Wherein the Omniscient Narrator Devolves to Inevitably Flawed First Person Storyteller
This section will be updated regularly.
I should first say that this book has had many titles in its unpublished state: My Book; The Book I Am Going To Write; The True Story of Sidney Reilly; The Completely True Story of Sidney Reilly; The New, Complete Truth About Reilly; What Really Happened to Reilly; The Wives of Reilly; The Lives of Reilly; The Lockhart Plot; Red Terror!; The Bronze Horseman; Russian Roulette; The Grand Inquisitor; Master Spy, Spy Masters. I see that other, more aggressive authors have taken some of these titles out of play. Bless them: I like the present one, The Private War of Sidney Reilly.
A word about the book’s long and wobbly history:
I was a rambunctious student in my university years. The import of this was brought home to me most poignantly when Chemistry Professor Hazel Tomlinson announced that I was the worst chemistry student the Department had known in her thirty-three years there. I brought baskets of excuses. Ah, she told me, you are a wonderful story-teller! You will never be a chemist. But you may be a writer. Otherwise there is nothing for you here, and you will become an accountant. Here, she said, read this, and gave me an old book. She had known the author, recently deceased. The book had become required reading in the Soviet Union, beloved by all Russian students and a best seller everywhere. It was about revolution. The book was The Gadfly. Perfect for a rambunctious Freshman, though not a cure.
Dr. Tomlinson was known by her students as the strictest, most hard-headed teacher at Temple University. But not to me. I visited her on many occasions and brought her flowers when I graduated. Her last words to me had something to do with my then-blue eyes. I might have dedicated this book to her. But she is long-gone, and so are most of her admirers. Still, I have an urge to say thank you.
The Gadfly, by Ethel Voynich, represents the first step in the development of The Private War of Sidney Reilly. In The Gadfly, a Christian youth named Arthur discovers that his mentor, a Priest, is actually his father. Feeling betrayed, he feigns suicide, runs away to South America and hardens when he discovers the terrible realities of his new life. Later he returns to Italy to become a feared and mysterious revolutionary and finds that his father is now a Cardinal and his chief political enemy. Arthur the revolutionary hates God for having his father’s love. The Cardinal is finally forced to choose between his son and his beloved Jesus.
A few years later, as a James Bond aficionado, I read Robin Lockhart’s Ace of Spies, which claimed that Sidney Reilly was the real life model for Ian Fleming’s fictional James Bond. Further, the book announced that Reilly had had an affair with Gadfly author Ethel Voynich. Voynich, the book said, had taken a story that Reilly had told her about his own life and based on it her depiction of Arthur’s life. This claim was later pronounced true by a reviewer of Lockhart’s book. My passion for The Gadfly was transformed into an interest in Reilly. Subsequently I read everything I could find about Reilly. I wasn’t fated to wind up an accountant after all.
In 1987 Lockhart published a second book about Reilly, this one a recantation of Ace of Spies. Reilly: The First Man claimed that Reilly was the first in a long line of Soviet moles to have penetrated British Intelligence, possibly culminating in Cambridge Spy Ring superstar Kim Philby. If le Carre’s Bill Haydon was a fictional Philby, it might not be too far-fetched to cast Reilly as le Carre’s prototype for his fictional Karla, Haydon’s spy master.
I wrote a book review of Lockhart’s Reilly: The First Man and sent it to F. Reese Brown, Publisher of The International Journal of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence, a then-new academic journal with an impressive cast of writers working in the intelligence field. The Journal published the review in the same issue as appeared Natalie Grant’s piece, Deception on A Grand Scale (Spring, 1987). This led to personal introductions to numerous subject matter experts including Lockhart, Nina Berberova, Lev Besymensky and others. Lockhart contacted and later visited me in New York on a number of occasions. We became friends after a fashion.
