all the dramatis personæ in place, Lockhart was ready to strike, but Felix Dzerzhinsky, the cunning head of Cheka, struck first. Lockhart and fellow British agent, Sidney Reilly, were arrested, but instead of being shot, they were exchanged for the Russian diplomat Maksim Maksimovich Litvinov. Lockhart wrote about his experiences in Memoirs of a British Agent — a bestseller that was made into the film British Agent in 1934.

Spy, author and broadcaster Robert Bruce Lockhart was a talented, prolific diarist with an eye for detail and an ear for anecdote:

5 November 1928: “Heard a very good story on Mussolini and crown Prince [Wilhelm of Germany]. Latter had been to Tripoli and his father asked him what he thought of the natives. He replied, ‘I prefer dealing with black men in white shirts than the white men in black shirts.'” Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart

Tomorrow, here, Cesare Pavese, the Italian writer and diarist, who once said, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.”


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