As well as Deutsche of the Isoken and the Philby link, the Magdala housed another spy, although he was of an entirely different breed. Stan Bonnet was a member of a trio who sat together in the saloon bar on most nights in the early 1980s and who had strong connections to the newspaper industry. After a spell in the Royal Navy, Stan had left the service and became a journalist on the Daily Mirror. The story went that it was his experiences in combat that led him to reject the notion of violence and to become a prominent peace campaigner, eventually rising to become the editor of the CND magazine ‘Sanity’.
After a few years it transpired that the Fleet Street press was riddled with British (and CIA) spies. The allegedly left wing Daily Mirror was found to be almost an MI5 operation. As the ‘Spycatcher’ Peter Wright later revealed, its owner the tycoon Cecil King, its editorial director Hugh Cudlipp, and its chief foreign correspondent were all heavily involved with the secret services and orchestrated various plots against the Harold Wilson government. With the publication of the book ‘Spycatcher’ in 1985 the news emerged that Stan Bonnet, the Editor of the CND magazine and a bon viveur of the Magdala, was in fact also an MI5 agent. He left the area and vanished into obscurity.
The trio’s remaining pair were Bill Driscoll and his partner Jane Kennedy. If anybody was the epitome of the old-style Fleet Street hack it was Bill. Double whisky in one hand, Gauloise cigarette in the other, hat brim over his eyes, Driscoll’s great strength was his unbounded erudition. At his funeral, Jane Kennedy, tears in her eyes, told the present writer: “I’ve lost my encyclopedia.”
Bill Driscoll’s death, despite its sadness, was the occasion that prompted one of the all-time great obituaries. His fellow journalists – Mary Kenny, Richard West, and David Leitch – combined their memories and published the result in the Daily Telegraph. Amongst its highlights it pointed out that almost everything about Bill Driscoll was subject to speculation.
Depending on which story one followed, Bill was either the son of a Heidelberg professor of logic, or of a printer who hailed from Skibbereen in West Cork – or maybe Peckham. His early life involved working as a mining engineer or as first mate on a rice ship in the South China Sea. His war service apparently included fighting in the final Ardennes battle and being invalided out of the Army – but also, according to Driscoll himself, fighting on both sides during the German-Russian campaigns. How he accomplished this was difficult to tell – it involved a complicated espionage assignment and the fortuitous swapping of sides during the battle for Stalingrad.
Bill most certainly spoke German like a native and he claimed it was this ability that led to his appointment as jailor to the Nazi war criminal Von Ribbentrop before the Nuremberg trials. (Bill occasionally added that, in an odd sequel, it turned out that one of the British soldiers who acted as jailers to Rudolph Hess in Spandau Prison was the controversial comedian Bernard Manning. An odd couple if ever there was one.)
In the post war world, Bill followed a career working in most of the popular press, specialising in crime reportage and gossip columns. He managed to charm many of his interviewees, including such unlikely admirers as the elderly writer Somerset Maugham and the firebrand Northern Irish Protestant leader Rev Ian Paisley. He met Paisley at the latter’s home at the height of the Troubles and was subjected to a lengthy rant on the iniquities of the Pope and his adherents. In mid-bellow, Paisley was interrupted by his wife ordering him to come inside for tea. Paisley gave Bill a rueful glance and whispered: “It’s petticoat power in this house, you see.”
Driscoll’s career in Fleet Street suffered firstly from his chronic inability to follow deadlines and actually knuckle down to the chore of writing up the information that he had acquired. Secondly he found it difficult to conceal his contempt and boredom with many of the ‘celebrities’ who were his journalistic bread and butter. Thirdly he could never take the job that seriously. He was sacked from his position as crime reporter on one paper after he began his story of a murder in Leicestershire with the line: ‘They called him the golden-haired Adonis of the Market Harborough smart set.’
Latterly he found work as a fixer and correspondent for German radio and TV. It was during this period (according to the Telegraph obituary) that ‘he turned up at the hospital bedside of a pregnant woman friend, accompanied by a female terrorist from the Baader-Meinhof gang. Driscoll wanted to know whether she knew of a ‘safe house’ in Ireland for his friend. Her husband suggested Mountjoy Prison.’
Times got trickier (again the Telegraph): ‘At one stage in Driscoll’s career someone found him a job in Addis Ababa, where he disappeared for nearly a year, prefixed his surname with “O” and persuaded an Ethiopian friend to have all letters from the Inland Revenue returned to sender, “due to decease of addressee”. On his return to Britain he found himself, at any rate fiscally, dead.’
Bill died for real in 1991 – his world of louche but romantic Fleet Street pre-deceased him.
To see other chapters – go to top of page and, under the main title, click on the small heading ‘Under Ken Wood’
Feb 28: 1 South End Green – Prologue
Mar 7: 2 Where Eagles Dared
Mar 7: 3 Murder and the Magdala
Mar 14: 4 The Hepburns
Mar 14: 5 Private Godfrey and the Dame of Soho
Mar 21: 6 Garland and Mercer
Mar 21: 7 Laureates and Spies
Mar 21: 8 The Silver Fox
Mar 28: 9 The Hoffmeister and Kelly
April 4: 10 The Harvey Brothers
April 4: 11 The Journos
April 11: 12 Five Funerals and a Resurrection
April 18: 13 Scallawag
April 25: 14 Crime and Punishment
May 2: 15 Good Companions
May 9: 16 Sasthi Brata
May 9: 17 Bob the Bag and Cornish Pat
May 16: 18 Eddie Linden
May 16: 19 The Branch Offices
May 23: 20 The Mulls Kid
May 30: 21 The Musos
May 30: 22 Closing Time