At the same time I consumed everything related to Reilly, the Russian Revolution and British-Soviet relations. My impression, gleaned over too many years of examination, is that Lockhart obtained his early information on Reilly from publicly-available sources, ie, the spate of British spy and police books published from 1927 to 1933 by his late father and Reilly’s other colleagues George Hill and Paul Dukes, Special Branch man Herbert Fitch and a book bearing Reilly’s name as author, entitled Masterspy, though it was probably based on stories his wife told to a writer. And more. All of that was presented as probable “fact.”
But information that went into Reilly: The First Man was different. It came ostensibly from just two sources: first, a roomful of papers and files left to Robin Lockhart by his late father, Reilly’s friend Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart (who died just after Ace of Spies was published), and second by a secret source working in British Intelligence MI6. I must say I have my doubts about secret sources of any kind, whether Deep Throat or MI6 or the CIA. It seems just too easy a way for a spy service to tell the public what it wants the public to believe. Robin Lockhart, as a former MI6 man (is there any such thing as a “former” spy?) might have been a good medium for the services to promote their own “Reilly Story.” After all, after Ace of Spies, practically everything Robin said about this subject was taken at face value.
Which brings me to my point, or at least my impression, that most information written about Reilly since Ace of Spies essentially retells that same story, adding a few “new details” but changing nothing fundamental. The new stories are the old SIS/Ace of Spies stories with few exceptions. And the reviewers ask no questions.
Notable exceptions to this include Professor Richard Spence’s remarkable academic works, Trust No One (about Reilly) and Savinkov (about the terrorist), both richly filled with independently-developed details and subject interpretations. I also count Michael Kettle’s Sidney Reilly, which contains what I take to be authentic and powerful information about Reilly. I count among the exceptions writers Nina Berberova and Lev Bezymensky, who spoke to me with candor on their own volition, answered my questions openly and added their own unsolicited comments. I should add that I trust what Lockhart told me in our personal conversations and know that he understood the pitfalls of accepting without question information volunteered by secret inside sources.
But never mind. All Reilly writers admire Reilly’s skills, and every book I have read about him, even where I disagree, has contributed to my understanding and has been well worth the time.
Reilly, Bond and The Manhattan Project
I often see the claim that Reilly was the real-life prototype for Ian Fleming’s fictional character, James Bond. Is it true? I asked Robin Lockhart this question when I first met him in New York in 1987. Following is my recollection of that conversation and of a subsequent one with W. Gehagan, Lockhart’s Ace of Spies publicist:
Torrey: Can I say with certainty that Reilly was the real-life model for James Bond? I want to put that on my book jacket.
Lockhart: They do say so. You should ask my publicist.
Torrey: I did. He said I should ask you.
Lockhart: Ask him again (with a wink).
Shortly thereafter, with Wil Gehagan, publicist:
Torrey: Lockhart told me to ask you again about Reilly and Bond. Is the promotional stuff I saw true? Was Reilly the superspy model for Bond?
Gehagan: Well, that’s what they say.
Torrey: That’s what you said.
Gehagan: Well, if I said it, it must be true. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have said it. Anyway, who else would you ask?
Torrey: Did Ian Fleming say it?
Torrey (reading): Referring to Bond, Fleming said, “He’s not a Sidney Reilly, you know." Sounds like he’s saying Bond’s not Reilly, that Bond’s not the super spy Reilly was, that Bond wasn’t based on Reilly.
Gehagan: The human mind is an amazing thing. You never know what thought process goes into what a man says. It depends on inflection. Did I ever tell you how my brother and I almost ruined the whole Manhattan Project? We were carrying a *** by train…”
Torrey: Was Reilly Fleming’s prototype for Bond or was he not?
Gehagan: Are you picking up the check?
Torrey: For God’s sake.
Gehagan: Well, you seem to believe that Lockhart thinks so, and I said it might be true, and that should count for something. My personal view, unofficially, is that it must be true, and Fleming should have known it as well. Well, we lost track of the darned *** and for all we knew it could have fallen into the hands of German spies…
Torrey: You ready to order?
Gehagan: Filet, medium, fries. You should speak with Lockhart again. I think it’s in his notes. He showed me something.
Torrey: Coffee with milk.
Pondering Reilly and Voynich: