A POSSIBLE pretext for me to write on my nephew's hook may be that last year I reviewed here the Diary of his father, my eldest brother, author of Memoirs of a British Agent. Already there, Sidney Reilly was judged "the British Government's master-spy". As the Author's Preface to Reilly. Ace of Spies makes clear, it was only as a small boy in Prague (where his father had been posted after being released from Bolshevik imprisonment in exhange for 'Litvinoff} that
Robin Bruce Lockhart himself knew Reilly in the early 1920s.
Robin Bruce Lockhart's "Reilly" doesn't exactly begin where his father's Memoirs left off. He picks up the Reilly story from over halfway through. at the point where the Bolsheviks tried to implicate Lockhart, pi;re in the attempt by Dora Kaplan to assassinate Lenin; and then to involve Reilly in what came to be known as "the Lockhart plot" (It is well known I think that the term British Agent in the title is not to be confused. as it often was. with secret agent. but meant the leader of the British Government's small mission to the first Bolshevik regime).
After Prague, however, Reilly evidently retained the fascination of a childhood hero for the young Robin Bruce Lockhart, who dreamed of one day writing the adventurer's story. Only much later, after the Second World War, when Lockhart, fits had been released from his service in the Navy (which had included work for Naval Intelligence) did he proceed from the authoritative high-level gossip among which he had grown up acknowledgements for this hook range from his father and mother, Sir Paul Dukes, MajorGeneral Spears, Brigadier Hill and other colleagues of Reilly, to Baroness Budberg and Mrs Pepita Haddon-Chambers (third of Reilly's wives, two of whom he married bigamously).
This paperback edition of Reilly. Ace of Spies now becomes the book of the new' ITV series, already acclaimed by more than one critic as the best since Brideshead. Reilly was an extraordinary figure, obscure in his origins and his fate, mysterious in his ways and allegiances, daring in his ambitions. The author evidently accepts Reilly's story that he was born in Odessa illegitimately, was a patriotic Russian, an ardent anti-Red determined to organise a counter-revolution and a loyal servant of the British, besides his known activities as an armstrafficker. An incidental curiosity is the disclosure that one of Reilly's many mistresses was the Catholic writer Carroll Houselander. I was as surprised to read the opinion that she was one of the most widely read Catholic writers of the century as I remember being during the war, when somebody in the government office where we both worked asked me if I knew that the mousey little person (the "flaming red hair" was well faded by 1940) was an erudite Catholic writer of advanced works.
Reilly's fate remains a mystery after 1945. He was at one time believed to have defected to Russia. The British Government made official inquiries as late as to Kruschev , and Bulganin, but got no answer.
Not being addicted to spy stories, I found the personal story of Reilly less enthralling than the ferocious background of the Bolshevik revolution. The author recapitulates and condenses here, in their shocking horror, atrocities so well-known to the inter-war generation that it always seems incredible they should have been so glibly forgotten under the wartime pro-Soviet propaganda and still in today's international tensions.
I have only seen so far the first episode of the Reilly TV series based on this hook. It strikes me as lucky or clever in having cast Sam Neill to give life and personality to Reilly. The series seems assured of a
popular success. I hope that as it proceeds it will rely more on the fantastic facts documented in the hook and less on hazy fictional invention.
Reilly is the paperback of the first book published by Robin Bruce Lockhart who, after coming out of the Navy, worked on the managerial side of The Sunday Express in Scotland and Manchester and the Financial Times in London before becoming a stockbroker. One book is not enough to tell how far he has inherited his father's literary gifts. His second book. due next year, will be a total contrast: provisionally titled Halfway to Heaven. it is a history. study of and tribute to the Carthusian order.
Reilly Ace of Spies, by Robin Bruce Lockhart (Futura, t 1.95).