George Blake (left) and Pat Pottle
WHEN you look in the mirror, does your mom or dad scow at you – or smile? Does your upbringing shape you all? Or are there pieces that come from your genes?
I never doubted the identity of a friend – a distant in-law in fact – of Pat Pottle. He was so much a reflection of his father, a thoughtful, inquisitive and rebellious man who had been a leading trade unionist at the car factory in Cowley, Oxford, and had always taught his five sons to think for themselves, to question everything – and challenge the world, if necessary.
Pat became a skilled printer and a romantic anarchist, a follower of the anarchist movement – and inevitably, when nuclear activists started staging sit-downs and breaking the law, he joined them.
I had known him through his connections to Paddington, but I remember seeing him join Lord Bertrand Russell and sit in a demonstration in Trafalgar Square around 1960. I was covering the rally for a national agency – and for a moment , something in me pushed me little by little to take part in it. After all, I agreed that nuclear weapons were a useless policy. But I restrained myself. The professional in me – or the conformist – drove me away.
He was arrested, sent for 18 months and ended up in Wormwood Scrubs prison, sharing a cell with George Blake who had been sentenced to 42 years in prison – branded ‘savage’ by the Prime Minister at the time , Harold Macmillan. Pat, of course, agreed with Macmillan and, together with fellow peace activist Michael Randle and IRA man Sean Bourke, hatched a successful plan for Blake’s escape in 1966, after served five years.
He escaped via a knitted ladder and was hidden in various safe houses in London, including a local authority flat a few yards from my home in Willow Road, Hampstead – although I was living abroad in the time.
Pat became an emissary in the 1960s representing Lord Bertrand Russell’s Peace Corps, visiting India and China where he upset authorities and was expelled.
Blake died the other week in Moscow at age 98; Pat died, young at 62, some 20 years ago, and his memorial meeting at Conway Hall, Holborn, was packed as he and Randle had just been acquitted at the Old Bailey for writing a book about the how they had plotted Blake’s escape.
Pat’s father would have smiled at him in the mirror. What shaped it? I know several men, some of them in the commentary, who I would have expected would end up becoming angry, rebellious young men, raised by leftist parents who were themselves foreigners. But, instead, they ended up being part of the show, barely questioning the obvious, afraid to mess things up. They have, in some ways, become the opposite of their parents.
With Pat, it was all part of one piece.